Archive for the ‘pitching’ Category

this really happened to me, just after I sent off the pitch to NFM:


introduction to crime writing

You know how they always tell you to have your ‘elevator pitch’ — 2-minute summary of your project  — ready just in case? This really happened to me.
I’m in the Algarve in a tourist resort to get some head space to work on a writing proposal. I’m chatting with my nice friend who asked me to look up the Dancing on Ice results  — which I do. She’s 81 years old and tells me she’s reading 50 Shades of Grey on her kindle. I say I read the first book and sort of could work out the ending.
“Yes, I prefer crime and thrillers,” she says.

We talk about Patricia Cornwell, PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, and A Touch of Frost.
I tell her about the project I’m working on here:
“It’s about a woman who’s kidnapped. Only she’s a bit unusual — she’s a 15-stone pole-dancer…”

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Verbal pitching: tell me more

Posted: March 9, 2012 in pitching

We were pitched in at the deep end: 3 minutes to talk about your project to 9 strangers – before the first coffee break. We went round in turn. We were asked to notice what stood out for us. For me, it was humour and pithily delineated character: ‘a mortician in the wrong job’;  ‘Alan Partridge without the charisma’ – thank you, Michael.


What I noticed about my own verbal pitch was how nervous I was – and unprepared. Maybe there’s a link there. Usually, I’m quite confident at making presentations. Years of standing up and being unpopular at conferences, or teaching writing classes, have given me that confidence. Why was it so nerve-wracking to be presenting to 9 people a project close to my heart?

I felt out of my depth. Here were producers who’d aired dozens of documentaries for major broadcaster, someone who was an AD (assistant director) on Torchwood, etc. Argh!


You are going to feel out of your depth. Get used to it. If you only ever do things within your comfort zone, that’s a recipe for stagnation.

So what to do to get over it? The usual: prepare, prepare, prepare. I never went into a new classroom without at least an outline lesson plan. Years of practice mean that you can get to do it off the top of your head. To start with, though, rehearse, practice on a friend, prepare. If you know you are going to have to give a 3-minute presentation, time it. If you don’t know how much time you will have, perfect your 30-second ‘lift pitch’ and another 3-minute one for when they say: tell me more.

I didn’t know I was going to be doing a 3-minute presentation first thing in the morning. I could have guessed. What else would we be doing at a pitching workshop? As the trainer pointed out, there is no such thing as ‘just a workshop’. Deals are made by bumping into somebody, through a friend of a friend, or because somebody thought of you and passed your name on, because when somebody asked: what are you working on? you were ready with your answer.


Practice the answer to that question till it trips off your tongue

what got noticed

Participants noticed personality, projection, and body language; clarity, character and comedy.


Be approachable:

  • make eye contact
  • project the sort of person you’d go up to at a party where you didn’t know anyone. That doesn’t mean pretending to be an extrovert if you’re not. If you’re shy, smile shyly and admit that talking to big groups makes you nervous. People warm to warmth and honesty.
  • speak clearly, slow down and don’t cover your mouth. It’s really rude to people with hearing difficulties, and it makes you look shifty.

What is it?

Be really clear, in your first sentence, what it is you are pitching. Think charades: is it a book, film, tv series? Then answer the questions: how long? how many? what format? what genre? Your audience needs to know this up front, so they can get a fix on it. Too much detail before they know what it is will leave them floundering.

Clear images

If you can nail your target audience with a pithy phrase, ‘SAGA louts’, or conjure a vivid image of your character, ‘leather cat-suit’, then you’ve got them on your side.

Who are you?

One of the participants was an AD on Torchwood; another had his film script forwarded by Lord Putnam to Ridley Scott; a newly formed animation studio, with a 20-year old just- graduated animator, had been commissioned by E4. I sat up and took notice. But none of them had volunteered this information in their pitch: it had to be drawn out by the trainer – like pulling teeth, she said. Modesty may be a virtue in private life, but it doesn’t cut it with commissioners.


What is it about you that will make them sit up? Put that up front.

what they need to know

After we’d all said our bit, the trainer fed back. Commissioners need to know:

  • what is it?
  • who are you?
  • can you deliver?

None of us answered those three questions fully. We got lost in the detail before we’d said the most important thing. We forgot to blow our own trumpets. We were unconvincing.

The next session was on written pitches.

This is a report I wrote after the Northern Film and Media Pitching Your Project workshop, which may be of interest to those attending the SSWAG Pitching Your Book workshop tomorrow:

There were 9 participants with 9 projects. We were given 9 minutes to read all 9 one-page proposals. We were to notice what struck us going through them all, and if any one stood out.

tell me less

This, for me, was the most eye-opening moment of the day. I looked at the 9 proposals before me. More than 9 pages: some people hadn’t kept to the limit. My overwhelming feeling was: tell me less.

I wanted some way to sift through the information coming at me. Christina’s words: give them what they need to know up front, I heartily endorse. Be clear. Suddenly the truth of that was borne in on me quite physically. I couldn’t see what I was looking at. Where’s the white space?

what I noticed

The difference between the verbal and the written pitches. The two that stood out on the verbal pitching would, if I’m honest, have gone in the bin on the strength of the written effort. One, for the spelling and grammar; the other, because it looked utterly boring – solid blocks of uninterrupted text.


Play to your strengths. If you’re a bubbly attractive presenter, but not so hot on your written pitch, get help on your weaker area. Spell-check and double check; run it past a writer friend; as with the verbals: practice, practice, practice.

Clarity and concision

My written pitch was commented on by half the participants as a model of clarity and concision. You can see it here. Don’t, though, copy it. It has its faults. And your pitch must represent your vision, your strengths.

I could claim credit for it, but really it’s the flip side of my lack of preparation. I was given a last-minute place on the workshop after someone dropped out. I had a few hours’ notice to create my one-page proposal. Less is more. The time limit concentrated my mind. I also emailed to find out what it should include and the preferred format.


Give them what they ask for, not more. If they say one-page, give them one page. If you don’t know what they want, ask – or look at their website. You can always point them to where they can look for more. Which brings me to:


None of us put our details on our proposal. Always, always do this. (Unless it’s for a competition, in which case follow the Rules.) You’re not a secret agent. Every piece of paper or media that emanates from you should point straight back at you. You want them to know how to contact you, to see more, to arrange a meeting. On multi-page documents, put page numbers, title and some identifier in the footer.

Lay-out tips

  • no tiny fonts. 11 or 12 point for preference
  • don’t use Times Roman, sans serif fonts are easier to read, and more web-compliant
  • bold titles but don’t waste space with huge fonts in the title
  • use sub-heads for things you want to draw attention to
  • use bullet points or numbered lists
  • allow some white space
  • see below for the special rules for feature film scripts

Content tips

  • be concise: leave them wanting to know more
  • use hook-lines and images
  • have a clear premise
  • have an easy-to-read summary or synopsis
  • strong characters, vividly presented
  • read your summary for pace
  • if you have a ‘name’ on board, that will act as a hook
  • a clear lay-out should reflect a clear concept

Striking graphics

  • use colour, but test on a monochrome printer – your proposal may be photocopied and you still want it to be legible
  • for factual or entertainment programmes, use pictures, sketches and other graphics
  • for drama scripts, your words should paint the pictures
  • use your company logo or brand. Every proposal is a marketing opportunity

shortlist of thousands

Yes, you read that right. Channel 4 considered a shortlist of over a thousand for 46 programme slots. Commissioners receive thousands of submissions a year. This is what we’re up against. A minute to scan a proposal is probably quite generous.

what is it?

They are looking for this basic information: genre, length and format, number of episodes, channel, strand, slot on the schedule, audience.

who are you?

All contact details. If you are a company, who is the named contact person for the project?

Why are you the person/ people to do it? Can you deliver? What is your track record? For drama, the most important person is the writer. If you have a ‘name’ on board, use it.

can we afford it?

Always include a budget or at least a ball-park figure. They need to know what it will cost, and what sort of production values. If your budget is substantially over the norm, you need to justify it. If it is cheaper, then you can use it as a selling point (provided you can deliver on budget). Everyone loves a bargain.

always prepare for the best case

Dating books recommend you wear underwear that you wouldn’t mind being seen in by George Clooney. (I had to type that sentence very carefully: with George Clooney, in George Clooney, in with George Clooney, within George Clooney.)

Buyers are looking for something to fall in love with. Your project may be it.

FEATURE FILMS: special rules

Feature film scripts follow a rigid (and boring) format. If you deviate from it, you mark yourself out as an amateur. You can find out about film script formats in any screenwriting book.

Drama scripts also follow industry-standard formats. You can download a template from the BBC Writers Room.