Everyone loves a story that’s easy to pitch. Agents love it because in the briefest of phone calls they can persuade editors to read it. Editors love it because in a few words they can convince the sales team to get behind it. Sales people love it because in just ten seconds they can tell booksellers why they should stock it. And booksellers love it because, frankly, they don’t have time to read everything on the market and they have customers to serve.
So everyone loves it.
Everyone, that is, except for the author who’s written a story that’s not so easy to pitch.
The basic pitch comes in three flavours. There’s the X Meets Y Pitch:
“It’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Wuthering Heights”
“It’s vampires meet pirates”
“It’s Star Trek meets dinosaurs”
“It’s the Famous Five meets Ancient Rome”
There’s the Unique Selling Point Pitch:
“It’s a whodunnit starring a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome”
“It’s about a detective who’s a skeleton”
“It’s set in a magical land where the animals talk”
“It’s like a Bond movie with a teenage hero”
And there’s the Nothing To Do With The Story At All Pitch:
“It’s by Madonna”
Now, please note that these entirely fictional pitches for very real books don’t tell you anything about the quality of the writing, or the characterisation, or the plotting, or… well, about anything, really, except how you can sell it to people without much effort. In fact - as in some of the cases above - they don’t even need to be terribly accurate.
But what about the stories that don’t lend themselves to pitching? Who would pay any attention to the following:
“It’s about an old man trying to poison a dog”
“It’s about a boy trying to feed his sister”
“It’s about an exceptionally clever child with stupid parents”
“It’s about a naughty boy”
In all of these cases - and they’re very real and successful books too - it’s the quality of the writing, the voice, and the characters, that lift them way, way above the ordinary. Describing them like this does them no favours, and in some cases makes them indistinguishable from a host of others.
I understand the reasons for the pitch. But I hope we never get to the point where it’s the only thing that matters.
And now, Awfully Big Readers, let’s play a game! Firstly, from the fictional pitches above, can you identify the books? And secondly, how would you pitch your own favourites?
Obviously, if we weren’t playing this game I’d have illustrated today’s post with pictures of the books I’ve used as examples. But we are, and I can’t, so here are some pictures of my own books instead. Shameless, aren't I?
John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com