The Pitch

Pamela Mullin, editor at Vertigo, posted Paul Cornell’s pitch for SAUCER COUNTRY on the Vertigo blog the other day.  As a writer and a writing teacher, I have to admit that I love stuff like this.  It gives us insight into the mind of the creator, and also reveals a pitch that was actually accepted by a major publisher.  As anyone that has ever submitted one of these will tell you, writing a successful pitch isn’t easy.  Here is an excerpt from Cornell’s pitch:

ARCADIA ALVARADO is the Latina, female, Republican Governor of New Mexico. She’s on the Libertarian wing of her party, a secret athiest who attends church to appease the religious right, but still a basically honest and dedicated politician who knows that people want to believe in something.

But when, one night, she and MICHAEL (who has a well-rumored drinking problem) are taken from their car by what she believes to be ALIENS…her life changes forever. She was told by the little Grey beings that they’d nearly completed their centuries-long plan for Earth, and will be back, not just for her, but for the whole human race… in one year’s time.

Based on what I see so far, this has the makings of an interesting series.  As the pitch continues, Cornell reveals the theme of his new book:

UFO mythology is wonderful, strange, and varied. It stretches back centuries, from Biblical descriptions of flying machines to medieval crop-circle-making demons to the ‘foo fighters’ of WW2 to the flying saucers of the 1950s and flying triangles of the 1980s. Only recently has it started to become a concrete narrative about ‘Greys’ and ‘abductions’. Our aim with this title will be to journey through this powerful modern mythology, weird and resonant, full of wonder, a map of what America (because these are American dreams) is right now. To know a country, know its mythology. And this is the only modern American mythology.

I stumbled across Warren Ellis’ pitch for PLANETARY a few years back, and I’ve gone back to it numerous times over the years as a shining example of how to write these damn things.  This is his opening:

The Wildstorm Universe is just the obvious shiny surface of an Earth with superheroes. Go a little deeper, and you find strangeness and wonder on a planetary scale. There are people weirder and more marvellous than the WildC.A.T.S. or StormWatch, who simply prefer to operate outside the glare of world publicity. There are mad and beautiful things beneath the skin of the world we know, that you only see when you look at things on a planetary scale…

…and I’m not talking about X-Files stuff. Fun as it is, it’s done to death. I’m talking about a world in the superhero genre whose only known heroes, for the most part, are sourced in conspiracy theory and hallucinated alien histories. What if, underneath all that, there was an entire classic old superhero world? What if there were huge Jack Kirby temples underground built by old gods or new, and ghostly cowboys riding the highways of the West for justice, and superspies in natty suits and 360-degree-vision shades fighting cold wars in the dark, and strange laughing killers kept in old Lovecraftian asylums… what if you had a hundred years of superhero history just slowly leaking out into this young and modern superhero world of the Wildstorm Universe? What if you could take everything old and make it new again?

Here we see Ellis revealing the theme of his story right up front.  Considering the execution of Planetary, one of the best series of all time in my opinion, this was an excellent choice.  Every issue was filled with a sense of wonder, and you can see that wonder right there in the pitch.

I talk about query letters a bit in my writing class, and we cover some of this material then.  A query letter is something like a pitch, one where you have to convey the most intriguing part of your short story or novel in one or two paragraphs!  Many of my students have told me that they find writing queries more difficult than actually writing their novel.

Most would concur, however, that it is easier than writing author bios.  I’ve never met a writer on any level who enjoy writing those cursed things.