A minute is extremely short when you’re trying to explain something that’s important to you. Try it and you’ll see.
When I was listening to people pitch their books in sixty seconds last month at Politics and Prose, it seemed like they were able to cram in a lot of information in a short time. That was before I tried to write a sixty second pitch of my own and discovered that it’s really no time at all. I decided to start by writing what I thought I could say out loud in sixty seconds. I made several drafts and then timed myself. A minute forty.
I’ll spare you the nitty gritty, but here it is: my first sixty second pitch. This draft clocks in anywhere between 57 and 60 seconds, depending on whether or not I pause to breathe.
When two teenage brothers crash their car early on Thanksgiving morning, their parents pray that God will save them both. Both are admitted to the trauma intensive care unit in critical condition, both with uncertain internal injuries, both with extensive burns. Many people would be led to ask the perennial question, why me? After his brother’s death, however, Bill Gillis’ memoir explores the complex realities of a different question: why not me?
Weeks in the hospital and more than a year of physical therapy are followed by events that track the author on an adventure to teach school in France, to seminary in Boston, and ultimately back to his native Tennessee, to his parents’ kitchen table where, with an assist from an enormous box of Franzia White Zinfandel, he tells them he is gay.
Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America meets Kevin Sessums’ Mississippi Sissy in this meditation on grief, family, and being the one who lived.
I tried to follow the Book Doctors’ advice, to really take it to heart. From my notes:
- ARC! If Eckstut and Sterry said the word once they said it sixty times, once for every second of the pitch. What is the story arc? How does the character get from a to z? What’s the lead? What will grab someone’s attention?
- Let the pitch be story driven; set the scene, and don’t get too philosophical or theoretical (think of a movie trailer).
- Establish where your book belongs — what is it? Mystery? Thriller? Memoir? Military History? How will it be classified and, more to the point, how will it be sold?
- Think of comps — pithy comparisons that set a tone and, with one or two examples, can broaden the context of a short pitch. This books meets that book. Betty White meets John Belushi. Etc. But there’s a challenge: to offer comp titles in a pitch is to walk a fine line between making a vivid comparison and irritating publishers by name dropping authors they are sick to death of hearing about. The challenge is that, at any given moment, you never know who those certain over-referenced authors are!
- Paint word pictures; show don’t tell.
- Make it geographically distinct.
- Make sure the pitch has a voice.
- Every word counts.
- If it’s funny, don’t say it’s funny. If it’s heartwarming, don’t say it’s heartwarming. Make me laugh. Move me.
Eventually I would like to sit down and write several of these pitches, just to see what else I can come up with. Because there is always room for improvement. And on that note, how could I make this better? Is there something that doesn’t make sense? Something that could be added or deleted? Replaced? Worded differently? I’m too close to it, so please — what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment or message me.
Recently finished reading Wine and War: the French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure.