In my first post in this series, I talked about all the "dos and don'ts", and all of my basic guidelines for putting together a good pitch. Since then, many people have visited that article and taken my advice. Thing is, not all of them came out with a perfect pitch.
I'm guessing very few actually.
So what went wrong?
I'm guessing you lost focus on what was truly important: passion. See, in order to sell somebody a book, they must feel the same kind of passion you had when writing it. Following the rules is important, but we need to feel the story as well.
"Bob and Jane lose a child and struggle to hold their marriage together."
That's a loaded sentence that tells us a lot about the story, but it has no passion. It's factual information with no feeling. I could just as easily tell you that the book is about a man changing a tire, and it would have the same effect. It's flat.
"Bob and Jane lose their new born child to SIDS and must learn to cope together, or spend the rest of their lives apart."
Yeah, it's more words, but it tugs at the heart strings, and instead of telling us what they are trying to do, it implies it, and fills it with passion. There are still facts, but they are woven into the sentence instead of stated. Note "their" rather than "a", the revelation of what took the child, something they "must" do, rather than something they "struggle" to do, and the implication that they will split up, rather than it telling us flat out.
Find the passion you felt when you wrote the book, and pour it into the words you will use to sell your book. If you can't feel passionate about your book, how can you expect other people to feel that way?
Choose your words carefully.
Every word counts when you have only 250 words (or less) to make the sale. This is why I stress to use a character-based pitch rather than a plot-based one. It's very hard to form an emotional connection with a plot, whereas people easily form emotional connections with characters. With the right words you can sell anything, as long as you can achieve that connection with your audience.
Once you have a pitch you are happy with, read it out loud, put it away for a day, and then read it again. Are the verbs the strongest you could possibly use? Have you made use of every word, and cut out any extraneous ones? Is your pitch using an active voice? How many "be" verbs have you used, and do you really need them?
Does it give you chills?
Focus on the conflict
At the core of every book is conflict. Without conflict, we don't have a story. Don't let your pitch get bogged down in details or secondary characters. They are important to the story, but not to the pitch. Instead, narrow down your conflict until you find the heart of your story. What motivates your characters and drives your story forward. Why will people read this book? They certainly aren't reading it to find out what Bob does for a living, or to find out what Jane bought at the grocery store. I'm sure those are very interesting details to some, but that's not what will sell this book.
The conflict is in how Bob and Jane will handle the loss of their child, and how they will find the strength in themselves and each other to move on with their lives. When you boil a story down right to its bones, there must be something there that is driving the plot forward. Find that.
Raise the stakes
If you have nothing to lose, nobody cares about how it ends. That's a universal truth. There is always something to lose, some choice, something that hangs in the balance if the conflict is not resolved in a favorable way. These are your stakes, and this must be believable in order to sell the book.
Bob and Jane stand to lose their marriage, and possibly more when you weigh the emotional cost if they can't find a way to move on together. They may blame each other for the death, or blame themselves. Two people brought together by love, and perhaps torn apart by a tragedy so powerful it can transect even the most powerful bond. They must find a way to move on, or they lose each other, and that's the true tragedy.
You can't sell a book without passion.
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