Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Pitch

Recently, a lot of my friends have been trying to write the "perfect pitch". Good luck with that. I'm not saying there isn't value in a perfectly constructed mini-summary of your book. It has its place. However, I think the key to pitching is knowing your book well enough that you can gain enough interest in a very short period of time and then be able to expand without reciting a two page synopsis.

Huh? Okay, let's look at it this way. You have developed the "perfect" pitch that you can deliver in 30 seconds. That's wonderful. But what if you only have five seconds? Ten seconds? How are you going to adjust that perfect pitch you developed depending on the situation? Personally, I get extremely bored when I ask someone what their book is about and they launch into a formal pitch. I just want to know what it's about. That's all. But how do you do that?

You have to know your book, intimately, and know what there is about it that would spark an interest. Quickly.

I have several pitches for They Call Me Crazy. The formal pitch can be delivered in thirty seconds, and of course is for a more formal setting--an actual sit down opportunity to deliver it, where a pitch is expected, or as part of a written query process, tweaked of course. Here it is:

Roland Adams was just a good ol' boy from Deacon, Kansas. When his wife, Cass, is found trying to dump his body in the Spring River, the town can only come to one conclusion: She's crazy. Certifiable. Always has been. As Cass' life unfolds, the secrets held by her worm-farming brother-in-law, her psychic grandmother and her only friend, a promiscuous fifth grade teacher, may be the key to Cass' deliverance.
But Roland is the only one who has all of the answers. And he's not talking.

Yes, that tells the story, and hopefully it gives an indication that although the book is about killing a spouse, it does have a darkly humorous tone. However, if I'm standing in a bar with several people and someone asks, "What's your book about?" do you think I am really going to clear my throat and go in to this obviously rehearsed speech? Sorry. Not me. I know my book very well, and instead, depending on the group I'm with or the specific situation, I would throw out a one sentence 'pitch'. Something like:

A Kansas woman discovers how difficult it is to bury a husband: especially when using the same shovel she whacked him with in the first place.
After burying her husband in his garden, a Kansas woman unearths his secrets and wants to kill him again.

What I would NOT do is use a big fancy word like mariticide. Sure, that's what it's about, but it doesn't suggest the tone of the book, and showing off my smartness is not the point. I want someone to ask, "What kind of secrets?" or "Why did she kill him?" or... you get the idea. I want someone to GIVE ME more than five or ten seconds because they WANT TO.

Of course, with my other novel, Ragtown, the tone, the setting, the story is quite different and therefore, so are my various ways to present it. Sure, I have written formal taglines, blurby things, 'back of the book' stuff, etc., but, in my opinion, that is the easy part. Writing those sentences that tell 'what the book is about' should be easy for writers. It's getting that interest in a sentence, something you can throw out casually that makes someone say "tell me more." And in order to do that, you have to know your book and you have to know what it is about your book that might appeal to someone.

Now, 50% of the people that read this are going to disagree with what I'm going to say. But let me tell you, I take very good notes of people's reactions to my 'pitches' and with Ragtown, this works more than 50% of the time:

"It's a coming of age story about a construction worker in the 1930's working on the Hoover Dam project."

Boring as hell, right? Tells you NOTHING, right? Well let me tell you something I have learned over the past year; The Hoover Dam or Depression era dam building has touched so many people's lives in a variety of ways, that just by saying that boring line above, giving nothing other than the setting, more than 50% of the people I've thrown that out to want to hear more. In the past week alone, these are three comments I've had:

"My grandfather worked on the Coolie Dam. I'd love to read this."
"I've been to the Hoover Dam! How cool, that sounds great."(It doesn't sound great, they know nothing about it, however, they are familiar with the setting and therefore are interested)
"How many people are actually buried in the dam?" (I get a lot of questions about the dam itself, which in my opinion, means people are interested)

Each one of these, of course, gives me the opportunity to tell someone more about the book. And isn't that the point?

So come up with a lovely formal pitch, write it up, put it in your query, on your business cards and your website, sit back and revel in the beauty of your words. But when it comes down to really pitching, you better know your book and know what to say that is going to have them asking for more.

So, what's your book about?