Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Pitch us a book - by Nicola Morgan

The art of pitching a book or the idea thereof quickly and compellingly is one of the most useful of all the dark arts of becoming published. And then of actually selling books - without which we will soon become dumped.

I've been doing workshops about this recently and much fun has been had. By me, anyway. And we had much fun on my blog recently, pitching in - see what I did there? - and helping each other hone our pithy pitches and sharpen our hooky hooks. There were 117 comments, which was somewhat hard to keep up with.

So I have an activity for all you writers AND all you readers. Can you pitch either your book or a book you've read in a maximum of 25 words? That way, not only can you sharpen your hook (if you're a writer) but you can also encourage others to buy either your book or a book you love. And it's not a million days to Christmas and people want ideas, so...

Some tips, first, for those who haven't done this before. The best hooks generally have the following elements:
  • Concrete phrases and strong images, not vague ones. Eg, not "about survival" but "about surviving shipwreck on a small boat with a ravenous tiger and a dying zebra."
  • A main character who is described not by name but by what he is and what drives him. Eg, not "Bob", but "football-obsessed teenager".
  • The conflict, obstacle and stakes - bigged up to their most enormous possible bigginess.
  • Wolves. Or, if wolves are not possible, any of the following emotional drivers: war; murder (or other tragic or violent death); lust; obsession; fear; blood; human sacrifice; slavery; fierce animals with some kind of nobility (such as wolves, obviously, or lions, tigers etc; actually tigers are especially good) - stoats tend not to work so well; torture; snakes (the only exception to the nobility rule); gods and religion in general, though never in a good way; plague; torture; tulips; motherhood; rejection; champagne; incredibly pointy mountains; incredibly dark caves; flying (without aeroplanes); luxury chocolate; shipwreck; orchids; terrorism; nuclear war; very severe and definitely apocalytpic climate change - a bad summer isn't enough. You get the picture.
If you'd like my patent method, though many of you won't need it, as you're experts:
1. Choose an epithet for your main character - eg abandoned orphan (especially if adopted by wolves), vengeful divorcée, underpaid writer, redundant vampire...
2. Brainstorm for five minutes, writing down every word or phrase you can think of that your book conjures up, including episodes, themes, adjectives, emotions, aspects of the main character.
3. Select the 15 most compelling of those. (Not truest - most compelling.)
4. Select the 5 most compelling of those.
5. Make sure they all feature in some form in your 25-word pitch.
6. Hone, hone, hone, sharpen, sharpen, sharpen.
7. Submit.

So, how would you pitch us your book or a book you love?

13 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

Wonderful and hilarious! Will print out and share...

Elaine AM Smith said...

Great fun and very useful too, I love the idea that the words need to be most compelling rather than true.

I have your list printed and ready for use as soon as my wip is finished. Next time, I may write the compelling hook before word one :D

catdownunder said...

What, I have to try and do it all over again? I might just print off the advice instead.

Savita Kalhan said...

Brilliant post, Nicola! Excellent advise in a nutshell. Thanks.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thank you, all. However, I detect a reluctance to get pitching, so I should probably set an example. Arghhhhh.

OK, here's a pitch for Florence and Giles by John Harding: "A hyper-imaginative orphan believes her second governess is the evil reincarnation of the first. She must protect her brother, even if it drives her mad."

And for my own Wasted: "A beautiful singer with an alcoholic mother and a risk-taking boy obsessed with chance find that controlling fate is a game of life and death."

Now come on - make us want to read any book you want!

madwippitt said...

"Fierce wolf like wippitts need you to buy The Great Rosette Robbery or will be forced to give up luxury chocolate and champagne and eat penniless author."

Goodness, it's hard to do in 25 words, isn't it? I failed pathetically ...

Nicola Morgan said...

Because of the timely addition of wolf-like wippits, I'm drawn to this book :)

Stroppy Author said...

Three architecturally-challenged pigs struggle to survive in the domain of a hungry, bad carnivore. Can they keep the wolf from the door?

Nicola Morgan said...

Stroppy - love it!

Emma Barnes said...

Grumpy Guardian Agent foiled by ferocious little girl, think Horrid Henry Meets Paradise Lost!

That's my book How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good.

Girl scientist dreaming of Nobel glory tries to smash witchcraft business of her wannabe entrepreneur mum in comic tale of family life.

Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher by Emma Barnes.

Wow - they didn't seem so mad when I wrote them...

Karen said...

Love it, Nicola. Will print out, practise and share.

Katie said...

Great fun! Bit late finding this post but here's my pitch for my unpublished children's novel.

Shy nature-enthusiast enters mysterious games held at luxury seaside hotel hosted by supersized ancient government birds. Upstairs- downstairs confusion puts everyone in a flap.

Nicola Morgan said...

Katie - sounds intriguing! I thnk an agent/publisher would want to get more of a sense of whether these birds were hostile/scary/comic etc. Needing to know the emotional core a bit more strongly? Hope that helps? Thanks for joining in.