This blog post, by Angela James, executive editor for Samhain Publishing, originally appeared on her Nice Mommy – Evil Editor blog on 3/26/09. In it, she discusses how Twitter’s 140-character limit presents authors with an opportunity to hone a book pitch.
ETA: The first thing to say is that a pitch isn’t necessarily about selling your book to an agent/editor. Time to move out of that mindset! Read on…
Here’s another one to file under conversations from Twitter. This came up this past weekend in a conversation about Blood and Chocolate by Annette Kurtis Clause. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. Someone (@lihsa, follow the link for her article on it) on Twitter asked for a review/description and the challenge was on. 140 character review for a book? It’s the “elevator pitch” at its most refined!
Now, it’s been a few years since I read Blood and Chocolate so even though it’s one of the books I recommend often when someone asks for paranormal YA, I still had to stop and think how to refine it in an interesting way. Years after I’d read it. Hard!
I came up with: teenage female werewolf struggles to find acceptance in a world that doesn’t know about the supernatural. Moody, dark and emotional.
I don’t think it’s the best review/pitch but it does start to refine the ideas. I could make it punchier, ramp up the hook, really get someone interested. Let’s see…
Rebelling against her society. Searching for love. Desperate for a chance. Can this teen wolf reconcile what she is with who she wants to be?
Hmm, I’m not sure. I’m actually over by one character but I figure if I delete a space, I’ll be okay. What do you think? Better? It took me 15 minutes of fiddling to come up with that versus the first one, which I just popped off the top of my head.
But what I’m getting at is that it’s important to be able for authors to refine your book to its purest hook. The conflict, the angst, the info that’s going to make a reader, editor or agent want to pick it up to read, go find an excerpt, request a full or keep reading your query letter.
TV does this with what they call log lines. A one sentence hook meant to engage the viewer and get them to watch the show. Something that will easily fit in the TV guide or, for many of us now, on the guide channel. There’s no second chances when the viewer has only that guide to look at and base their decision off of. So the log line has to be good enough to convince the viewer to turn the channel right then and there, without a bunch of extranneous detail or someone saying “oh wait, that didn’t quite hook you? Well let me tell you just a little more”. The log line is it. The same should be considered true of the elevator pitch or, for purposes of my blog post, the Twitch (Twitter pitch. Ha! I’m funny).
At Samhain, we do something similar with each of our books’ blurbs, but we call it a tagline. If you go over to the website, the tagline is what you see on this page. Something to pique the interest of readers browsing our website, to entice them to click through to the book’s blurb and then excerpt.
I remember being at a conference a few years back and someone at our lunch table asking another author there about the book she wrote. I remember it was a historical but that’s all I remember because she spent the next 15 minutes talking, in depth, about the plot of her book and all the details. Ouch. Those are the times that I have to really struggle to pay attention.
It’s harder if it happens during a pitch session because, let’s be honest, it’s hard for any of us to be talked to for 8 to 10 minutes without drifting off and thinking about lunch (unless you’re at lunch, in which case you’re thinking about your post-lunch nap and how much you’d like one). But I can be hooked by a plot refined down to its most interesting conflicts and ideas. Something that either makes me want to ask questions and find out more, or go buy the book and find out more.