[Pitch Slapped] You only get three seconds to make a first impression.

One of my grad school professors told me that any report I handed in had to tell him everything he needed to know in 30 seconds, 3 minutes, and 30 minutes. But when you’re pitching your novel, you’re not writing a 50-page report and you don’t always get 30 seconds. Sometimes, you get 25 words and three seconds to convince the reader your book is on their to-buy list.

Madison Woods, Pitch Slap veteran and the host of “Vote for it: Would You Buy it?” series, came to us with a 25-word summary of her story.

“I’m planning to pitch my book to a publisher in October, and I realize I will have time to give more than the 25 words, but I want the first words I say to hook their interest.”

Let’s take a look at those words:

In this Pitch Slapped article, I’m going to give the blurb a good pecking and talk about the importance of appropriate and deliberate language decisions. 

But first, our impressions:

What jumps out?

There are some intriguing elements here. Who doesn’t love human sacrifice and a character who discovers some secret in their heritage? It sounds like Ki has some dormant paranormal powers. Intriguing…but there is always a “but.”

In attempting to get as much information out in such a small space, Woods ended up selecting the words that convey the most information (dormant traits, lineage, symbiosis, consequences…). The end effect of this, though, may not have been what she intended for the story. The blurb’s language creates strong associations with science, new age literature, and, if we stretch a bit, perhaps to the harder sci fi sub-genres. The more syllables to each word, the more baggage it has.

Starting with the basics:

Similarly, a title like “Symbiosis” screams “Science” (and maybe other words like “technical,” or  “pretentious”–depending on subgenre). In a previous Pitch Slap, “Selling the Story without the Blurb,” we talked about the use of genre appropriate titles and how they can reel the reader in. Here are some current examples of titles in three Fantasy subgenres:

In fact,  publishers often change titles to better fit a book into its overall genre and readership. There’s a reason some titles are labeled unmarketable.

Back to the Blurb:

Rephrasing for simpler language clarifies what’s going on and settles the story more comfortably in a casual style.

“Witnessing a human sacrifice awakens a dormant part of Ki’s heritage. To survive, she must allow this transformation within herself.”

(20 words)

But with this revision, with the verbosity stripped down, we see that the information the reader actually gets about the story is pretty darn scarce. What heritage? What transformation? Survive what?

The Revisions

In revising the blurb, here are some examples that focus on clearly expressing what the book is about in terms of genre, title, and story:

Dark Urban Fantasy: Is this story happening in our world? Do magic creatures prowl the earth alongside us?

Here, we keep some of the original language in the title (“Dark Lineage”), clarify the genre (though repeating “Dark” may be redundant), and then narrow down the 25-word summary to exactly what Ki’s dealing with. This version of the summary still keeps the mystery of why there was a human sacrifice (intrigue!) and why Ki was forced to watch it (danger!) but clarifies the consequences of her dormant traits (she’s a demon!).

It also makes a promise to the reader: we will see her struggling with who (or what) she is. Will she control that part of herself? Can she destroy it? Or will she accept it?

But what if the story is actually closer to…

Chick Paranormal Romance territory instead? Will the kick-butt action be paired with some hawtness? Might we be getting some humor and fun in the mix?

True, this gives out a lot less information per 25 words, but we get the story set-up nonetheless. There’s a relationship, and Prince Charming might just be the bad guy (Boo, lying, human-sacrificing men, boo!). But is Ki possessed? What is she? How is she gonna deal with this latest relationship crisis alongside an identity crisis? The title promises that the book will be a lot of rom com fun.

Epic Fantasy: Maybe it’s a completely different fantasy world. Are we looking at magic creatures, kingdoms and political intrigue? Will we be getting some knights-in-armor action out of the book?

The idea stays the same (girl has demon heritage thing going on), but with this shift, we see a ruler-to-be torn between her responsibilities. This Ki is royalty and a fighter–and she might lose it all if she has a demon inside. The title, “Black Legion Rising” adds even more spice and intrigue to the story, hinting at what will happen when Ki’s demon awakens. Dun dun dun.

I’d read this book. What about you?

Conclusion:

What we have here are three different book pitches drawn from the same original 25-word blurb. In the end,  by trying to fit everything into a very short format and say more, authors need to make sure that they do not find themselves saying less or saying it all too vaguely to interest the reader.

And of course, we should never forget to use all the tools (title, genre, tone, etc) at our fingertips in getting the soul of the pitch across.

Sometimes, three seconds is all you need.

___

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way  to canarypost@gmail.com with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.

What do you think about the blurb, Canaries? Authors love input!

___

Read more slapped pitches here.

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18 thoughts on “[Pitch Slapped] You only get three seconds to make a first impression.

  1. Wow! A very compelling post! What you’re saying is you really need to know your specific audience. I love your point about the title especially! Cheers.

  2. Haha, I love the explanation bubbles. Okay, so I have more work to do. I wish one of your examples worked, but they don’t quite tell the story either. It *is* science-y, but I’ve taken extreme liberties with thermodynamic law in it, so it’s not true science anymore. The concept of symbiosis is fairly critical to the entire theme of the book, so I’d like to find a way to keep that although I know publishers change titles at will. She can’t just kill off the part of her that awakens…the world needs it as much as she hates it. Sort of how rabbits “need” to be preyed upon to maintain a healthy population. So back to the drawing board but at least I’m armed with more insight. Thanks!!

    • I suspect that part of what’s been tripping you up is that you’re trying to talk about what the story’s about (themes of transformation, betrayal, awakening, etc) instead of what the story is. The average fantasy reader isn’t all that interested in concept (though there are a few limited exceptions). The reader wants to know what happens.

      Can you summarize the plot? What happens to Ki, what does she want, and what does she do?

      For your other point, I think you might be able to pull off “symbiosis” as a title (though I’d be inclined to pair it with a properly dramatic adjective) but it’s a very stiff word in general. I don’t think it would appeal to UF readers. (Though, admittedly, it’s a better choice than, say, homeostasis…).

      Is there a word that encompasses that same concept, but sounds less technical? Perhaps a phrase? (A quote pulled from a classic literary or science tract [or poem] is another option.) Since it’s the concept that matters, something like “[Descriptor] Synergy” might get you more reads without changing anything.

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  4. I agree with the others. Amazing how much I learned from this post. How brave of you to put yourself out there, Madison. Hope it helped to solve some of your problems. Looking forward to reading more.

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    • I don’t think it’s ever too early to start. Plus, sometimes, writing up the blurb can help you, the author, figure out what exactly your story is about. While writing, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, chirp!

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  8. This is such an awesome post. I’ve been struggling to write a good pitch for my book, but y’all have really helped. Thanks!

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