Understanding the Premise, the Blurb, and the Pitch


A “premise” is a brief summary of what the book is about, preferably in one to two sentences. It can be considered the quickie pitch for an agent, an editor, or a reader.

A Premise’s Job
Reinforce what the title says about the book’s genre and tone
Summarize the storyline
Show the story’s uniqueness
Intrigue the reader, agent, or editor
Entice the reader to want to know what’s going to happen
Establish the story’s dramatic issue and hint at movement within the story to reach a satisfactory fulfillment

Sample Premise of It’s Mau-idness (by Starla Kaye)

Two people burned in previous bad marriages fight an unwanted and irresistible attraction while battling over a spa ranch business investment in Maui.

Tone: semi-lighthearted by the play on Maui Madness (original title I came up with)
Summary: characters battling over something both want
Uniqueness: the type of business being battled over
Romantic conflict: prior bad marriages make characters wary, but physical attraction is strong and hard to resist


Some people wrongly believe that a “premise” is the same thing as the promotional “blurb,” such as used on back covers. The premise may be incorporated into the blurb, but the blurb goes into more detail to encourage a reader to buy the book.

Goals of the Blurb

Introduce the main character or characters
State their goals (the reason for the story)
Hint at conflicts (reasons they will have trouble reaching the goals)
Establish setting details: time period, genre influences, location
For a romance, to show attraction and frustration

Sample Blurb from If You Loved Me by Starla Kaye

Caitlin Curran MacDonnell’s life is a disaster. Forced into marriage in Scotland at eighteen to a man she had never met before, at twenty-one she’s told the marriage is to be annulled. Only problem: Now her brother wants to force her to marry someone else. She’s had enough. She has dreams of her own and they don’t include an enormous, handsome Scot OR a disgusting old man. It’s time to find her “husband” from whom she was separated after her wedding night and get on with her life.

Just when Mac is getting on with his life, his sassy young bride shows up in Tumbleweed, Kansas where he’s now the sheriff. He’d been told she’d died, yet there she is, willful and independent as ever, demanding an annulment so she can go off to San Francisco to be a photographer. That might be what she wants, but what she needs is a man to keep her in line.

Character introduction: Cailtin Curran MacDonnell and Mac MacDonnell
Her goals: end her farce of a marriage and start her own life as a photographer
Her conflicts: not go from one forced marriage to another
Setting: married in Scotland, confronts Mac in Tumbleweed, Kansas
Romantic elements: sees Mac as a handsome Scot, he sees her as needing him


In baseball terms, it would be what a pitcher throws to a batter in an attempt to work towards a game win. The pitcher would hope that all of his pitches are so good that all the batters strike out, and he earns the glory of a win.

In a writer’s terms, the pitch is what a writer tells an agent or an editor about his/her manuscript with the hope of earning representation or a sale. The pitch can be as short as the 1-2 sentence premise, or relating the guts of the work in 6-10 well crafted sentences for a five to ten minute agent/editor appointment. The pitch can also be used in a query letter.

Contents of a Good Pitch

Relate the genre, and possibly a targeted line
Give the approximate word count (should fit the targeted line you mention)
State if the work is complete
Provide a succinct summary of the basic storyline plot points
Establish the setting, including the time period
Introduce the characters and their goals
Show the conflicts and obstacles to keep the characters from reaching their goals
In a romance, explain what attracts them to each other and what keeps them from physically or emotionally apart


Joan Vincent said...

Great explanations Starla. Solid information backed with examples for easier absorption. I especially like your pointing out the differences between premise and blurb. Another one of yours that I will print out.

Pat Davids said...

Wonderful concise information. Your knowledge of the business is awe-inspiring.

Nina Sipes said...

Why aren't you the one that explains everything? You really have a way of making complex things really simple. That's a real gift. I am in awe. My special gift is to make really simple things very complex and over thought out. I like your gift better.
Thanks for making these clear to me.

Starla Kaye said...

Thank you all for your comments on this blog. I wasn't sure what to do this round. I don't really have a favorite reference book for writing, so I steered away from that.

Anyone else have things to add to my meager definitions here?

Becky A said...

Miss Starla,
I haven't a thing to add, your post was great. What I want to know is; what are the odds of getting you to write premises, blurbs and pitches for the rest of us????? Oh, and how about a, shiver, synopsis?????
You really know your stuff!

Penny Rader said...

Starla, you are simply amazing. Thanks the succint lesson in premises and blurbs and pitches. Definitely a keeper post and one I'll be printing out for future reference.