What's Your Book About?

I had planned to write a post on how to use Twitter effectively, but I’m just so darn excited about my upcoming MWA conference I can think of little else.

As some of you know, New England is getting slammed with one snowstorm after another. There’s so much snow we don’t have room to put it all. So I worried that the conference in Boston would be cancelled.

It’s still on!

Because of the snow– we have another Nor’easter ready to hit us Saturday afternoon– Mystery Writers of America is flipping the bill for a buffet lunch. Which is really awesome because, truthfully, I can’t stand the city. Everything is so overpriced, congested, people drive like maniacs. Give me the boonies in the country any day. That’s not to say that Boston doesn’t offer some great opportunities. They showcase art in many ways– from off-Broadway plays to art exhibits to concerts to writing workshops.

Anyway, one part of the conference is an informal critique of your 50 word pitch, 200 word summary of your novel and the first page. One hundred attendees will divide into groups of ten, each given a copy of the above. Literary Agent Paula Munier, the acquisition editor from Midnight Ink Publications and NYTBS authors will run the groups.

Just thinking about this makes me want to do the happy dance…

happy dance

Plus, all day classes on various advance subjects. Needless to say, I’ll have lots to share when I get home.

You know, regardless of how much you think you know there’s always more you don’t. I don’t care if you’ve written for twenty or thirty years, another author somewhere will know more than you. This is what’s so great about writing. There’s always more to learn. And to learn from authors who’ve had their names on the NYTBL– it just doesn’t get any better than that!

These authors are living my dream. They are who I aspire to be. Who drive me everyday to work hard, to write when I feel like playing on FB, Twitter, or Pinterest. Who keep my rear-end in the chair and my focus on the craft. This dream of mine seeped into my blood, into my soul, and I couldn’t rid myself of it if I wanted to. It’s everything to me. And one day I will achieve it. And do you know why? Because anything less won’t do. Anything less would mean giving up on my dream and I’m not willing to do that EVER.

We all have dreams. Goals we wish to achieve someday. Without them how can anyone survive? Dreams/goals are what drive us. They force us to make uncomfortable decisions, take us out of our safe place (our writing cave) and into the real world.

dream

Let’s face it, writing is a solitary practice. In order to be good at it we need to spend countless hours alone with our computer. In order to create we must look within. Sure, we pull from life– emotions, situations, even character development– but most of the time we’re by ourselves. 

Because of this I wanted to share my 50 word pitch and get your opinion. I’ve already run it by my CP, but everyone sees something else. Before I do I wanted to share what I learned years ago by reading Literary Agent/Author Noah Lukeman’s “How To Land (and keep) A Literary Agent”. He also wrote “How To Write A Great Query Letter: Insider’s Tips and Techniques For Success”. Both are free now by the way. If anyone’s interested just click the link.

If you can believe it, somewhere along the way I forgot I had these books and totally veered off course, even though I’d read them a few times over the years. Thankfully, I found them before the conference and re-read both in one sitting.

Before I lose my Indie authors let me just say the elevator pitch is a great way to tell people what your book is about when someone asks, or use as a starting point for the blurb on Amazon, etc.

Without getting into a long post on how to write a query letter. Briefly, you need to encapsulate your 300 page novel in three sentences. This is called an elevator pitch, or logline, and it’s the most effective way to query. Agents are busy people. On average they give each query eight seconds AND look for reasons to reject it. Not because they are mean, awful people, but because you, the writer, should know what you’re doing. Agents want savvy authors who are educated (or can fake it really well) and know how to grab them and force them to read on– without the use of chains, handcuffs, or rope.

Enter: the elevator pitch.

This nifty little logline will ensure the agent will raise a brow, mutter “Hmm…” under her breath. It will ensure the agent reads the next sentence. If that holds up they’ll read the next, and so on.

Make every word count

For instance, instead of saying: A mass murderer is on the loose in a small country town. I said: During a hot July week in 2006, four people are murdered, drained and severely marred in rural Alexandria, New Hampshire.

See the difference? Specific. That leaves two more sentences to tie-in your protagonist.

I said:

My protagonist believes this is the work of the same man who attacked her three years ago in her Boston living room, killing her unborn child and scarring her in ways she didn’t think possible. And now, he has her twin sister.

From reading those three sentences you have a pretty good idea of what the book is about. It’s a tease, not a summary. If you remember that you’ll save yourself a lot of time and headaches. Also, don’t include your protagonist’s name, unless you’re using this as the start of your blurb. Remembering a name takes extra effort on the agent’s part. It’s unnecessary for the plot, anyway. Save it for your summary.

Then include your title, genre, word count (go easy with this. An average début runs from 80-100K words. Of course, epic fantasy will run a bit higher– around 120K, I’m told) and comps. Comps. are titles that are similar to your book in overall tone, story, theme. And include what differentiates your book from those titles. Then include your bio. If you have no publication credits then keep it brief. Include organizations you belong to, drop names, if they’re authors of note, anything to give yourself an edge. And that’s it.

going crazy

So here was my original version for MARRED, the book I’m pitching at the conference…

During a hot July week in 2006, four people are murdered, drained and severely marred in rural Alexandria, New Hampshire. My protagonist believes this is the work of the same man who attacked her three years ago in her Boston living room, killing her unborn child and scarring her in ways she didn’t think possible. And now, he has her twin sister.

That’s 62 words and has passive voice, something you never want in a pitch. Plus, I need to get it to 50 for the conference. So I whittled it down further.

During a hot July week in 2006, four people are severely marred, drained and hung in rural Alexandria, NH. My protagonist believes this is the work of the man who attacked her three years ago, killing her unborn child, scarring her in unimaginable ways. And now, he has her twin.

Exactly 50 words. 

I don’t mean to imply this is easy to do. It isn’t. It takes time and patience. Could I whittle it even more? Absolutely. I don’t have to say “scarring her in unimaginable ways”, but I think it gives a better picture of the damage caused to Sage by the attack. 

You need to find balance. That happy medium between getting your plot across without making it too dry. 

UPDATE: New logline: A writer, attacked by a serial killer three years ago, finds similarities in a recent string of murders. And now, the same man has her sister.

That’s 25 words and more specific than the others. This is the one I’m using for my queries. See how with practice and patience you can sum up your entire plot in just a few words? Good luck!

Now, I’m off to tackle the 200 word summary. That, so far, has proved to be a nightmare! UPDATE: This too I wrote after several revisions. Work at it. You’ll get it perfect with time.

So tell me, does my newest logline make you want to read the book? 

Crime Lovers

Facebook Image To Start Marketing

Before I let you go I wanted to invite you to my new Facebook group, Crime Lovers. When I created this group I knew I didn’t want a place where there was nothing but book promotions. I wanted a fun place to goof off but still have it relate to crime. So I found my niche. Every morning I post at least one puzzle. Sometimes it’s a picture asking what happened. Sometimes it’s a murder case where you have to figure out who committed the crime. Other times it’s a complex brain teaser. 

Warning: Some members are retired FBI, CIA and homicide detectives. So, you’ll be matching wits with the best of the best. Whether you’re a reader of mysteries, true crime, crime fiction, or a writer, come join us. On Tuesdays and Saturdays I allow book promotions. Other than that you can post writing/crime posts anytime, or puzzles/brain teasers of your own. I promise you, you will have a lot of fun AND meet some really great friends of mine– all at different levels in their career. 

If you haven’t grabbed your free copy of 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters click the link or go here. Someone was kind enough to show me how to automate so you no longer have to wait for the 13 page booklet. It gets delivered as soon as your subscription is confirmed.

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24 Comments

  1. Hi Sue,

    Thanks for sharing your pitch. I think it’s great how you trimmed it down to 50 words. The point you made about being able to learn from others at conferences is so true. This is one of the biggest benefits of attending such events. Thank you.

  2. And Sue, I can’t wait to read of the conference. I doubt I’ll be ever able to atten one, so I want to know everything about it!!! 🙂

  3. I became quite familiar with this pitch during yesterday’s #AdPit 😉

    I think it’s great. I do want to read the story.

    Getting material ready for a pitch of a presentation is hell. You normally have to condence an entire book in just a few sentences. There used to be a time when I thought it was impossible and unfair to ask it. But today I know it is possible, though surely not easy. I hate doing it, but hey, we ought to be professional 😉

  4. I like it Sue. There is just one slight thing I would change if you don’t mind me saying. I would swap ‘rural Alexandria, NH’ for ‘rural New Hampshire’ unless there’s a reason that you need to keep Alexandria in the pitch. It just looks a little bit as though the NH has been forced and I think that by using ‘rural New Hampshire’ people would recognise that it is a rural area of New Hampshire. You could then perhaps add Alexandria in the summary. It’s a great pitch though and makes me want to read the book. 🙂

  5. Very nice. The story sounds great.

  6. This is so cool. I’m excited for you! Good job! You’ve got me interested 🙂

  7. I think I want to read your book, is what I think. 🙂 Great job! I have not mastered this at all, and I’m looking forward to seeing how you do with the next step. Thanks for the links to the Lukeman books, too. I need all the help I can get.

  8. Oh, these are some great ideas for perfecting the pitch! And I am very glad that conference is still on. Stay warm and dry!

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