Condensing Your Pitch

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ladymarella
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Condensing Your Pitch

Post by ladymarella » February 18th, 2012, 3:48 am

The scene: it is after church last week and there is a conversation going involving, me, my best friend and another guy. This guy has recently discovered that I am writing a novel. I don't keep this as a dark secret, and really don't care who know. Then I get asked the dreaded question: so, what's it about?

I HATE getting asked this question. I don't know why exactly. I have been pouring my creative energies over the last four years or so into this world, and characters, and I still can't succinctly say what's happening.

'Um....' I answer, 'It's about stuff.' These are my actual words.
'It's got a lot of romance,' my best friend helpfully throws in. Thanks. My two best friends know a LOT about my novel, but the parts I often share are the gritty romantic parts based off all our love lives combined.
'Well it's a bit more than that, like a family drama, England, turn of the nineteenth century.'
'Jane Austen?' he asks
'No, not really.'

When i got home that night, it got me thinking about how I should sum up my novel. I have always found i express myself better in writing, and often after a conversation I think of numerous ways i could have sent it. So I sat down and tried to work out how I was going to explain my novel, I guess what would be the pitch

'Four families in early nineteenth century England engage in a series of personal and property disputes.'

So there, as long as I'm not tongue-tied next time, i have a nice succinct way to express what my novel is about.

Anyone else been in a similar situation?
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

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dios4vida
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by dios4vida » February 18th, 2012, 11:08 am

ladymarella wrote:...Then I get asked the dreaded question: so, what's it about?

I HATE getting asked this question. I don't know why exactly. I have been pouring my creative energies over the last four years or so into this world, and characters, and I still can't succinctly say what's happening.

Anyone else been in a similar situation?
All the time. Seriously. I have the worst time expressing myself in words, too - I bumble and talk far too fast for anyone to follow me, and half of the time I really don't end up making sense between all of the "ums" and "you knows" and deciding what to say halfway through. I've tried to get a pitch down like that, but I haven't ever been able to get a succinct summary that I feel captures what I'm really writing about.

My additional problem is the stigma - "What's your book about?"
Me: "I write fantasy novels."
Them: "Oh." <awkward pause> "So, like what kind of stuff is that?"
Me: "I write like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter type books, but not quite as epic. There's magic and stuff."
Them: <usually skeptically> "Like dragons and elves?"
Me: "Well, basically, but I make up my own worlds so I don't use dragons and elves. I create my own species and things."
Them: <awkward silence, then speaking like an adult placating a child saying they'll build a boat to fly to the moon> "Well, good for you."

At this point they usually change the subject, or if they do ask what I'm writing about now, well, then the problems start. I have a hard enough time convincing them to take me seriously as a fantasy writer, but then when I bumble over my synopsis...there goes any respect I may have garnered.

I guess I really need to work on that.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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AMSchilling
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by AMSchilling » February 18th, 2012, 12:53 pm

LOL. I get the same type of responses, Brenda. I do more urban fantasy than epic, but the reactions are the same. "Oh...." (awkaward pause and a couple of loooong blinks) "Is that like Twilight?" And yeah, that's NEVER a good thing in the speaker's mind. Nor do I write paranormal romance, but how do you explain? "Um, well, there are vampires and werewolves and stuff running around NYC. But none of them sparkle. And they're not vegans. Oh, and there are witches sometimes. Or fairies."

That's when they usually walk away and wonder how I ended up sneaking into their social circle. And if there's medication for whatever's wrong with me. :D
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polymath
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by polymath » February 18th, 2012, 12:55 pm

Among many other metaphors for writing, I liken writing to growing fruit. The fruit analogy reflects my process. Planting a seed is an inspiration's incitement. The seed spends time in the ground developing. The plant grows however many seasons it needs to bear fruit. Blossoms bloom — birds and bees and breezes do their parts. Fruit ripens on the vine. Sweet, tender, juicy fruit.

Some story inspirations are watermelons — growing from seed to maturity in one season. Some are hickory nuts — taking decades to reach maturity. Some are strawberries requiring only a few years to reach maturity. Some are blueberries.

Pitch writing I liken to growing asparagus, which requires meticulous soil preparation and attendance. I liken pitch writing in particular to planning a garden. If I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know what the garden will do. I've scatter planted. I like to start with a solid idea of my needs from a garden.

Long story short: I begin with composing a raw pitch: in part to test an inspirations's legs, in part to try it out on anyone who asks. If eyes light up, glorious. If eyes shift, back to the drawing board. It's a work in progress as I test, plan, write, rewrite, revise a draft. By the time I'm as done as I'm able, I'll have a matured pitch for anyone who asks.
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Cookie
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by Cookie » February 18th, 2012, 1:17 pm

All. The. Time.

there is so much going on in my book, I never know where to begin.

I usually end up saying: "It's about love, hate, war, vengeance, jealousy. You know, the usual." that way I don't have to go into specifics, or explain why I write fantasy and sci-fi. Although, I've been lucky not to meet blank stares and pity when I say I do (or at least not many).

If they ask me to elaborate: "It's about a war between gods. But a lot like the Iliad. Yea, something like that."

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Quill
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by Quill » February 18th, 2012, 1:36 pm

Gosh, why not simply perfect one's elevator pitch, and trot it out each time the question comes up?

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AMSchilling
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by AMSchilling » February 18th, 2012, 3:06 pm

Quill wrote:Gosh, why not simply perfect one's elevator pitch, and trot it out each time the question comes up?
Personally? Because I'm a pantser that starts with a character rather than an event. If I'm in the middle of my first draft I usually don't KNOW what my book is about yet. I'm figuring it out as I go, like an archeologist brushing dirt off a buried fossil (stole that from Stephen King, I admit). The only reason I know the genre is because that's what I always seem to write (and fantasy/urban fantasy is pretty obvious from the start because there are monsters running around).

Catch me once I've written the whole thing and have started rewrites and then I could come up with an elevator pitch. Rarely, if ever, before that.
-Amy

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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by Mark.W.Carson » February 18th, 2012, 4:50 pm

I get asked that all the time and I end up going on a bit about the character. I can never give the Jeopardy answer about it in a line or two without going into a synopsis or a semi query-letter event.

My story has been rattling about in my head for over a decade and started out less with a character and more with an item. Now that item is a small but important part of the story. The character is built up a lot and the story has expanded. I've only been writing since May of 2011 and frankly, I have made a lot of progress but not a lot on paper.

Maybe the next time someone asks I should say "Just buy it and you'll see."

ladymarella
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by ladymarella » February 19th, 2012, 4:41 am

Good to know it's a universal problem!
i don't have as much problem with the stigma thing. All of my friends are either writers/ artists/ musicians/ actors to some degree, except the honorary engineer. But it is still awkward, because the novel is really complicated, and saying it's about "stuff" just makes you sound dumb. I will work on this. It's also interesting to think about it as a way to get my pitch together for when I finally do start querying.
Currently composing a sprawling family saga set in 19th century England
The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.'- William Shenstone,

writersink
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by writersink » February 19th, 2012, 9:48 am

I find it embarrassing to talk about my writing because I write science fiction. Someone will ask me what my book is about and I'll be... "erm...aliens and stuff..." Even a one sentence pitch makes me go red because it feels weird talking about destinies in an ordinary conversation. Thankfully people get bored really quickly and move on to safe topics like the weather.

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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by longknife » February 20th, 2012, 2:45 pm

One thing I've read time and time again is, Explain your story in 25 words!

It's the hardest part of being a writer.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I've tried this - and failed!

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MattLarkin
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by MattLarkin » February 20th, 2012, 6:09 pm

writersink wrote:I find it embarrassing to talk about my writing because I write science fiction. Someone will ask me what my book is about and I'll be... "erm...aliens and stuff..." Even a one sentence pitch makes me go red because it feels weird talking about destinies in an ordinary conversation. Thankfully people get bored really quickly and move on to safe topics like the weather.
All writers probably get this... but us speculative fiction writers get it the most. I guess you just deal with it. If someone's not interested in your genre, they're not interested. But, if you can give a concise, practiced pitch, it at least should help with the pressure.

Instead of "aliens and stuff," you can say it's "about aliens that coordinate an attack on earth." Something more specific is better, of course, without going into story details that would mean nothing to them even if they read your genre. "Aliens kidnap a llama to turn it into a cyborg killer."

As lvcabbie says, try 25 words or less. It doesn't matter if it sums up the heart and soul of your novel (it probably won't). Just give an idea, and try to pitch it with confidence. Acting like your genre is something to be embarrassed about will only encourage the people you're talking to think so too.
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by Mark.W.Carson » February 20th, 2012, 9:58 pm

It's not really that it is hard, but I find that fiction comes from a personal place, and sometimes, when you are taken by surprise or just not ready for the question or how someone outside that base of where you write from asks, you tense up and have a hard time explaining it because their response to what you are writing is somehow connected back to you.

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dios4vida
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by dios4vida » February 21st, 2012, 10:35 am

MattLarkin wrote:Acting like your genre is something to be embarrassed about will only encourage the people you're talking to think so too.
^^ This!! So this. Most excellent advice.
MattLarkin wrote:It doesn't matter if it sums up the heart and soul of your novel (it probably won't). Just give an idea, and try to pitch it with confidence.
This is the hard part for me. I can't seem to accept a ho-hum pitch because my books are about so much more!! I need to just encapsulate the idea, but really, I can't seem to do that because they all seem so lackluster and dull.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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MattLarkin
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Re: Condensing Your Pitch

Post by MattLarkin » February 21st, 2012, 10:49 am

dios4vida wrote:This is the hard part for me. I can't seem to accept a ho-hum pitch because my books are about so much more!! I need to just encapsulate the idea, but really, I can't seem to do that because they all seem so lackluster and dull.
It is hard. But every book--at least most of the interesting ones--are about so much more than can be summarized in a few lines. If they weren't, you wouldn't need the book to tell the story. The point of the pitch is not really to explain everything your book is about--it's to mention one interesting central idea. That should get some people to read more, then they can understand everything it's about.

One reason why it can be good to do the pitch first is, if you can't come up with one main idea (knowing you intentionally exclude many other relevant details), it's sign you may need more focus in your book. Otherwise you risk the reader getting lost in a miasma of stream of consciousness.
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