Friday 20 September 2013

The One Line Pitch by Miriam Halahmy

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!


  1. Excellent advice, Miriam. It's essential to have the one line pitch, it's the hook that grabs the agent, the editor, and the reader's attention. It's as important as the opening line of the novel. When people asked me what the Long Weekend was about, I told them it was a thriller about two eleven year old boys who are abducted. That grabbed their attention! But not all books lend themselves to an easy tag line. I'm still working on a one liner for my current WIP!

  2. Yes - I agree,Savita. Not all books have an easy, ready to grab, one line pitch and we are under pressure to come up with that. But I do believe its worth the effort to get those twenty words together to take out into the world.

  3. Great advice. I tried this a while back, but didn't quite nail it. Must have another bash

  4. Its worth persevering with Anna, not always easy to get a good result for the first couple of tries. Good luck with your writing.

  5. I'll need all the help I can get for my pitch at the Agents Party next week Miriam!

    My problem is not in producing the one line pitch - it's delivering it sensibly and in an unstilted way, preferably without a loss of memory!

    The trouble with me is that I can compere a show, lecture to students, give talks to dozens of people - but pitching my one liner turns me into a blithering idiot, lost for words!! I think I'll hold up a placard!!

  6. Great advice, Miriam! I try to come up with my pitch when I'm starting a new novel. It can help crystallize what the story is about.