Monday, January 31, 2011

Elevator Speech

photo: I don't have a photo of an elevator - stairs will have to do.

I was reading a blog post here This Itch of Writing by Emma Darwin. Great information on her page and always makes your brain hurt. That can be a good thing, OK? Anyway- it got me to thinking - dangerous, I know.

Can you summarize your book in one sentence? I had to learn this the hard way. I was getting ready for the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association Conference. My goal was to pitch my book to anybody who would listen, including but not limited to, agents and editors. That meant I needed to figure out just what my pitch would be. I started with a summary of my book.

I pretended that I had a half hour to talk to someone and wrote what I'd say if they asked the coveted question, "What's your book about?" My summary was five pages. Yikes! Said agent would have walked off the elevator and had breakfast at the hotel coffee shop by the time I'd finished. So, back to the drawing board. I edited until my eyeballs bled - getting it down to 2 pages. Still too long.

I was trying to hit on all the major points in the book. That's not what an elevator speech is supposed to do. So, I pretended that I was not only on an elevator, but that the agent had already hit the button for the next floor. What would I say then?

Cut...cut...cut...

You know those movie posters in the theater or the ads for the movie on television? Quick and to the point. Intriguing. Right? I set out to do that with my pitch. I came up with something like;

"Breaking the Code, is a memoir about a daughter's quest to figure out why her father, a WWII veteran, suddenly started having flashbacks and nightmares more than 50-years after the war."

I'd like to say that I came up with that before the conference, but truth is, it was during the conference that I perfected it. It turns out that writers like to ask other writers, "So what's your book about?" Random strangers (if writers can be such a thing) gave me advice. And my pitch got shorter and shorter. It got more concise and more intriguing. I pitched it over and over and over before ever getting to an agent or editor. So, is is my advice; DO do this at home!

Pitch your book to your neighbor, your friend, and as many strangers as you can find. Tell your coffee girl about it, your mailman (you might have to walk fast), your dad's mom's friend's bosses cousin. Believe me, you will learn when eyes glaze over. You will also learn when tears come and when people laugh. All of these reactions will benefit your pitch. Go home and start writing.

What's your pitch? I wanna hear it. Really!

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