Here’s the pitch–and Deb Erika takes a swing!

Thanks to everyone who entered our Query Critique Contest! The contest is now over, but stay tuned each day this week to see who our winners are (remember-we said we were giving away 5 critiques!). Today`s winner is Delia! Congratulations, Delia! We`ll get in touch with you soon, but in the interim, get polishing that query!

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Erika MarksPitches are tough. With the exception of Deb Joanne’s well-timed advice yesterday on when never to pitch your novel, there really aren’t the same standard do-and-don’t lists for pitches as there are with lots of other aspects of publishing, such as query-writing.

And yet, for all the summaries and synopses and query letters you may craft, the pitch may well be the most important jewel in your writing crown. (No pressure. Really.)

Because it’s already hard enough to condense our 90,000 word novels into a one-to-two page synopsis, then we learn we have to condense it even further—like, everything-but-two-sentences further!

It can be so frustrating! It’s not that we don’t know what our book is about (We do!) or that we don’t love our books (We do!) yet so often when someone asks us what our book is about, we appear utterly confounded by our own story.

Now I will be the first (but probably not the last) to admit that today—more than two years after I sold LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and more than seven months after it released—I am STILL not in total possession of a really good pitch for my novel. Which means that every time someone asks me: “So what’s your book about?” I STILL crack a little bit on the inside.

So since I am married to a biology teacher, I thought it might be a good exercise to perform a dissection of a pitch to see if I could improve on the one I have. Here’s the body I’m starting with; the book summary that is featured on pages where LITTLE GALE GUMBO is sold:

When Camille and her two teenage daughters fled New Orleans for the island of Little Gale off the coast of Maine, the islanders were initially more suspicious than welcoming. Twenty-five years later, Camille’s Creole restaurant, The Little Gale Gumbo Café, has become an island staple-as has the legacy of her romance with islander Ben Haskell. Camille and Ben, along with their children, created a new family unit with a seemingly unbreakable bond. But when Ben is found unconscious in his home, next to the body of Camille’s estranged husband, old secrets and suspicions reemerge, and the family must reunite to hope for Ben’s survival. But as revelations come to the surface, so do long-held secrets that will test the limits and definitions of family.

Hmm. Okay. So this is tighter than a synopsis, but not so tight I wouldn’t risk losing my audience if I tried to get it all out as a pitch. (I’ve come to the conclusion that when people ask what your book is about, it’s a lot like when they ask how you are as a courtesy when they past you on the street. They expect you to say, “Good” or “Fine” and keep walking. In other words, they aren’t interested in the long answer. They want the nutshell.)

Okay, so back to my novel. Think: Nutshell…Nutshell…

I go back to the summary and I decide which parts are crucial. (bold = crucial, underline = not crucial)

When Camille and her two teenage daughters fled New Orleans for the island of Little Gale off the coast of Maine, the islanders were initially more suspicious than welcoming. Twenty-five years later, Camille’s Creole restaurant, The Little Gale Gumbo Café, has become an island staple-as has the legacy of her romance with islander Ben Haskell. Camille and Ben, along with their children, created a new family unit with a seemingly unbreakable bond. But when Ben is found unconscious in his home, next to the body of Camille’s estranged husband, old secrets and suspicions reemerge, and the family must reunite to hope for Ben’s survival. But as revelations come to the surface, so do long-held secrets that will test the limits and definitions of family.

Okay, now I try to write a pitch using only the crucial parts.

A single mother leaves New Orleans with her teenage daughters and finds a new life on a small island off the coast of Maine where, after she falls in love with a divorced islander, love blossoms and inspires them to open an authentic Creole café which endears her to the residents.

Not bad—not great, but not bad—but still too long.  I rethink crucial versus not crucial.

(Ack! See what I mean—this is hard, right?!)

Then I ask myself: What do I see as the hook of this book? Where’s the scope? What kind of reading experience can my reader expect?

So I try this:

A Creole woman from New Orleans and her two teenage daughters find their lives forever changed when they move to a Maine island and open a Creole café.

Better. Now I have narrowed down what I think is the thrust of my novel: a family’s journey to find their place. Fish out of water eventually finds loving pool, so to speak. But it doesn’t give any sense of scope (ie, “Then what happens?”), that the novel spans twenty five years, that it’s a family’s journey.

So I try again:

With nothing but her cooking spices and her teenage daughters, a woman leaves New Orleans for an island off the coast of Maine and finds a new life—and a lasting legacy for her family—when she opens an authentic Creole café.

Okay, well, it still needs work. It’s structure is still too back-of-bookish, in other words, it’s not conversational enough which a pitch should be. But it’s certainly better than the one I have been working with, and and since I’m a month away from presenting at my first book festival I’m planning to keep my blubbering to a minimum.

Anybody else have any tricks for whittling down their summaries to pitch-friendly form?

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Here’s the pitch–and Deb Erika takes a swing!

  1. Oh, Erika my dear, that’s perfect! Thank you for showing us your whittling process. I find this extremely helpful. 🙂

      • And I’m looking forward to coming up with one. 😉

        (I figure panic should set in any day now. I find panic very inspiring.)

  2. This is VERY well timed (I’m doing this exercise today for my own novel), so thank you for leading me through the steps! You make it look much much easier than I know it will be!

    • Good morning, my friend! So glad this is timely–you’ll have to let us know if you come across any tricks that you’re finding helpful as you navigate this–but you are VERY WISE to get a jump on this piece as soon as possible. I didn’t–and I know it makes a huge difference. As Joanne wisely pointed out yesterday, it can also help us as we are writing, to distill our novel as we go along…

    • Hi Missy! Thanks, my dear!

      You know, a little of both–I had the pitch but I hadn’t really written down the process of getting to it until I wrote this and I wish I had before now–but I think I’m going to use it for the next book!!

  3. This is a great example. I loved the way you’ve whittled it down. Thanks for that. (And for the query critique! WooHoooooo!)

  4. Erika – what a great glimpse into this process (and with so little bloodshed!), thank you for breaking this down with your book. I think you ended up with a great pitch there – one that I would read if I heard it cold and didn’t know the awesomeness that is LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

    • Aww…thank you, dear Deb Joanne. I really don’t think they get easier with each book–I think it really depends on the concept and maybe how well we understand our story as we are crafting it?

  5. This break down is great, Erika! And a big YES to being utterly confounded when people ask what the book is about. I tend to do lots of oh, well, um, so there’s uh, this guy . . . I know, right? Sounds thrilling.

    Anyway, I’m so going to have to do this so I have a quick, jazzy answer from now on! 🙂

    • Hi Jenny! Have you perfected your pitch for THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE yet? I bet you have! If not–I bet you’re perfecting it as we speak–I mean, write! I can’t believe it releases in a little over a month from now!!

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