Figuring out the Pitch

All right, y’all. I know this is early. But at least I’m posting. So, this is going to be a nitty gritty, in-depth post that will not be of use or interest to most of you. However, since I don’t really have a writing partner, and I feel like I need some accountability/help as I go through this, I’m making all of you, as readers, my writing buddy for today.

So, today, I am going to prep my pitch. And in the effort to do so, I’m going to go through section one of Zoe McCarthy’s Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript book. My main goal will be to jot down answers to the questions without overthinking it, with the intent of making it pretty later, and pretending you are all just on the other side of my chat box waiting for me to answer so I DON’T overthink it.


Book theme: Spoiled girl learns meaning of life while traveling the California Trail.

Main values protagonist struggles with: Elizabeth’s family has lost their fortune and is traveling the California trail to claim land her father bought. All Elizabeth wants is to go back East and get her old life back. She struggles throughout the story with hurt, fear of pity, homesickness, change, and grief.

Themes in the story (taking from suggestions in the book): Appearances. Choices. Courage. Death. Displacement. Failure. Faith. Family. Happiness/Joy. Hope/Despair. Identity. Loss/Grief. Peace. Place to Belong. Possessions. Purpose. Rebirth. Responsibility. Sacrifice. Self-centeredness. Social Class. Survival. Tragedy. Values.

While all these are themes in the story, I think that Elizabeth’s main struggle is with self-centeredness. She has only ever thought about herself and suddenly she has to think about those around her if any of them are to survive. Displacement could also be her main struggle. She is used to a very specific spot in society and she doesn’t have that any more.

Therefore, one might ask, in a general form: What happens when a person realizes the world doesn’t revolve around them?

Hmm. And here comes the nitty gritty work of figuring out themes and pitches. Trying to tailor the options…

Or What if life tore everything you cared about away and you had to learn how to find meaning without everything you loved?

Or What happens when one loses everything they thought mattered only to realize they have nothing that matters?

Or What if you found out that everything that mattered to you does not matter to anyone else?

Or what happens when all that matters to you is suddenly torn away?

Or What if you lost everything you cared about, only to find out none of it mattered anyway?

Yup. I’m going with that one. What if you lost everything you cared about, only to realize none of it mattered anyway?

More specific to the book, my updated theme is: When a spoiled debutant loses everything, she realizes none of it mattered anyway.


Protagonist’s everyday life: Spoiled, wealthy debutante, Elizabeth Johnson, is the most popular, sought-after girl in her New York neighborhood. Her only worry is which of her beaus to choose from–but what’s the rush? Can’t a girl have some fun?

Internal Goal: To keep as much attention on herself as possible.

External Goal: Find and marry a young man who will maintain her customary level of wealth and social status.

Greatest fear: Being pitied or gossiped about

Inciting Incident: Stealing her friend’s love interest provokes a public fight, humiliating Elizabeth and her family, and prompting her father to purchase land in California for a new start after he finds out the family fortune has been lost.

Realizing she has no other choice, since society has ostracized her, Elizabeth goes with her family on the California trial for a new life, while secretly hoping they will turn back and reclaim their old life.

Elizabeth faces the realization that she will not only have to associate with people she considers below her status, but will also have to learn how to work for the first time in her life since they no longer have servants.

All right, though I have not yet finished section one, I feel like this is enough basic information to begin figuring out my pitch. I’ve heard that the first three chapters is also the pitch. So let’s summarize those next (and throw in a prologue since no one ever tells me what to do with those):

Prologue: Mark, Elizabeth’s father, finds out over half the family fortune has been wiped out by a bad investment in the Panic of 1857 and wonders how–or if–to tell his family.

Chapter One: 1858: 16-year-old Elizabeth and her family attend the Morrison’s Christmas ball–the premier event of the season. Elizabeth struggles to maintain her cool, neutral façade so no one will know how excited she is. She meets her best friend Anastasia’s current love interest, and, irritated by an earlier rejection, makes herself feel better by stealing his attention. This provokes a public fight, culminating in Elizabeth slapping Anastasia and being asked to leave, thereby humiliating herself and her family.

Chapter Two: Brianna, Elizabeth’s mother, receives callers who relate the gossip surround Elizabeth, as well as hint at their financial trouble, the first Brianna has heard of it. Meanwhile, Mark has met with the bank only to be told his family is now in irrecoverable financial straits, and is approached by a businessman who says he has just the solution for him. At dinner, following chaotic dialogue that shows the extent of the family’s disfunction, Mark announces that they will be moving to California.

Chapter Three: Mark explains that they have no financial options left, and that the new social status their reduced circumstances would evoke, alongside Elizabeth’s humiliating episode, prompted him to sign an agreement with the bank and the businessman, purchasing a ranch in California and supplies for the entire family to take the California Trail out west. Though she vehemently objects, Elizabeth realizes she has no other option, particularly when Anastasia comes to say goodbye, expressing that it will be best for them in light of the recent events.

So, taking the theme and summaries together, a pitch, or back cover copy, should contain elements of all:

Elizabeth Johnson couldn’t have asked for a happier life. The most sought-after debutante in New York, she is wealthy, beautiful, and the toast of society. Until she makes a fool of herself in front of all the premier families. Brianna Johnson just wants peace in the family. She is utterly humiliated by her daughter’s behavior, and even more so when neighborhood gossips come over to offer her comfort by telling her that Elizabeth will probably be able to move about in society again in a year or so, and utterly perplexed when one of them hints at a financial distress she knows nothing about. Mark Johnson has not told his family that he lost most of the family fortune in the panic of ’57. So he certainly doesn’t know what to tell them when the bank tells him he is out of money, out of loans, and out of options. So when a, granted, somewhat questionable businessman offers him a ranch in California, he is all too delighted to accept it and get away from the finances, society, and his daughter’s disgrace. He was tired of staying in one place anyway. Now to tell the family.

Okay, to tighten it up and make it actually sound cohesive….

Debutante Elizabeth Johnson has everything she could ever want as the wealthy, beautiful, toast of New York society. What she doesn’t know, and what her father, Mark, has yet to gather the nerve to tell any of his family, is that the family fortune is all but gone, and with it, their way of life. So when Elizabeth manages to humiliate herself and her family in front of all of society at almost the same time that Mark finds out that the rest of their fortune is gone, Mark decides the only option is to accept a solution from a questionable acquaintance.

Elizabeth listens in stunned horror as her father announces they are taking the California Trail out west, and leaving all their servants and luxurious possessions behind. That, combined with the society that has suddenly turned against her, seems like a nightmare from which she must awaken at any time.

But when the tragedies of the trail become all too real, will she finally realize that some things are more valuable than wealth?

Better, but not quite there.

1858. Debutante Elizabeth Johnson’s life sparkles with wealth, vivacity, and laughter as she dances from one social event to the next, the toast of New York society. Until the night she utterly humiliates herself and her family in front of everyone who matters.

Mark Johnson has yet to tell his wife and four children that he lost most of their fortune in the Panic of ’57. So when his daughter’s disastrous episode is followed closely by the bank telling him he is out of money, out of loans, and out of options, he really doesn’t have any choice but to accept the solution offered by a somewhat questionable acquaintance, does he?

Brianna Johnson only ever wanted peace and stability. Children who can barely stand each other, and a husband who never listens are hardly the makings of such a life. Nevertheless, she listens in horror, certain it is not the answer she was looking for, when her husband announces that they are selling everything and taking the California Trail out west.

Leaving behind everything they ever knew, will the Johnsons finally find what they needed all along?

Doesn’t quite feel right. Too disparate maybe? Hmm. Technically, while the book does have all three viewpoints, the main focus is Elizabeth, so I should focus on her.

Debutante Elizabeth Johnson floats from one social event to another in a life filled with sparkling color and laughter as the toast of New York society. Until one night when she makes a fool of herself in front of anyone and everyone who matters, humiliating both herself and her family.

The next day, she listens in stunned horror as her father announces that the family fortune is gone and, prompted by her display, he has sold their house to purchase a ranch in California. Which they will reach by wagon train. Without servants or luxury of any kind. That, combined with a society that has suddenly turned against her, Elizabeth is certain she is stuck in a nightmare.

But when the tragedies of the trail become all too real, will Elizabeth finally realize there are some things more valuable than wealth?

That seems closer! Okay, if you are still here, then you are either a very good friend, a fellow writer delighted to see someone else struggling through this horror they call a pitch, or a very tenacious reader. No matter which you are, I’d appreciate any and all input!

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