Friday, October 20, 2006

The Wind-up Aaaaaand The Pitch

Had lunch a while back with some very cool people and during the conversation someone asked me what the book I'm working on is about.

To say I choked is putting it lightly. Brett's response to me was a very dry, and wholly accurate, "You need to work on your pitch."

The reason I bring this up is that I had the same conversation yesterday. As expected, I choked.

The problem isn't that I couldn't make up some buzz phrase to describe it or what the story is. It's just that the minute I talk about it, it sounds fucking stupid. I have a real problem talking about my writing. What do I say? How do I say it? Am I trying to get the person I'm talking to interested in it? Am I trying to sell them on it? If so, why? If not, why not?

And then there are the conventional questions. What's it about? Is there a theme? What's the genre? All this stuff comes rushing at me, and I say something insightful like, "Ggglhrbrrghghg".

It's all downhill from there.

It's an expansion of a story I had in Spinetingler Magazine's summer issue. It's a crime story, it's a horror story. I like to think of it as "Zombie Noir".

I can write it. I can write about it. But for the life of me, I can't talk about it. God forbid when it comes time to try to sell the thing. If I can't articulate it, clearly if not enthusiastically, how the hell am I supposed to get someone else interested in it? Like, say an agent or a publisher?

How does everyone else go about talking about their books? What makes it possible for you to do that? Do you practice? Do you have a cuecard? What's your secret?


anne frasier said...

oh my god. I cannot talk about my books. when someone asked that awful question, i suddenly feel like lead weights have been attached to my feet and i'm slowly sinking through the floor. several months ago i finally put together a one sentence description for my last 5 books. i printed it out, and i refer to it if i know i have to be around someone who might ask. i've even been known to carry it with me to study. right now i can't think of a single description. for me it's more than words. it's color and shape and mood and things i can't even define. it changes with my own mood, which is what a book should do. it's also something i don't really want to mess with too much until it's completely done. you know how it is when you take bread out of the oven before it's done, then put it back in? it always screws it up.

Brett Battles said...

Just so you don't think you're alone...the reason I said that to you was that David Montgomery said the same thing to me at Thrillerfest.

The beauty about selling the book is that you don't have to verbally pitch it. You say you have no probably writing about it. Perfect! That's all you'll need to begin. The pitching comes later when you're talking to reviewers, press, other authors, etc. But, dude, all you have to say is "It's Zombie Noir." That's cool!! After that you just give a brief sketch of your main character(s), don't ever go too much into plot. Let them read the book for the plot. You're a funny guy and have no problem talking to others when you're not talking about your book. I guarentee you it's NOT going to sound stupid.

Hey, worse case scenerio, you can refer to it something like "It's "Shaun of the Dead" meets "The Postman Always Rings Twice."" I mean...if that's appropriate.

And just so know, I still mess up my "elevator" pitch.

JT Ellison said...

Stephen, I've fumbled my pitch to all the wrong people. It's just something that haunts us all. You'll get it down. The books sounds great, BTW!

Kim Mizar-Stem said...

I had at least 3 people tell me to work on my pitch at Thrillerfest - -you are not alone! I still choke.

You know you have something of interest and you are great at expressing yourself in person and on your, just figure out how to talk about your work as if you were talking about someone else's (minus some of the hard-biting sarcasm - unless it works of course).

I think it is difficult to talk about the great thing we are creating.....that is why we are all writers and not politicians or talk show hosts!

David Terrenoire said...


Zombie Noir works for me. Two words and I get it and it does sound great.

I called BAPM a comic romp with explosives. That seemed to work.

The new one, Jesus, I don't know how to pitch this thing, but I'll find a handle.

I just hope it's half as good as Zombie Noir.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Anne, yeah I know exactly what you mean. There's a point, I think, in which it can't be talked about at all. IT collapses under its own infancy, if that makes any sense at all.

Brett, been thinking about that lunch conversation a lot, lately. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one. Thanks for the tip.

JT, thanks. It's part of the process, I suppose.

Ya know, Kim, that never occurred to me. That's an excellent idea. I think you've hit on something I hadn't realized. I'm able to distance myself from my work when it comes to taking criticism and edits, but not when I'm talking about it. Thank you very much.

David, "a comic romp with explosives". I like that. Sums up BAPM nicely, I think.

Thanks, everyone. This helps a lot. I think I'll be sticking to Zombie Noir.

Mike Sperry said...

I imagine Tolkien's pitch (if he had one) sounded pretty lame to him too: "There are these little people, and they make a journey to the land of evil to throw a magic ring into a volcano."
Or Steinbeck's: "The adventures of two farm workers in Salinas".
The point is, reducing something complex like a novel to a single 10 or 15 word sentence is bound to make it sound a little dumb. Don't sweat it.
In fact, this may be a case where less is better. "Zombie noir" is just enough to get the essentials across, but also little enough to make the listener want more. And you know you want to leave 'em wanting more. And if they press you for more, hand 'em a short synopsis that you've written. Make them want to find out more.
It's all marketing, my fiend.

Kelly Parra said...

Stephen, been there and still there. And look--I still sold a book! haha. Anne actually helped me write a one sentence pitch for my first book on her blog, so that's what I'm teaching myself to do, and that's all I can handle. One sentence, any other deep, deep questions and I suddenly have a brain fart. ;)

angie said...

Zombie Noir totally works as a quick picture of the style. I, too am awful when it comes to describing what I'm working on, and have been told to work on the pitch. I think I've got a (slightly) better handle on to describe my current WIP, but it wasn't easy figuring out how to describe it. If you figure out the secret on how to come up with a pitch in 3 easy steps, make sure you pass it on!

John Carson said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one out there who feels like a virgin at a bikers convention. I was talking to a published writer not so long ago and he asked me what my novel was about. I could tell I'd went on too much when his eyes glazed over and his face turned purple. He told me that I was making my pitch too complicated and far too long. So now I stand in front of the mirror and practice. And I still sound like a tit. Just like my High School teacher would say....Needs more work.

Lorax said...

Although visual art isn't the same as writing, I think there's sympatico (resonance?) with this sticking point: condensing meaning in a way that covertly whispers, "if ya can say it like this, whydja bother doin' it the long way 'round?"

As if creatives needed one more thing to discourage us from what we do.

I like Brett's comments - keep the description short - and for myself, the more whiff-like I can make my summary (that is, ephemeral and enticing) the more allure I hope to create in the listener.

Hey, I want to read "Zombie Noir" after all this!