In this era of Zoom pitches, writers sometimes question why they need a written pitch bible for a television project at all. Can’t you just pitch your show in a Stage 32 pitch session or to a contact in a meeting, send over a pilot script and sell your show? Can’t the rest of the details be worked out later? Who would read your pitch anyway?
Actually, writing a pitch bible may be the most important step you take toward selling your show. Here are five reasons:
Writing a pitch bible forces you to work out all the details of your vision, which means you will own a fully conceived series rather than a bare-bones concept. Often writers start out with a premise and construct one storyline for a pilot, thinking about their world and characters only as they serve that story. But a pilot script does not communicate the nuances of your show and where its longevity comes from. Concept does not equal sustainability – and a series sells not only because it has a unique, creative premise, but because it has elements that will sustain it throughout its run, be that a mini-series or multiple seasons.
Writing a pitch bible means thinking beyond your concept. As you write about the world of your show, you imagine how it will look and sound on screen, thinking about why it’s interesting to watch and how it can generate multiple storylines. Writers are often surprised by how important it is to consider tone, the “special sauce” that gives your show its unique feel. And as you gather images for your pitch bible, your show begins to come to life visually.
Writing detailed character descriptions means thinking about your characters’ backstories, their over-arching goals and emotional motivations, their strengths and flaws, and how they will evolve through the series. They become complex, dimensional human beings who actors can imagine playing.
And most importantly, thinking about the episode-to-episode structure and the central conflicts that power your show makes you envision the future of your series. Selling means giving away your secrets – pitches tell people the “how it works” of your show. Buyers want to know that you have a strong vision of how the show will unfold, that you are selling something far more personal than a simple concept. They don’t want a season’s worth of scripts (that’s what writers’ rooms are for!), but they need the creator’s roadmap.
Thinking deeply about and writing out all those pitch bible elements will help you to write (or rewrite) a strong pilot that launches your series. When you think specifically about the goals and motivations for each character and what is at stake for them through the series, they acquire agency, driving the story rather than being mere participants. Instead of you contriving story beats, your characters write the story by doing what they would do naturally in a given situation, with each decision leading to consequences. Setting your pilot within a specific world induces conflict as your characters confront inherent challenges.
Stuck in the last third of your pilot and about to put it in a drawer? Got feedback that your pilot feels “closed” or that readers aren’t fully engaged? Well, if you don’t know where you are headed, it’s impossible to set a direction. But if you know what future episodes hold, then you know how your pilot must end and the storylines it must launch. Much like a missile that has acquired a target, your pilot will take off with the audience anticipating a journey they can envision with excitement. They know what your show is about and why they should keep watching, because you know what your show is about.
A pitch bible can help make your verbal pitch truly land – in a room or on Zoom. If you’ve ever pitched before, you know that the biggest challenges are knowing what to say and fighting your nerves. You can convert your written pitch to a “script” for what to say in your meeting, often by pulling out the highlights. Knowing much more about your show than what you have time to say in the room will make you feel confident and prepared, able to pitch with authority and passion. Plus, you can pull out those beautiful images you used in your pitch bible and create a slide show that you can use as a visual aid whether printed out in a room or via screen-share on Zoom.
You might be asked to send a written pitch to a contact in advance of a meeting. If you are just starting out, you know it’s not simple to get a pitch meeting. You might not be able to point to screen credits, and you might not have a manager or agent to set meetings for you. So, you will have to prove you’ve got the goods before executives will give you a chance to pitch. Or, in this era of short attention spans and deluge of content, you might be asked for a “one-sheet.” Before you panic that this is yet another thing you have to write, it’s as simple as copy-paste if you already have a pitch bible. Take the all-important concept section, add a few details, and you’re ready to hit send.
It can be very helpful to send your pitch bible as a follow-up to your pitch meeting. Have you noticed that when you pitch, your listeners are half paying attention and half taking notes? If you tell them that you will be sending them a written pitch after your meeting, they can sit back and enjoy the ride, ask questions, imagine the show take shape. Of course, the executives in the room may not be the final decision-makers, or at the very least they have a team – and probably a boss – to update. If you don’t give them anything in writing, it will be up to them to re-pitch your show to their team based on their notes. Will they pitch it the way you’d like it presented? Will they remember key details? What if there are questions they neglected to ask? A pitch bible makes it easier for executives to convey your ideas to their team and show them you can write and sell.