Submission policies seem to go through phases. Ten pages, three pages, query only, first three chapters, query and a synopsis, fifty pages—it’s a sort of publishing hemline, up one year and down the next. In the mini skirt years, short pitches are all the rage. Three line, one line, thirty seconds. The elevator pitch it’s called, though you should never ambush an editor in the elevator. Or, as one editor went to the trouble of explaining in his lecture, no urinal ambushing. Shame too, because that’s where I saw him the most, there being so few men at a children’s writing conference. Anyway...
The short pitch. While we might think our books are too deep and meaningful for a three sentence description—and I’m a huge fan of complicated plots with lots of characters—I like this test for my own stories. After all, if I can’t describe a story in a few sentences, there’s a good chance I don’t know what the story is about. And if I don’t know what a story is about, it’s not ready for submission. Granted, a three sentence description won’t capture the subplots and most of the characters, but it will hit enough high points to show that I have a story. So, can we do it in one sentence?
One sentence is not going to capture the plot and characters of a YA novel. But if you borrow a few touchstones from our common culture, you can at least convey the concept of a story. Yes, I’m talking about the “This Meets That” pitch. For instance, War of the Worlds meets Shane gives you Cowboys and Aliens. Or maybe not, but you get the idea. Borrow, from the zeitgeist, make your own gestalt.
Back to my earlier point about pitches going through phases. The “This Meets That” pitch is in style. I’ve even seen an online submission form that expressly asked for a one sentence “This Meets That” description—and nothing else. So I say, if it’s not going away, why not have a little fun trolling the depths of our culture and polishing our submissions at the same time?
Cause It’s All About Me
In my bio on this site, I describe my YA work in progress as being like Toy Story meets Dirty Harry. See, in my mind, Toy Story is a road trip buddy picture, and the Dirty Harry is a violent crime story. But I’ve since refined that description to better match the plot structure and story. I now think of the story as The Wizard of Oz meets James Bond. Again, The Wizard of Oz is essentially a road trip buddy story, and James Bond is all about violent espionage. Plus there’s a sort-of Bond Girl in my story and gadgets.
This is a YA blog, but I’ve written a few middle-grade books as well, so indulge me while I try to describe those stories. Okay... Mr. Ribs, a two-plots in one story, is the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon meets Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not because I’m as cool as Bill Watterson, but because it’s about a boy who shifts worlds in his head, while on an epic treasure hunt. Amanda Johnson, Extra Ordinary, a girl buddy story, is Fast Food Nation meets A League Of Their Own. Bertram Grome, a fantasy, would be The Hobbit meets Hatchet, except I wouldn’t dare. And Shadow Space, a not-time-travel adventure, is The Time Machine fails to meets my childhood (I said this was all about me).
And About You
Have you written a story that you can describe in a “This Meets That” format? Post a comment and make us all want to read it. Then have a little fun. How weirdly can describe a classic story? Maybe a Renaissance painting meets a techno-pop song, or monumental architecture meets a traditional food recipe? Can you remind us of touchstones we’ve forgotten? Or use contemporary references in unusual ways? Go for it, and blow us all away.