Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer Summary

Another aspect of the marketing/pitching process in your writing work is the summary of your 300+ page book into a 2-5 page synopsis, then a short paragraph or two in the query and finally at conferences, an elevator pitch of one to two sentences.  Notice a trend?  The object of the game is to get you to know your work so well that at the snap of a finger, the magic words come out of your mouth and hit all the right notes to get your project sold.  It's like the phenomenon in the French literary fairy tale by Charles Perrault, "Diamonds and Toads".  If you are good and true, the enchantress bestows a gift that diamonds, pearls and roses fall forth from your lips each time you speak; if you are false, toads, snakes and lizards shall slither forth from your lips.  Granted, this circumstance isn't quite so extreme and no enchantress is questioning your ethics.  The effect, however, is similar- you say the right words, publishers/agents/editors see the diamonds, pearls and roses (in the shape of dollar signs); you stumble in your speech and say the wrong words, they jet out of there as if you had the makings of a swamp coming out of your mouth.

Authors often have a great deal of difficulty with this step, so in the spirit of training for those diamonds, pearls and roses, let's try an exercise to get you accustomed to breaking down a story, smaller and smaller and smaller.  Don't start with your book- it's a project too close to you.  Start with an imagined project instead. 

EXERCISE:  Write 5 hand-written (archaic, we know) pages about a pivotal summer that played a role in shaping your life; a romance, a job, carefree fun, a sad or happy event, strings of events, etc...  Don't worry about grammar or spelling or whether the piece meets your ideal standards.  (If you want to polish it and use it elsewhere, do this at a later time).  Pretend as though it is a full-length manuscript and fill in an outline- a novel outline.

Now write a one page synopsis, typed, double-spaced.  Here you polish and edit.  Ask yourself, family members, friends or writing group partners (2 people who would give an honest opinion) if this sounds like a book they would read (they respond only having read your one page synopsis).

Next on the list, write a query in full query format.  Ask a different set of  (2) people if they would read this book based only on having read the query letter.  Compare responses.  Make notes on why, take comments.

Elevator pitch- really try and use an elevator.  The timing is great to test this out.  Grab (2) more willing individuals (you can explain what you're trying to accomplish to a co-worker, take along a friend) and give them your 1-2 sentences on what the essence of this project is.  Would they read this book?  More importantly would they buy it?  All they have heard is the elevator pitch- nothing else.  If you don't have 6 people to try this out with who will give feedback and not appear startled, choose 3, one person per step.

Compare their comments and responses analytically with your own notes.  What could you add or subtract to inspire more consistent outcomes?  Do your sentences run too long?  Did you hold each person's attention?  Could you confidently pitch your project?  Not satisfied with the results?  Try again.  It won't bruise the ego because it's not really your main book; yet the practice of doing this can easily help you when it's time to sell that main book that you've invested years, blood, sweat and tears into.


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