Pitches and queries may as well be swear-words for an aspiring author. Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m not expert on the pitch, so this won’t be a guide to make the perfect pitch. Instead I’ll give you a glimpse of the personal trials I’ve endured as a fledgling writer tackling the ferocious hydra known as the query.
When you have a story in your heart, you have a natural filter (a creator’s filter) that prevents you from looking at it with an impartial eye. The closer you are to the story, the more you know about it, the filter is thicker and blocks your vision with increased effectiveness. I’m not asking anyone to break it down. I’m asking people to peek around it.
Creative people love sharing their work, and they love talking about their work. As a natural introvert it is easy for me to be oblivious and fall into a ‘fanatic’s trance’— you know the one. I’m talking about the torture often endured by loved ones. They’re listening to you because they like YOU, but they’re not really clicking with your project.
Conversations like this usually end in. “I guess I had to be there.” or “I’d have to read it.” You see, an effective pitch doesn’t have that problem. Instead the prospective reader is compelled to find more about it, rather than humoring a rant.
Let me use an example that has nothing to do with books:
“The mega burger is the best thing on our menu! We sell close to 10,000 of them a day.”
This pitch could get a myriad of responses.
The Sheep: “Nice! I love burgers. Does it have thirteen patties on it?”
The Skeptic: “Oh yeah? What’s so great about it?”
The Incompatible: “I’m a vegetarian.”
Mostly successful, but the audience is left with questions that require an immediate response. They may forsake finding answers for an easier option. Let’s tweak things a bit, feeding in some key details.
“The mega burger is a perfect balance of crisp vegetables, grade A beef, a fresh baked sesame roll, all smothered with a homemade creamy ranch sauce.”
The Sheep: “Awesome! Sign me up for two.”
The Skeptic: “Grade A beef huh? Better be Angus.”
The Incompatible: “I’m a vegetarian, but could I get one without meat? That actually sounds pretty good.”
Here the audience has questions they may be content to find the answers inside your store (in book terms, it means they have picked up the book and flipped through the first few pages.) Here you could consider adjustments based on feedback. Say you tried selling it to 1,000 people and the Skeptic and the Incompatible were the tough sells. You want to get them to buy the burger.
“The mega burger is a perfect balance of crisp vegetables—tomato, lettuce red onions, your choice of protein— Angus Beef, Portabella or Tofu, a fresh baked sesame roll or whole wheat roll, all smothered with a homemade creamy ranch sauce or vegan honey mustard.”
The Sheep: “Protein? Huh? I thought it was a burger.”
The Skeptic: “Catering to the vegan revolution huh? Sellouts.”
The (In)Compatible: “Wow, that sounds tasty!”
You can’t please all the people all the time. In this example, you sacrifice some interest of the Sheep and the Skeptic to interest the Incompatible. This is what we call information overload.
Building an effective pitch is all about striking a balance. The pitch makes promises, the start of your book keeps them. Don’t false advertise. If you call your story high action, there better be some explosions or fistfights on the first page.
The Creator’s Filter blinds us to these simple truths. Simply put, we can’t tell the reader: Trust me it gets better later.