Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Pitch

Inspiring Me Today: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

So, as many of you know, last weekend was DFWcon. I do have coverage coming. I promise. Just need a bit of time to edit the videos.

Anyway, I met so many authors there, and they were all trying to tell me about their story. What I found was that a lot of people have no clue how to do that.

Don't feel bad. I didn't either.
Here's a case in point. I was walking back to my room after The Gong Show, a hilarious and enlightening event where a deep-voiced "movie trailer"-style announcer read anonymous query letters. Five agents had "gongs," which they would sound at the point they'd stop reading. Anyway, the thing they said over and over was, "Get to the story! What's the story?!"

As I was walking back from this event, I started up a conversation with another conference-goer about The Gong Show. She complained, "They always tell us they need the story, but it makes no sense! It's all so confusing and contradictory. I have no idea what they're looking for!"

Well, I'm going to tell you what they're looking for. And really, you've probably heard it before. When the agents want the story, they want to know this:

When [beginning of book] happens, [main character] must overcome [what stops him/her] so he/she can [goal] before [bad stuff happens]. 

That's it. That's what they want to hear. And they want it soon, not two-thirds of the way through the query or pitch. Work hard and develop that sentence. That's your pitch. If you have that, you can do any of those other little marketing things. You can scrunch it down into a twitter pitch. You can expand it into a query letter. You can even use it as a springboard in a face-to-face pitch or elevator speech. 

Now, don't tell me your book doesn't fit into this formula. It does. Or rather, it should, unless you've written something really REALLY experimental (which you shouldn't attempt unless you're already a very accomplished author, because this takes skill). So figure out what the inciting incident, goal, obstacle, and stakes are. Who knows? You may find you need to revise your manuscript to really bring this out. I've done that. My book is much better for it.

Oh, and the other thing you'll need for your pitch: the hook. What's a hook? Well, we'll get to that next time.
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