Before the writer even gets into the plot of their novel, they give a paragraph that we at tCR like to call a “Concept Pitch.” It’s a place where introductions happen, the basic concept of the novel is laid out, genre comparisons are made, and–in general–the part of the pitch where mistakes abound.
Here is a recent email we received in our inbox:
I am an indie writer, according to descriptions I have been reading on the internet lately, and I think I like that much more than just being someone who put her book up on Kindle. I came to your site while searching for sites that are willing to accept submissions from said indie writers like myself. My twitter handle is WordsWithDani.
I’ve recently published the first volume of The Duck And The Doe series. It is a historical fiction/horror/murder mystery/romance told from first person POV of a two-hundred year old immortal who had a dry wit and love/hate relationship with the mistress that he damned along side him. They are not vampires. I cannot strees that point enough. i keep finding myself lumped into that whole “paranormal romance” but the whole premise is really more of launchpad to explore other issue like the accerlation of technology and society in the past 200 years and how relationships of any nature are not cleanly cut little cookies. Immortality cannot be invoked without some sort of magical mumbo jumbo.
According to the Amazon product description-“
At this point, the author dives into the official blurb. But the first impression of the novel has already been created.
The Triad of Trouble
The typos aside (a quick spellcheck would have caught them; there’s no reason for them to be there), the information is scattered and uncertain. Here are the major culprits:
Some of the information included in the pitch just wasn’t relevant. The email told me the name of the series, but not the title of the book. It tells me that you can’t have immortality without magic, and I have no idea what to do with that revelation.
In fact, I know that the story is told in the first person, but I don’t know the title of the book. It wasn’t until I took the amazon link to the book itself that I found out that the title is Our Blissful Bayou Beginnings.
It goes on to list all the possible genres that the book is (horror, paranormal, murder mystery, romance, and historical fiction), but each mention brings more and more baggage to the table. Each genre presents a set of expectations. More to the point, the actual brief description in the above paragraph suggests the story’s something completely different (lit fic lite or social commentary). In fact, if the novel “explores issues,” it probably isn’t genre fiction in the traditional sense of the word.
When writing the Concept Pitch, do not waffle. Do not explain what your novel isn’t. We don’t care what it’s not. (After all, the novel probably isn’t a political treatise or a dog-training manual, either.) Say what it is and that should be enough to define it.
Avoid negativity in general, including putting down other authors (no matter how much they might deserve it) or calling out writing cliches. Those are things to save for a personal blog–especially if you’re an indie writer barking at traditionally published success stories.
In the letter example we’re using, by slashing down the genres that the novel borders (or types of stories the novel isn’t), the author risks alienating part of her potential readership. I, for one, actually have a soft spot for paranormal romance; seeing the pitch take a stand against it was a turn-off for me.
All together, the first letters of these three words spell “RUN”. And that’s just what publishers and reviewers are gonna do–run and never look back.
So what can be done?
The first thing I did was clip and rephrase the two paragraphs in the positive. The opening also got a confidence boost from the judicial selection of terms (if “indie author” is the closest that describes you, just use it) and genres (no genre is a perfect description of a novel, so pick the one closest and trust the blurb to do the rest).
Aside: The actual novel description makes me think that the story isn’t romance or murder mystery (but rather just has slight elements of both) but it will be up to the author to make the final call on whether the piece is telling a whodunnit or making a social commentary.
Then I went back to the basics when it came to the overall email. When in doubt, fall back on formality. You can’t go wrong using “Dear ___,” or structuring your letter to conform with formal letter-writing standards. There’s a reason why we’re still using a format that’s centuries old.
And with a couple final tweaks…
An aside on selecting genre-relevant titles:
One of the concerns in the original concept pitch was to emphasize that the story is not a paranormal romance. Well, if that’s the case, the novel’s title decision is a rather unfortunate one. Blissful Bayou Beginnings has all the hallmarks of a romance title, from the penchant for alliteration to the use of fancy adjectives and references to new beginnings. A quick browse in the genre got me titles like Tempting Tess and Faerie Fated Forever. The use of a word like Blissful (see also “harmony”, “serenity”, etc.) also calls back to the self help shelf (sample titles include: Secrets for a Blissful Life, Blissful Marriage, and Blissful Detox).
When the title clashes with reader expectations, the publisher often steps in and has the title changed for publication. But is it really that big a deal? Well, here are some recent titles organized by genre:
It’s not solely a question of marketing and buying into trends, either. When selecting a title, keep in mind that your prospective readers make snap judgement about what’s inside of the book based solely on clues like title and cover. If I blacked out the Genre row, you would still likely have no trouble figuring out where most of the titles went and which of these books you’d be interested in learning more about–and that’s kinda the point.
An author does not have to conform to these trends. But the decision to go against the grain must come with the sober understanding that it will be an uphill battle (at least until the author makes it big and can set her own trend in book titling).
It all comes down to having a certain amount of confidence that your book can stand on its own two literary feet. This post is also, in a sense, a warning to avoid undue informality when composing an email (keep an eye out for next week’s pitch slap in which we’ll highlight how sometimes, informality and humor is a risk worth taking) and to stick to the basics (spell-check, proofread, letter format, etc) to create a favorable impression. The details count–they’re the ones that will set your email out from the crowd, for better or for worse.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Pitch Article Submission”.
What do you think, Canaries?
Some really interesting points. I can see this coming in handy soon when I start writing cover letter’s for my novel :3
Glad to hear it, and good luck with your upcoming book!
The title was supposed to be sarcastic, but I guess you can’t really convey that well. Ah well, it all made sense in my head. Great to see that my mistakes can help others 🙂
I can see how it would work if used in a sarcastic way. The biggest problem there is how to make sure that the sarcasm comes across to the reader.
One possible solution could be to use a colon to highlight a contrast. For example: “Our Blissful Bayou: Lessons in Killing”
Now that I can see as a horror/murder mystery title.
And no problem; thanks again for letting us use your concept pitch as a guinea pig. 🙂
These little lessons are very helpful to those of us still trying to get it right, so thank you Danielle for offering up your effort for sacrifice, and thank you CanarytheFirst for doing the deed.