In any pitch, the buyer wants to know two seemingly contradictory elements of your novel or screenplay: its familiarity and its originality.
If you’ve written a story that bears little resemblance to movies or novels that have proven successful – if it’s totally original, in other words – the agent or editor or producer would be taking a huge risk recommending it to her bosses or publishers or studios. The person you’re pitching to would have nothing to back up or justify her enthusiasm except her own personal taste. But if your story falls into a popular genre, if it contains characters and plot elements that have made money in the past, if it has a clear, consistent tone and style (comedic, satiric, dark, edgy, sweet, romantic, fast-paced, etc) that has already proven successful, then any buyer can imagine how to sell it to the people in power, and to the mass audience.
This is where antecedents become a powerful element of your pitch. When you identify two or three blockbusters or best sellers that share those qualities listed above with your own project, the buyer immediately understands the kind of story you’re selling, and the potential audience for the book, movie or episodic series.
But simply making your story sound similar to other successful novels or films isn’t enough. You must also reveal the hook to your story. What is it about your project that separates it from the others in its genre? What will make a potential buyer or reader or moviegoer say, “Wow! I’ve never seen THAT before – I have to check it out!” Buyers want to know the specific plot elements that make your story unique and different.
So when pitching your project, you might say something like, “I’ve always been a huge fan of [identify the genre or fiction category], stories like [name two or three antecedents]. But I’ve never seen one where [identify the plot element that makes it unique].” Then you can segue into the rest of your pitch.
For example, “I love magic, and I’ve always been a huge fan of heist movies like Oceans 11, The Bank Job and The Thomas Crown Affair. So I started thinking, what if a group of top magicians set out to rob a series of banks, all while they were on stage performing their act?” This, in fact, would be a great way to begin a pitch for the film Now You See Me.