Showing posts with label pitches to publishers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pitches to publishers. Show all posts

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Building Story from Pitch, by Kit Rosewater

Children's Author Kit Rosewater
shares her expertise as WOTM's guest
Children's author Kit Rosewater presented a talk, "Building Story from Pitch," at a recent Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, meeting. Her debut queer middle grade series, the Derby Daredevils, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse, is scheduled for publication in spring 2020.

Kit's talk lit a fire under those of us in attendance. I overheard one writer say as she was leaving that she was going home and working on her pitch for her novel all week so she could take it to a writer's conference that week end. Others I've talked to have done the same thing. I think you will, too, after reading Kit's detailed and enjoyable write-up of the content from that evening, which she has graciously agreed to share with us.

When I started querying in 2011 . . .
I looked at pitch a lot like a suitcase. The first time I’d even think about writing a pitch for my work, the entire manuscript would be finished and ready to send around. I’d stare at the pitch format in horror, wondering how was I supposed to distill a huge, complex narrative into a two-paragraph query letter. Or even worse, a measly logline! My pitch suitcase looked like a tiny weekender bag I was supposed to stuff an entire wardrobe into. Fitting one into the other seemed impossible.

But writers seeking the traditional publishing route know that pitch is a necessary evil. So I gritted my teeth, manuscript after manuscript, and crammed the content into query letters. Every time I got the inevitable rejection, I would curse the concept of pitching. “Why won’t agents give me a chance?” I would moan. “My stupid query letter is standing in the way of them connecting to all the special aspects in my book!” Little did I realize that response was the key to everything I was doing wrong. But more about that in a moment.

Pitch and I started to become friendly in the fall of 2016, when I participated in the writer mentorship contest, Pitch Wars. While I revised my manuscript for two months, my entry in the final agent showcase was a mere 50-word summary and the first page of my story. Here's that summary:
The vitiligo on Tami’s skin has always made her lonely. When her new classmates mistake her for their missing friend Renee, Tami’s strange connection to her doppelgänger grants instant popularity—along with access to Renee’s dark secret. If Tami sets things straight, she’ll lose her newfound friends. If she doesn’t, she might lose herself.

My mentors and I worked on that short summary for weeks and weeks, yet I was still amazed to see the payoff and ultimate power of those fifty words. While the first page showcased my writing skills, the summary showcased my story’s concept, which turned out to be my winning ticket to signing with an agent.

Fast forward to a little over a year later
When my agent and I first went on submission with THE DERBY DAREDEVILS, which was then a chapter book series titled THE FLANNELS, we honed the summary until it sizzled. Again, that hard work paid off. Here's that series pitch:

When Kenzie Ellington’s best friend moves to Canada two weeks before her birthday, Kenzie has to find someone new to celebrate with… and a way to celebrate! In THE FLANNELS, a group of funky third graders button their plaid shirts, lace up their roller skates, and take to Austin's junior derby track. Together, the Flannels face fierce competition, thieving roller derby ghosts, and some confusing first crushes. IVY & BEAN meets ROLLER GIRL in this queer chapter book series that embraces differences and staying true to oneself.

I met my eventual editor in person months after acquisition, once we were in the middle of revisions on Book 1 of a very different-looking middle grade series. Still, that initial pitch was the first thing she brought up in our conversation. “Minutes after I received the email, I wrote Lauren back and said I couldn’t have dreamed a better pitch,” my editor told me. “I needed to read your story.”

Wow, I thought. Maybe that little weekender bag isn’t so bad after all.

And that’s when I realized that instead of being my worst writing enemy, pitch was actually becoming my best friend.

Since this discovery, I’ve studied and honed the craft of pitching. Looking back, I’m able to see that my inability to clearly pitch earlier manuscripts meant they were pretty much doomed from the start.

As a proud pro-pitch-convert, I want to go into all the great things about pitch I was missing out on, why I now start every project with a pitch before a draft, and my specific process for transforming the ideas in my head to a crisp logline and query letter.

What a Pitch Really Is and Why It’s Important
While past-me may have thought loglines and query letters filtered out the special qualities in my writing, the truth is, it’s the pitch’s job to convey those special aspects. The reason why I missed this pretty obvious point was due to a common pitch misconception:
Ultimately, a pitch isn’t just about what happens in your story from A to Z. A pitch is about why this story is unique, fresh, and needs to be told.

When I’m out of ideas with my writing, I let pitch lead the way. I check out the #MSWL (manuscript wish list) hashtag on Twitter to see what agents and editors are fascinated by these days, to see if I’m drawn to any of those concepts. A lot of times writers believe they’re only standing on one side of pitching, but really we’re on the other side too, as readers.

While I like to know what agents and editors are still searching for, I also like to see what they’ve already discovered. Along with #MSWL, I research deal announcements on Publishers Weekly Rights Reports and search for one-line descriptions that makes me want to read a certain book. Similarly, I’ll check out book blogs like “Pop! Goes the Reader” and consider the short descriptions of upcoming books and which ones pull me in.

There really is no escaping pitch. It sticks the whole way through a book’s life cycle. A pitch is used to sell a book to an agent, then to an editor, then to a publishing team, then to booksellers and librarians, then to the reader. Pitch never ceases to be important. People will always want to read that paragraph-length description before they buy, checkout, or order a book.

Why Pitch Comes at the Beginning
In his book Anatomy of Story, John Truby suggests that writers crafting new stories should begin by making two lists: one summarizing all their past projects, and one of all the qualities they enjoy in books by other authors. The point of this exercise is to identify the unique and specific ideas writers most enjoy before they become sucked into the weeds of plotting and character arc.

I love this practice, and even though my tastes rarely shift between projects, I still make the lists every time I sit down to try something new. It reminds me to begin the process of writing with joy and excitement. And ultimately, my pitch becomes a touchstone marking my excitement for a new project that I can return to again and again when I’m lost in the drafting and revising stages.

Besides acting as a touchstone during times of struggle, I like crafting a pitch before I start a project because it can save me loads of time, energy, and heartache. Sometimes an idea feels so fragile that I want to hide it away until it grows up into a full book. But I owe it to my ideas to get feedback early on. By the time I have a logline or two-paragraph pitch, it’s time to see if my excitement translates. While hearing a concept isn’t viable may hurt a lot in the moment, it’s much better than hearing the same response after I’ve spent months crafting and polishing a full manuscript.

The same goes for significant feedback that asks me to streamline or reimagine parts of the story. Once I have a whole manuscript in front of me, I often feel overwhelmed with the amount of elements that can change. Should I combine two side characters into one? Nix a subplot? Add a chapter or two in the third act? I can often toil away at a list of revisions without understanding if I’m addressing and improving the true core of the story.

When I begin with pitch, I’m building the narrative from the ground up. I don’t move onto the next floor until the first is solid. That way, when I do run into trouble I can figure out exactly which component isn’t working.

My Pitching Process
With #MSWL inspiration and “love lists” completed thanks to Truby’s advice, I make pages of messy notes about what I want my next story to look like. I jot down aspects of the setting, twists, character dynamics, or themes and symbols I want to see echoed throughout. If I have a picture of a scene in my head, I describe it without crafting full sentences.

Then, when I’m fairly certain I have my rough ingredients for a story, I throw some of them together.

My favorite strategy for crafting pitch is to first fill out a basic logline formula:

“After/When [catalyst], [main character] must [main action] or [stakes.]”

This “Mad Libs” exercise turns my list into something I can fiddle with. Sometimes I see a lot of potential in the basic formula, and I massage the wording from there. Other times, I realize the special aspects of my idea aren’t coming through in the original logline, so I revisit other components and see if I can sub those into the format.

Here are some other aspects I’ll list and consider in my notes: Main character’s goal, conflict, decision, antagonist, hook, setting, mentor, sidekick, love interest, etc. Once I have a logline I’m happy with, I move onto my query-length pitch. This entails two paragraphs. In the first paragraph, I go into the setting, the main character and their goal, and the catalyst. I like my midpoint of the pitch to be a wrench that gets thrown into the main character’s initial plan.

In the second paragraph, I detail the catalyst and how my main character reacts or pivots. Usually there’s a new plan for how to deal with the disruption, but ultimately it’s a flawed plan. In the last sentence, I like to hint that the solution for my main character won’t be so easy, and they’ll be pushed into either an impossible action or impossible decision in order to get what they want. I like to keep the word “impossible” in mind because I want the reader to wonder how things will turn out. There’s nothing more disappointing than stakes that are easily predicted or solved from reading the pitch alone.

Armed with my logline and query pitch, I’m ready for feedback from critique partners. Sometimes I’m sent back to the drawing board. Sometimes I’m given a handful of notes for consideration. I work and rework my pitch materials until they make me desperately want to read this not-yet-written-book that’s still floating around in my head. Only after my pitch reaches this level will I set it aside and get to beat sheets, outlining scenes, and exploring various character profiles. So many aspects of a manuscript are bound to change, but if a pitch is done right, its essence should continue from one form to the next.

Whenever I’m feeling discouraged with writing, I like to take a favorite book down from my shelf and read the short summary on the back cover. I’m reminded that every marketing blurb can be traced allllllll the way back to an idea that sparked that author’s imagination. And I remind myself that perhaps one day, the pitch of my work in progress will end up on the back of a book cover, too.
Linda Wilson
Writers on the Move
Monthly Contributor

This month, I'm pleased to welcome as my guest, Kit Rosewater, author of the Derby Daredevils, her debut queer middle grade fiction series coming out in spring 2020. For more about Kit, please visit https://www.kitrosewater.com/. Here is some of Kit's sage advice: Every setback or challenge you face in your path to publication is a chance to strengthen your resolve. Each rejection adds to your backstory. Every “no” hardens your knight’s armor. Be the hero you want your readers to root for. And above all else, don’t give up. Your journey isn’t over.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Writing and Book Marketing - Your Pitch (Part 1)

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

This is a four-part series that starts during Writers on the Move's Special Writing and Marketing Week and goes throughout the month.

YOUR PITCHES are tools you’ll probably have to rethink. You’ve seen characters in films about the movie business. A screenwriter sits across the desk from a big producer and pitches his screenplay. He is scared and miserable. His job is to convince this gatekeeper that his script is the best thing since baked Alaska. We shudder. We think that pitches are pushy at best, desperate and seedy at worst. In our real world, authors need to know how to make pitches that don’t feel like that.

Sales are the cogs that make our capitalist society work. Pitches are what make sales. Simply put, if you have a distaste for selling, you need to get over it fast. The best way to do that is to be so passionate about your book you know you aren’t selling something to someone who doesn’t want it, and certainly not to someone who won’t benefit from it.

Pitches come in two flavors. Let’s call them the “benefits” and the “beejeebees.” First we’ll talk about those two categories which are as different from one another as licorice ice cream is from French vanilla bean. Then we’ll talk about how to write them and then how to use each of them when addressing different audiences—the publishing industry, the media, and your prospective readers.

Two kinds of pitches must be stowed in your bag of now-and-forever PR skills. Most of us are aware that our sales pitches make audiences aware of the benefits of the product we offer—in this case our books, our expertise, or our personal entertainment value. We know how to list what readers will get from our books. Entertainment. A thrill. A little romance in their lives. Important information. The trouble is, many times those things don’t seem much different from what they would get by reading any other book of the same genre. So we may need to examine the advantages of pitching consequences (what will happen if a reader doesn’t read your book).

Using consequences instead of benefits is espoused by Dan Seidman in The Death of 20th Century Selling. As unfortunate as it may sound to you, consequences can be more powerful arguments than benefits. Our politicians know this. They use consequences against the public all the time—quite effectively.
When I owned retail stores I told my new sales associates that people shop because they want to buy something. I was surprised that I had to give them this lecture, but past experience told me it was necessary. “Shopping makes them happy,” I’d say. “When we shop, our friends may ask, ‘How did you do?’ They know you ‘did well’ if you found something to buy. If the shopper didn’t find something she loves, she is disappointed. Her shopping companion is disappointed. And the sales associate who was trying to help her is disappointed, too.”

We almost always sold the benefits of a product but sometimes consequences were implicit. As an example, when people bought gifts for their bosses, they were often reluctant to buy less prestigious brands.

It is no different when customers are thumbing through the books at a bookstore; your book’s cover is a silent sales associate. Of course, if you happen to be a presenter or are signing at an event, you shouldn’t be at all silent. Your pitch must jump from print to the spoken word. You will become a walking, talking pitch from what you say, to how you say it.

Seidman’s book gives readers detailed instruction on how to turn benefits around to scare the beejeebees out of prospective readers and tell them the horrors that will befall them if they don’t buy your book. You already hold The Frugal Book Promoter in your hands but, if I were trying to sell you using consequences, I would tell you:

  • One-third of all books published traditionally each year get returned to publishers. Those publishers ship them off to be used on remainder (discounted) tables. When they’re returned a second time, they’re often shredded.
  • If you don’t promote yourself and your book early, the same thing (or something like it) could happen to your book.
  • And that the best place to learn to promote yourself is with this book because it gives you marketing basics and ideas straight from someone who has used them herself.

The first two are “beejeebees bullets.” The third bullet gives a benefit. You can see how they may be used in conjunction with one another for greater effectiveness and to soften the beejeebees part.

Paul Hartunian, the author of How To Find the Love of Your Life in 90 Days or Less, used a twist on the consequence approach in one of his media releases. He used a short list of “Don’ts” and included: “The worst place to go on a first date—go here and you’ll probably never get a second date.” He tormented the editors by not giving them the answer to the question he posed in his query letters. The recipient of such a release is not only curious but also aware that his audience will be, too. It’s a sure bet that Hartunian’s release was effective.

Though it is easier for writers of nonfiction to use consequences, fiction writers should try to use them, too. In 2002, I might have told prospective readers that their enjoyment of the Olympics would be severely impaired if they didn’t read This Is the Place so they would understand the history and culture of the city in which the games were set or why they would have difficulty getting a Rum Bacardi with their dinner in that state.

Hint: Select benefit, consequence, or both when they fit the occasion, not when they feel forced.

Please stop back on December 7th for Part 2 of Carolyn Howard-Johnson's The Pitch series.

~~~~~
Excerpted from the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter, http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS

The Frugal Book Promoter: http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo
Web site: http://www.HowToDoItFrugally.com


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