Delilah on Pitching without a Ball

So, shall we talk about PITCHING? No, not with a softball, although I was on the All-Star team for that as a kid. How do you craft an elevator pitch? How do you write a hook? How do you spitball ideas without freaking out? This is a skill you need in your writer’s toolbox.

First, an elevator pitch. You need one short statement that you memorize that can sum up your book easily for any modern person. It’s best to mix 2 concepts, maybe 3. And if you’re not sure about your work, practice on other well-known properties to get limbered up.

For example, here are some of my pitches:
Wake of Vultures = It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Lonesome Dove.
Hit = It’s a teen mercenary in a bank-owned America.
Sparrowhawk = Alice in Wonderland meets Fight Club with Alexander McQueen.
Ladycastle = Feminist Monty Python for kids.

What you’re going for with an elevator pitch is a quick, visceral reaction. That light-up moment of OMG I NEED THAT. So you want to appeal to things people care about. Guardians of the Galaxy meets Prince. Outlander with Genghis Khan. Game of Thrones with robots.

The WORST THING YOU CAN DO WITH AN ELEVATOR PITCH is ramble on. People hate being bored. They will tune you out and assume your project is as boring as your pitch. They don’t care about names, dynasties, the color of the sky in your world. Hit ’em hard and quick. Be bold.

Your hook is similar but a little more elegant and literary. It’s helpful if you can provide comp titles, which are books similar to yours, preferably written in the last 5 years. Trust me, you don’t wanna compare your work to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Rookie mistake!

So if I was writing my query letter for Wake of Vultures, I might say:
WAKE OF VULTURES is a 100k Fantasy that merges Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Lonesome Dove with the same rich magical Western feel as Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Pretty Deadly or Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory.

Basically, you’re trying to use as few words as possible to say as much as possible while tapping into someone’s emotions and that excited nod you get when someone likes the same thing you like. If your pitch doesn’t land? Your book probably wouldn’t, either. And that’s ok!

Part of pitching is gaining the confidence that comes with understanding that your book is not for everyone, which means sometimes, your pitch will hit dead air or a look of disgust. It’s not personal. Shrug it off and find someone who lights up when they hear your pitch!

If you don’t know your pitch or hook, try asking someone else who’s read your book or knows about it. What does it remind them of? Any famous characters or movies? Go to the bookstore and see what books are most like yours. Tap into the heart of popular properties/stories.

It goes without saying that you should be reading widely in the genre you’re writing. Read the things you love, but also read the really popular stuff and see if you can figure out what makes it sticky. Don’t be that stuffy snob in the tower who only references Heinlein.

I will say that 2-3 STRONG concepts = all you need. More than 3 and you look insecure and unsure instead of really drilling down boldly. Don’t muddle your pitch message.


You Go To The Gym To Train

Delilah Dawson, (@DelilahSDawson) via Twitter:
One of the best things I did pre-publication was join a local writing group where each month, a leader gave us story prompts, and we did timed writing, and then we read what we’d written out loud.

Why were timed, critiqued writings so important? They taught me:
1. To think fast under pressure
2. To choose an idea quickly and ride it out
3. To fit character and plot into stories of different word counts
4. To read my work aloud boldly
5. To accept criticism with grace

I knew other writing groups where folks brought work they’d already written and read it for critique, and NOPE. I find it challenging to critique a small part of a larger work that way. And take home readings? NAH. I wanted to focus on craft, not reaction to 1/50th of a book.

The moderator (@kevinhowarth!) did a fantastic job of finding a variety of interesting prompts that led us into different genres and tones. Spooky, silly, serious, atmospheric, dramatic–we wrote it all, and there was no way to prepare beforehand. It was freeing and fun.

I do 100% of my writing on a laptop, and it was really challenging to write longhand at writing group. Being thrown out of one’s comfort zone is great for creativity. It was freeing to push myself to write new things and take risks with shorter fiction.

Critiquing improvised short fiction at Writing Group was immensely helpful. I was able to see what did & did not work in my writing and that of the others, especially in the beginning and ending of a piece. I learned that I could finish on time, then go back and embroider.

Writing Group taught me to read my own work aloud with confidence and how to inject energy & emotion into it. I could see when jokes or scares landed. I could gauge if listeners were entranced or bored. And I learned how to accept criticism with a smile and give it with love.

Most importantly, doing timed writings on random subjects teaches you that there’s little value in brainstorming for the *perfect* idea. You get an idea, you nail down beginning, climax, and ending, and you dive into writing. That’s worth more than 20 minutes of brainstorming.

How long did we have for our timed writings? It depended on what the leader planned. Often, we’d do 5 minutes to warm up, then 30 minutes for a longer piece. Or 5, then 10, then 15. Sometimes two 20 minute pieces. We never knew, and that was part of the challenge and lesson.