Monday, September 3, 2012

The Pitch vs. the Hook vs. the Tagline

I've been thinking a lot about pitches this week, what with Pitch Madness and the Toronto International Film Festival around the corner. Both got me thinking, what is the difference between a project's pitch, hook, and tagline, and how do they combine to make you want to take a chance on a manuscript or in the case of TIFF, a film you know nothing about?


The number one thing I've taken away: they're different, and work differently in different contexts. A tagline may be meaningless if I'm looking for a film to watch or trying to choose a book or query to read right now, but it may be the thing that makes me want to pick the book up and learn more. A hook may be not be enough when used on its own, but it may be the perfect lead in to a compelling synopsis. Finally, a pitch may not work well on the back of a book, but when you've got 10 seconds with someone in an elevator, it may be the thing that reels them in for more.

Here's what I've worked out, in my mind at least, to be the differences between a pitch, a hook, and a tagline, and what these terms mean to me:

The Pitch

A pitch is a one-sentence description of the main premise and plot of the story, typically containing information about the main character, their conflict, the setting, and the main course of events in the story. After reading a pitch, you should get a basic sense of what might happen in the story, what the genre is, whether you might like the main character(s) or not, and whether this feels like a story you might want to read.

It's a "hook" in a sense that it hooks you into the project—it doesn't lead into anything other than reading the project itself (or a larger synopsis of it). In that sense, pitches work great on their own: whether you're in an elevator or in the line at the grocery store, in 10 seconds your pitch can tell someone what the book is about. In the case of TIFF, a movie's pitch will tell me whether I want to buy a ticket for it or not. I don't really need anything else.

Examples (works-in-progress, as always!):
151: An outcast boy from the Underground falls in love with an orphaned girl from the Colonies and joins her rebellion against a power-hungry Chieftain with ties to his past.
PERIAPSIS: A young farm boy from Illyria joins an emergency expedition to the coral planet Colchis, where he believes his long-lost father may be hiding.

The Hook

The hook is the one-sentence introduction to your summary that will make the reader want to hear more. It's the exciting, exhilarating, or compelling first thought that you give someone that will help them decide whether to read on and hear more or to pack it in and go away. It can be one word or twenty, it can introduce a character loaded with conflict, or it can introduce a world or plot premise, or if it's really good, it can introduce both.

It isn't, however, a line that can work on its own. As a hook, it will always be attached to a "line", which is the rest of the summary or description. On its own, it can definitely be exciting, though, as it is always meant to get your blood pumping. That said, it will leave you feeling a bit empty unless you read the "line"—it tells you enough, but only enough to make you keep reading. Not enough to help you decide to read a book or see a TIFF movie on its own. Typically, the hook is your first line in the summary of your query.

Examples (works-in-progress, as always!):
151: 17-year-old Aeneas doesn’t belong to a Colony. As the bloody scars on his back remind him, he was one more than needed. One more than necessary.
PERIAPSIS: 17-year-old Jason Starboard has waited all his life for the Periapsis, the 10-day period when Illyria crosses orbits with Colchis, so that his father can finally come home.


The tagline is where the marketing comes in. It's the catchy, short one-liner, usually cryptic, that helps get someone's attention and makes them want to find out more. And when I say short and cryptic, I mean it: it usually doesn't give you too much information about the main character and premise, usually just enough about either to make it seem like a fun, interesting project.

In that sense, it works best at the top of a poster, the top of a back cover book blurb, or a teaser to use on a website or with marketing materials. It's purely that: a teaser! It also won't necessarily follow the same voice or style as the novel itself, it will have a marketing voice. Think of that deep, booming voice that narrates film trailers, and you get the picture.

Examples (works-in-progress, as always!):
151: Stay in the 150, you live. Fall out, and take your chances down below.
PERIAPSIS: 2 planets. 10 days of contact. 1 secret that could destroy both worlds.

What do you think are the main differences between a pitch, a hook, and a tagline? Do I have this all figured out, or am I crazy? Please share your thoughts below!