Friday, August 29, 2008
What's pitching got to do with writing?
Lets play pretend. Look at each scenario. What would REALLY happen?
1. You are at the bookstore. You have no idea what book you want, but you want a book that will draw you in and captivate you. To make your decision you . . .
A. Take every book off the shelf, read the first chapter, maybe two, of every book. I mean hey! There's only thirty books in your pile and you've got all day. Right?
B. Place each book next to your ear to see if one "speaks" to you
C. Read that jacketflap, maybe the first page too.
2. Now imagine that you are an editor or an agent. You can't see the top of your desk for all of the manuscripts that need to be read. Not to mention you have deadlines, phone calls, meetings and paper work to fill out and at noon you have to be at the airport to take off for a speaking engagement. Oh crap! You have to prepare your speech too! Now, to get through that stack of manuscripts . . . . . . .
A. you slowly peruse each manuscript, drinking in every word, while fork lifts bring in more manilla envelopes to add to your pile, your phone continues to ring, and somebody pops their head in your office every two seconds to tell you or remind you of somthing that you've got to do. . .
B. Put each envelope next to your ear to see if one "speaks" to you.
C. skim through the manuscripts. If they can't catch your eye in a few seconds, you know the manuscript will never catch the eye of the people who answered "C" to question number 1.
3. A family member asks you about your writing. "What is the book about?" they ask. You . . . .
A. say "You see, ummm. . there's this kid who, ummmm, goes out into the . . . " and soon the person you are talking gets zombie eyes, starts backing towards the door and just says "oh"
B. pause, because how do you explain your book? It's so long, you've worked on it for so many months. Where do you begin to tell your tale to this person who will, no doubt, want to hear ever detail?!
C. Repeat in a minute or less a short "hook" that you've prepared. The family member is impressed and intrigued and very grateful that you didn't go on and on and on and on . . .
What does a "pitch" have to do with writing? If you're just writing for yourself, nothing. If you're writing for publication . . . everything. So you've written something wonderful. Great! Now how do you get editors, agents and the general public to read it? You have to create an interest, and in this day and age, you don't have much time to hook'em and reel'em in. A pitch is how you get someone else interested in your story; how you get an editor to read more . . . how you get a customer to buy your book over thousands of others.
So, now you wonder, how do I prepare a pitch? What do I include? How long should it be?
I'm glad you aked. My, but aren't you sharp and studious! Here are some links and info for you.
It just so happens that Helene Boudreau just posted a great blog about pitching over at her little piece of blogland. She uses Fancy Nancy and Walter the Farting Dog as examples. In short, she says a good pitch should include who the character is, what their conflict is and give a hint at the outcome of the story. (she even color coded her examples! this is a gal I'd like to hang with! I love color coding!) You've got to check out her post. Click here to read more. It's a great example!
Here's a link to my notes from Sarah Shumway, editor at Dutton. She gave a great talk on the importance of pitches at our annual Chapel Hill retreat this past April. Click here for my notes and some pictures too! bonus!
The SCBWI Carolina's Annual conference is going to give their participants a chance to share their pitches with one another speed-dating style. Just the thought of it makes my palms swaeat. But it needs to be done. If you can't do it in a relaxed setting among your peers, how can you do it anywhere else? To help us prepare, they provided a Pitch Practice Form for us to use. You can look it up by clicking here.
In short, a pitch should be 1-3 brief sentences. In choosing what to include, use info that makes your story unique. Use sharp adjectives. Don't just say "a girl" tell us what kind of girl she is. etec.
Another place you may want to check out is a blog where there was a pitching contest a few months ago. consequently, I, ahem, won the contest. Hey! Did anyone just hear that? Sounded like a horn. Oh wait, that's just me. Anyway, the great thing about this contest is that the judges left comments for each participant, telling them what made the pitch good, and what could make the pitch stronger. There's nothing like hearing it from people who have been there done that. Click here to read the entries and the judges coments.
I hope this post is helpful.
The pitcher is standing on the mound . . . her eyes are focused, the pitcher looks fierce today folks! This could be an exciting game! And the pitch . . . . . . . (The crowd goes wild!)