On Monday we talked about the synopsis, which you would send to lure a prospective agent. Today we’re talking about the pitch and how it differs from a synopsis.
The front cover of your book is important, but great covers alone don’t sell books. The back of a paper book is critical because it contains the all-important pitch—also known as a blurb.
For an eBook, the pitch is on the seller’s product page. Either way, the shopper will read your pitch and decide if they want to know more. If they open the book or use the “look inside” option, you have a good chance of selling that book.
But how do we write a pitch?
First, you want to identify the key elements of your book (or series of books).
Consider a fantasy that features themes of friendship, family, romantic love, honor, and duty. In this story, the obvious theme might be the successful resolution of a quest. Identifying the core plot device around which your story revolves is important.
- Who or what is your book about?
You can emphasize either the idea of the book or the main character. Once you choose what you want to sell, main character or idea, stick to that. If you choose the character, use only the main character in your description, and forget the others, because it is that character’s story that you are trying to sell.
- Keep it short. It’s easy to be long-winded about our work but not here. You only have about 60 seconds to sell that book.
Since length is bad in a pitch, we must learn to write concisely. I learned to write drabbles—100 word flash fictions. I wrote one every day for nearly a year. I did this because you really have to choose your words wisely if you want to tell your story in such a short space.
Besides helping me learn how to write concisely, writing drabbles was a great way to build a backlog of ideas that became short stories later.
- Use power words. Don’t use “telling” words—make every word in that pitch count.
- Be visual. Use words that create a visual image in your reader’s mind.
Give us just enough intriguing insight into the main character and the story to make us want to know more about them. Make us curious.
Consider the 69-word pitch for ‘Wool,’ by Hugh Howey. Howey was an indie when he published Wool in 2012.
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.
Howey opted for powerful and visual right out of the gate: clawing for survival. He packed his blurb with persuasive, graphic words that spark curiosity and make you feel that you are holding a powerful story in your hand (or your eReader). He chose not to go with a tagline, but the final sentence is so powerful, it doesn’t need one.
Next, let’s look at the pitch for ‘Roadmarks,’ a classic sci-fi fantasy written by the late Roger Zelazny. It was published in 1979 by Del Rey Science Fiction, so the publisher wrote the blurb. I was in the grocery store when I first saw this book, and the cover art caught my eye. I picked the book up and turned it over to read the pitch.
The pitch made me curious and was what sold me the novel:
The Last Exit to Babylon
“The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places—even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith made the Road—or who they are—no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!”
Zelazny’s publisher, Del Rey, opted for a mysterious pitch, but they also used powerful words in the first sentence: “The road runs,” “unimaginable,”— words that pique curiosity. They began the pitch with a great tag line. When I bought that book, I ignored the glowing reviews the publisher plastered beneath the pitch because I don’t care what reviewers think–I make up my own mind.
A word of caution: Indies should never put glowing reviews on their covers unless they are reviews by big-name reviewers or authors.
Del Rey got away with it because the book had been a bestseller in hard cover for a year before the paperback came out, and Zelazny was brilliant and sold books as fast as they could print them.
We don’t put a synopsis on the back of the book. A synopsis is a bald recounting of the novel’s bare bones—why should the reader buy it if they already know the story?
What sort of pitches lure you into buying a book? We write what we want to read, so chances are, you are writing a book along those lines. Go back and read those blurbs and start creating your pitch.
Pitches give away no secrets but hint at the mysteries within. For this reason, you want to ask your friends and your writing group to look at your blurb. If they tell you it’s too long-winded and doesn’t sell the book well, don’t be angry. Be glad they were honest.
Rewrite it, pare it down again, and rewrite it until your pitch is a concise enticement that sells the mystery of what lies within your book. Make the prospective reader open the book or click on the look inside option to see more.
Once they have sampled what’s inside the book, you are halfway there. At that point, your writing and your voice is what will clinch the sale.