Friday, May 18, 2012

Pitching A Story

Writing is difficult. Very difficult. I'm not going to lie and say that anyone can write a book. They can't. To write a book you have to be willing to work hard. Very HARD. You have to be willing to take vicious criticism and write and rewrite and re-rewrite ad nauseum until the idea in your head is clear on the page. That kind of perseverance isn't easily cultivated. And it doesn't come naturally to many people.

How does this apply to pitching? The same perseverance needed for writing comes in handy when dealing with writing blurbs and pitches. If you aren't familiar with "pitching" I'm not talking about the skillful throwing of a baseball or softball across home plate in an effort to strike out another team's batter.

Pitching for an author is the presentation of a book idea to an editor, agent, or publisher. Most of the time and in many ways, it can be considered a verbalized query.  In my opinion though, every time a person skims the description of a book, either on-line or in a bookstore, they are reading a pitch. By creating a compelling "pitch", an author can pique the curiosity of another person and, with luck, make a potential sale.

So, how can you create a pitch?

Now, everyone does it differently, but this is my method.

You start with an interesting story. Not that all stories aren't interesting, but some are better than others. Once you have the story, then you can start paring it down. I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "but I just finished the darned thing!" It's okay, you don't have to cut anything out of the story. What you have to do is something I personally find more difficult than writing or editing the book — write the synopsis.

Yup, take those beautiful 100K (100,000) words and reduce it down to a 1,000 word summary of all the high points. Some authors write this before the story, some write it during, some write it after. Me, I'm an "after" if I really, really have to do it. If you know your story, it shouldn't take too long.

Here's where the pitching comes in. With the synopsis done, you now have to take that 1,000 words and reduce it down to 200.

Yes, I said 200 words. You're creating your long blurb. That neat description on the back of the book that makes the reader go "Hmmm? This sounds interesting." Just enough of a teaser to get the person reading it to want to know more. To ask why? And who is she? Or how did he know that?

Here's an example of a long blurb for my book, An Invitation: Ariel's Pet.

Ariel Valerian knew cooking techniques and recipes, but a Dominant like Dane Reese had her more hot and bothered than a dozen hours slaving in a steamy kitchen. And 'slaving' is just what she intends to teach her blond-haired, blue-eyed, oh so yummy surfer boy. He might be helping at the family café as a favor to her sister, but there was no way she was giving him an opportunity to play Dom with her.
For Dane Reese, Ariel Valerian is a full-figured pixie -- a life-size, blue-haired Tinkerbell in a chef's coat surrounded by the scent of chocolate and cinnamon and an aura of mind-blowing, sweaty sex. Too bad she's driving him insane with her determination to order him around. As a Dominant and half-owner of A Master's Gift, Dane has seen his share of Dommes and submissives, and, no matter how she might deny it, Ariel is destined to call him Master.
Two powerful personalities; a contest to determine who is more adept at control; and less than thirty days to discover if Ariel will bow to Dane's commands, or if Dane will become Ariel's Pet.
This long blurb is only 188 words. It gives the gist of the conflict in the story and the disposition of the hero and heroine. From these 188 words I made the short blurb.

The short blurb is best described as your elevator pitch. A quick two or three sentence description of the story that can initiate conversation. The short blurb is 200 characters — yes, I said characters and not words. What I mean by characters is letters, spaces, and punctuation marks.

This means you are going to really use your words wisely for this blurb. The short blurb is what is used on the publisher's website to give the reader a hint of what the story is about. It compels readers to click on the link to read the summary of the story.

Try not to repeat words or character names if you don't have to. Here's the short blurb for An Invitation: Ariel's Pet.

She knows flans, soufflés, and pastries; he has mastered ball-gags, floggers, and bondage. Ariel won't back down and Dane won't submit. Will she go to her knees for him, or will he become Ariel's Pet?
This short blurb was only 200 characters (including spaces) long. Note it doesn't go into detail, only presents the key conflict in the story — namely, the struggle for control between the main characters.

So, how can this help other authors?

As you work on your blurbs keep in mind the purpose of them. Blurbs or pitches are something you will always have to develop with each of your stories if you intend to pursue writing as a career. Remember, pitches and blurbs need to be as polished as the novels they represent. You need to know your story and characters so well that the pitch is an extension of the story and rolls off your tongue in conversation as easily as your own name.

Bouncing ideas off your critique partners or someone who's read your book is a great way to get help in condensing your story to 200 words or characters. Ironically, the 200 character elevator pitch is a snap once you have the 200 word pitch.

Personally, I like working on pitches/blurbs. It's like doing a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle or a crossword puzzle in pen. A challenge worth meeting.

If anyone has a pitch that's not quite to the 200 words stage, feel free to post it and I'll see if I can help with it. Then we can get it down to 200 characters so you're ready just in case you find yourself in an elevator with an agent, editor, or publisher.

Have a great day!

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