Writing a good pitch and writing a good synopsis are related skills. Both mean boiling down, reducing, your story to its essence so you can quickly express the plot and themes of your story. Quickly is important. With short stories, you have three paragraphs, at most, to hook an editor. With novels, three pages. And that is best case scenario, it seems. So to hook an agent or editor's attention, you need to know your story and how to express it.
A lot of this advice is new to me to hat tips to Chuck Sambuchino (http://www.chucksambuchino.com/) and Janna Esarey (http://www.byjanna.com/), who made the presentations where I wrote these notes.
1. Be precise about the genre and the market. Lead off with telling what kind of story they can express. If your book is epic fantasy, say that. If it's a YA Supernatural Thriller, say that. This sets the expectations for the rest of the pitch.
2. Don't tell the story step by step. Tell the Setup, the Conflict and hint at the Resolution but don't give away the ending. One of the big problems I had with writing a synopsis was that I was trying to tell the story, step by step. Blood thing got huge and not just because Angel Odyssey is not a small novel. I was telling too much. Think of the back cover of paperback. It should feel like that. Only better-written. :)
3. Don't tell the story at arm's length. Be passionate about your work. If you don't care about it, no one else will. You want to evoke emotion in the listener. Don't be melodramatic or full of hyperbole. Don't go in saying "this is going to be bigger than Harry Potter". But if your story tries to evoke a sense of wonder, try to do that in your pitch as well.
4. Tell your pitch in the same voice as your story. If you're writing YA, see if you can write your pitch so it sounds like a teenager is talking. 'Jane never believed in monsters until her new boyfriend turned into one. Now going down to the mall to hang out just got super complicated.' (only better than that)
5. Choose ONE plot line and make it great. If you're like me, you like to have a lot going on in your story. Don't bring all that up in your pitch. Pick the plot line that is the heart of your story and sell it well. Your pitch should be simple but intriguing. Don't confuse your listener or yourself by listing off all the sub-plots, secondary characters and themes.
6. Mention the big conflicts and concepts. If your story is about coming of age, say that in the pitch. If your story is about dealing with the death of your first love, say that. Think big and big picture and keep it general. If they want to know more, have your answer ready (which you will. No one else will know your story as well as you.)
7. End your pitch with a big concept (see above) in an active sentence that intrigues the listener. Make them want to know more. Your pitch is designed to get them reading your pages. Nothing more and nothing less. Opinions were divided whether to end in a question (i.e. Will David and Janet beat the odds and find love among the gravestones?) but leaning toward 'don't'. If you can intrigue the listener without sounding cheesy, go for that. If you have to ask the question for them, they aren't asking their own questions. Make your last line something that will stick with them.
That's all I have for today. This is your sit-down pitch. The longer version of your one or two sentence elevator pitch. You can also use these techniques in your synopsis writing. Or, that's what I told myself when I was sweating and bleeding over my keyboard keys last Monday.