You may have noticed that some contests ask for a short pitch of your book, or you may have been asked by an agent or editor to provide one. The typical length of these short pitches is around thirty-five words, though this is not always the case. How can you condense a full-length novel into a thirty-five word pitch? Here are some tips:
1) Use this formula: What does my main character want? What stands in their way? What happens is they don't get what they want? That may seem like a lot to condense into thirty-five words, but if you've got these stakes identified in your novel, you should be able to pull them out into a short pitch.
Another formula: When X [inciting incident], X must [action/decision], or [stakes].
2) Limit your pitch to your main plot. There's no room for subplots in a pitch.
3) Be specific. 35 words is sufficient to drop a few details about your world and your main character. Specific details are much more intriguing than generalities ('the Sorcerer's Stone' vs. 'a magical talisman').
4) Keep the pitch to one sentence. Two, if necessary.
5) You can include comps if it really helps shed light on your plot, but it's not necessary.
6) Use the character's name. First name is fine (you don't need to waste a word on a surname).
7) Don't include any other named characters. You can refer to the description of the character who's standing in your main character's way: the witch, the warlock, the werewolf.
8) Include your main character's age if you're writing a children's book. But do so using hypens: 'twelve-year-old' is one word, while 'twelve year old' is three.
9) 35 means 35. Make sure you count manually, along with using on a word processing program's word count. You don't want to get your pitch bounced for having an extra word or two!
Example: Eleven-year-old Harry, who has just discovered he's a wizard, must stop newly-resurrected evil wizard from finding the Sorcerer's Stone, or the evil wizard will gain the power to destroy the wizarding world. (32 words)
Example: When Dorothy is whisked away to a magical land, she must rely on her newfound friends, along with her own strength and resolve, to defeat a wicked witch and find her way home. (33 words)
Example: When sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place in the televised Hunger Games, she must use her hunting skills to outsmart and kill her competitors in the brutal game, or be killed herself. (34 words)