Kathryn Schultz, writer of the Guardian First Book Award for Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, said, “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that I’d be ready to start writing( my novel) when I could outline it on a Post-It note.”
This was not the way I started to write my novel, HIDDEN.
I started with a thought. I was walking on the beach where my parents used to live on Hayling Island. I had been doing a lot of work with refugees and asylum seekers and had published both fiction and non-fiction on the subject. A thought came into my head. What if two teenagers rescued an asylum seeker from the sea and hid him in a hut to save him from being deported?
That was enough to get me started on my first Y.A. novel. I hadn’t even heard the term Y.A. at that time. But gradually I met other Y.A. writers, some well known – Malorie Blackman, Melvyn Burgess, Meg Rossoff, David Almond. – and many wannabees, like myself. My novel began to take shape and as I was writing a new idea began to form and then a third. But I certainly didn’t have my novel crystallised into the one-line pitch sentence so beloved of agents and editors.
For Example - Artemis Fowl, Diehard with fairies. Brilliant.
Then I met the writer, Julia Golding and attended a talk by her. I had already complete HIDDEN and was looking for an agent. I had begun the second book, ILLEGAL, and was planning the third, STUFFED. Julia told us that we absolutely must be able to describe out novels in one sentence. Impossible, I thought. You have ten minutes, she told us and then we’ll share.
Crikey! Where to start?
But it was one of the best writing exercises I ever did.
Here was my one line pitch for HIDDEN :-
Two teenagers find an illegal immigrant washed up on a beach and hide him to save him from being deported.
It was a winner from the start. I only had to say it to an agent or editor and they immediately asked to see the book.
Coming up with the one line pitch might not happen until you finish the first draft. But at some point, it is crucial that you find that one line which crystallises the entire book. It is essential for you as a writer because it clarifies the entire premise of your book. It may be the difference between completing an effective novel and coming up with a draft which weaves all over the place and never arrives anywhere.
But it is also essential for grabbing the attention of the gate-keepers. In a busy conference, where those tantalising editors and agents might be constantly surrounded by the super-confident, you might only have 30 seconds to be heard. Make sure you make the best use of that time and blow them away with your one line pitch.
Good luck and happy pitching!