Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Difficult, but a must do

By R.J. Harlick

Is it a part of an author’s responsibility to develop a good “elevator pitch”? If so, why; if not, why not? Any advice for those trying to develop a good/better one?

Yup, definitely a must. But this is only something I have learned in hindsight. When I was starting out on my writing adventure, I never gave developing a short snappy pitch a second thought. I was too busy perfecting my book. When people asked me what it was all about, I would go into lengthy descriptions, which only served to put them to sleep.  I knew I had to shorten it, but I found it impossible to boil a hundred thousand word story into a few succinct attention-grabbing sentences. Writing a brief synopsis for query letters almost killed me. I was too close to the story and had great difficulty picking out the few kernels that would entice an agent or publisher to read it.

I remember, at the time, reading advice from a best-selling author, sorry, I can’t remember the name, who said one of the first things a writer should do early on in the writing of a novel is come up with a single sentence that describes what the books is about. Not only would it help in selling the book, but it would also help the writer keep focused. Sound advice. I remember trying, but found myself wanting to mention the various sub-plots until this sentence became many paragraphs. I was afraid of missing some key element. I was too concentrated on the story itself, instead of standing back and looking down from forty stories above to grasp the essential theme. 

Fortunately for me, a short snappy pitch didn’t prove necessary when I ultimately attracted interest from a publisher.

Seven books later, I still have difficulties seeing the book for the words, but my publisher forces me to hone in on the key elements. As part of my marketing plan for a new book I am required to come up with several descriptions of varying word counts from 25 to 300 to be used in their sales process and for the book cover and catalogue.  It’s a challenge, but a very useful one. I frequently call on these descriptions for when I need to provide information for conferences and other events and for publications, blogs etc. And of course, it’s at the ready for when a reader asks me that all important question, what’s my book about.

As you can see, the need for a short snappy pitch doesn’t end with signing of the book contract, but continues on during its published life. 

I’ve also found it useful to develop one or two sentence descriptions to describe my main character and the series itself, for I am often being asked about Meg and the series. 

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read Terry Shames’ blog of yesterday. She did an excellent job in offering advice on developing a snappy pitch. 

In signing out, I wish you much luck with your sales pitch.  


Lyda McPherson said...

Good Morning RJ. I'm curious. Now that you know there is no escaping the synopsis, are you thinking about it as you write or is it consigned to the marketing phase alone? Any tips on how you approach the task?

Terry said...

Thanks for the shout-out. And I agree, it's really hard. I've found that doing it before I start writing is a way to set me on the path, but frequently by the time I'm done, the elevator pitch (or back cover copy) has changed.

RJ Harlick said...

Lyda, I'm afraid my publisher pretty well ensures that I do the synopsis before I am too far into the writing. They require it before the signing of the contract. Otherwise, I hate to say it, but I likely wouldn't give it a thought until I am finished writing the first draft. But that said, it's much like eating vegetables as a child, which I like most kids hated doing. But like veggies, it's good for you, so do it. By looking at the broader picture of your work-in-progress you are able to focus in on the story and avoid going off in wild directions that can dilute and confuse your storyline.

Susan C Shea said...

Interesting to think of the cover teaser copy as being the same as the elevator pitch. I write the former easily so maybe you've given me the key to a script for an elevator pitch. Thanks.

Cathy Ace said...

Yes, it's a real challenge, but critical. I've used my "pitch" when doing signings in bookstores etc where it's important to be able to allow a prospective reader understand what type of book you've written, not just the plot, because then they can judge if it's "their kind of book". Sometimes they'll go beyond their comfort zone, other times they'll pass.

Lyda McPherson said...

Thank you all for your comments.I now know that the pitch and the cover copy are an art form in their own right (write?) If you're not a fan of puns, please accept my apologies. They just slip out from time to time.