My long time friend asked me what my novel was about. I stammered and blurted out some incoherent description. (Don’t laugh! At least I remembered to mention the protagonist.)
This brain freeze, unlike Governer Rick Perry, was not a matter of forgetting, but a matter of not having a succinct pitch scripted.
What if that had been a literary agent or an editor I was pitching my book to? How long would you would stick around until I got my act together?
In the business world, that one compelling sentence is called an elevator pitch. You have exactly 30 seconds to introduce yourself and entice them to get to know you. This is what you need to do with your novel…write an elevator pitch that will sell your novel to whomever will listen.
An elevator pitch is one or two power pact sentences that not only identifies who you are, but also tells the person to whom you are talking to what you do, implying how you can help them make life easier or solve a problem. The elevator pitch for a novel introduces your protagonist and his conflict. It tells the person how he will benefit by not only spending money to buy your book, but also what will he derive from spending his coveted leisure time reading your story. Your one sentence summary needs to convince him that he will get the satisfaction of learning something or being entertained. Maybe you will transport him to another place far from the pressures of his life, even it is only for a few hours. Or maybe he can live vicariously through your protagonist?
Randy Ingermanson, also known as the Snowflake Guy, recommends that fiction writers start with a one sentence plot summary. He points out that who is going to know and love your story more than you do.
A solid one sentence summary will anchor your story to a plotline and be the guide to decide what scenes advance your story. It will be the single best marketing tool to sell your story. It will help you sell your idea to a literary agent, to a publishing house, to your editor, to the book sellers, and most importantly, to your readers.
Ingermanson suggests that the sentence should be 20 words or less. That means every word has to work to remain. No extraneous adjectives, no subplot inclusions. Simply your novel’s compelling storyline.
Here’s some basic rules to create yours:
1. Ingermanson’s 20 word limit.
2. Sentence includes protagonist, conflict, and a sense of context (either cultural, venue, political etc)
3. Power verb such as coerces, endangers, or challenges. (You get the idea.)
Ask yourself: If your book title and one sentence summary appeared on a booklist, would you be tempted to spend $15 to buy the book if you weren’t the author? Does it have a strong enough hook? Who will the book appeal to?
Let’s take a simple basic boy meets girl plotline and see how we can craft a good summary sentence. Remember, the real writing is in the rewriting, so this exercise may take you more than 10 seconds. It may take you hours, even days to decide if the sentence is the best one when you announce the birth of your baby (novel).
Draft summary sentence: An athlete puts his girlfriend in a difficult position when he uses her to advance his career. (17 words)
Second draft: A struggling soccer player betrays a middle-aged female when he uses her contacts to advance his career. (17 words)
Third draft: A struggling soccer player betrays a lonely female advertising executive when his romantic involvement with her threatens her company. (19 words)
Now, what if I include an ethnic reference? She is Asian and he is Ukrainian. How will that color the summary?
Last and most important. You finished the best one sentence summary ever. Now you have to memorize it. You have to be able to rattle it off as if it were an involuntary reflex. Live the sentence. Breathe it. And then, you will claim it with confidence.
Like that 30 second elevator pitch, you want to grab the person’s attention. You want them to be so intrigued that they ask you for more information…like “Where can I get your book?”
Did you ever write a sentence and wonder if it was acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition? Or begin a sentence with a conjunction? Or write the way we talk? Me too. Even though I have seen magazines, printed articles, and newspapers write in an informal style, bucking up against Strunk and White’s Elements of Style somehow seemed incorrect. (I have to admit that my elementary education had brainwashed me as far as grammar rules and the mighty diagramming sentences tool.)
A couple of days ago, Erik Decker posted the blog The writing rules you’re allowed to break http://www.prdaily.com/writingandediting/Articles/9060.aspx. You don’t have to wonder any more whether you are the writing rebel. Decker lists 5 common rules of grammar that have gained flexibility over the years.
1. You CAN end sentences with a preposition.
2. You CAN start a sentence with or, and or but.
3. You do not have to start a sentence with a dependent clause. You can end with one, if it makes more sense and doesn’t form a misplaced modifier (a dependent clause should be adjacent to the noun it describes).
4. You CAN use incomplete sentences sparingly.
5. A sentence DOES NOT always have a subject, verb and an object. A paragraph is not always contain three to five sentences.
These bendable rules are nothing new to the slick, contemporary magazine writers.
However, one writing rule you CANNOT break is that every successful writer knows his audience. (Decker should have added a sixth rule…You CAN use the pronoun he in a sentence to refer to an individual. For a decade or so, it was a political taboo to choose a gender. The only way around this is to either reword the sentence to avoid using pronouns reflecting gender or adding the words “he and/or she” everywhere in an article. Both options halted the flow of thought and sounded awkward. So kudos to society for allowing the use of either one gender or the other.) If your audience are professionals, writing along the accepted grammar rules is expected. Anything less might decrease your credibility.
For the details of the permissible writing rule changes, click on Decker’s blog: http://www.prdaily.com/writingandediting/Articles/9060.aspx.
1. Create your website. This is your calling card, your business card. It is evidence to the world that you are committed to writing. Obviously, you do not have to wait until your published to start a website. You should begin NOW. It will take time, especially if you haven’t created one before. A website will establish a following, so that when you get your first book published, you can announce its birth!
2. Blog or write for an established website. There are websites out there that pay you (minimally, of course. Common now, you have to earn the title of a starving artist.). Check out Suite 101 or About.com. This provides an income stream and exposure.
3. Capitalize on your niche. Pick a theme or specialty and wrap your writing, your website, your promotions around that theme. For example, if I am a dog lover and all my writing should be about dogs — my website, blogs, newsletters. etc.
4. Give talks about your specialty. Many of us like to talk about writing, because that is what we do. Be kind to your target audience. Only writers like to hear about writing. For all the rest of the world, it is a snore. That is why you build up your exposure talking about Not What You Do necessarily, but WHAT YOU KNOW. People flock to topics on how to solve or resolve their dilemmas. If you are writing fictional mystery stories, then maybe your talks will revolve around weapons. Or say you are a romance writer, then your talk might be about the pros and cons or comparisons between online dating services such as eharmony.com, match.com, or chemistry.com.
5. Print up business cards. These are handy and more professional than writing your telephone number or email address on a scrap of paper.
6. Offer a product. Let’s say your book is about dogs. What about selling t-shirts promoting you, your book, or dogs online?
7. Participate in online communities and forums. Focus on building your writing platform by offering thoughtful comments and helpful information. If possible, leave your website address under your name after your contribution.
8. Sell or donate articles or parts of your book to magazines and newspapers. Writing for free can be a great way to getting noticed. Remember to leave your email address or website address, if you can. At the very least get that byline.
9. Offer to teach classes or hold your own workshop. You get some money for your efforts, while building your exposure.
10. Depending on your niche and topic, get an organization to commit to buying 100 copies of your book. Include that letter of commitment with your book proposal. For example, if you wrote an inspirational story about a sales person. Might not any large company like IBM think this would be a great book for their sales training…or to inspire new employees?
One word of caution. All these suggestions will take time to implement. And once implemented, you will have very little time for what you really want to do…and that is write. So, guard your time wisely. Think out your game plan…get your family to help…then, put it into ACTION.
If you are trying to break into publishing, Lukeman’s contributions are a must read. He gives insight into why some books bubble up to the top of the slush pile and some crash and burn at the query level. So, increase your odds of your writing being discovered; follow his suggestions.
You won’t regret taking the time to read the advice in Lukeman’s e-newsletter. Also included is a thumbs up free e-book on How to Write a Great Query Letter. (As I read the e-book, I can only imagine some of the queries he has read over the years. It must be the comic relief of his occupation!)
When I first thought about writing a novel, I immediately thought not of character or plot, but how I was going to organize 300 or more pages and move through the scenes and chapters deftly.
My first thought is to use notecards. This simple, old-fashioned way of tracking and moving scenes has been updated by computer notecards, but nevertheless, every bit as effective. My next thought was using Adobe Pagemaker. It is an excellent software package that enables the writer to see how the words will lay on the finished page. It anchors images and can format the pages so the layout will stay consistent. I had an old copy of Pagemaker and remembered that the extensions on the saved documents didn’t easily lend itself with sharing documents on other word processing software. Realistically, buying the updated version was not cost effective.
So, I found the second best thing to notecards. Chapter-by-Chapter (CbC)is free. Here’s the link: http://pagesperso-orange.fr/sebastien.berthet/cbc/
CbC mimics the outlining style of Pagemaker. It isn’t as robust, but who really uses all those features?
This is a simple but powerful program whose goal is to make writing your novel easier to write. You write the pages in a Word document and then tie it to a outline format, so you can visibily see how your story line unfolds. It allows you to move sections of text to other pages and reformats changes.
I just discovered this tool, so I haven’t had a chance to use it myself. Check it out and let me know how this works for you.
I took a photo of three bamboo stalks a while back. What interested me was the curling. As I looked at the stalks, I realized that in its simpleness there is much symbolism.
Bamboo is a Chinese symbol for longevity. It earned this distinction because if you ever had bamboo grow in your yard and tried to get rid of it, you realize that bamboo is hardy. It springs back even when you have pulled all the stalks year after year. The bamboo root system is extensive and prolific. Despite my efforts to eradicate the plant, every year the tender stalks poke their way through the underbrush. Its endurance and adaptability are a lesson to us all that the secret to a long, happy life is to go with the flow.
It is significant that there are only three stalks in this vase. You’ve heard people say that “things happen in three’s.”
Three seems to have a completeness about it. Many phases of life and other references exhibit how three is important in understanding higher concepts of life. Take these for example:
- life/death/rebirth (meaning life after death).
red, blue, yellow – the 3 primary colors with which all other colors are created
three phases of the moon
three wishes for a genie
three wise men
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
physical, mental and spiritual
thought, word and deed
animal, vegetable and mineral
In writing combinations of three also appear:
beginning, middle, end
creating a scene: goal, conflict, disaster
creating a sequel: reaction, dilemma, decision
three acts in a play
rising action, climax, denouement
If you are looking for some real insight, I don’t have any. I’m just writing whatever comes to my head in the early hours of the morning (1:22 AM). I could go on and make some connection to the fact that the stalks remain green all year round. And maybe there is something symbolic in that the leaves, which are much more tender than an oak, are few and appear at the end of the stalk.
This exercise shows what can happen when you let your mind wander, connecting the dots between the universal truths and that which is real and concrete. Every writer needs the ability to dream, because that is his or her well of inspiration.
You want to come up with something unique. You want to find a subject or topic that will sustain you through the marathon writing process. And whether you are a first time novelist or written 25 books, you are forever searching for that novel idea that will bubble to the surface and have universal appeal.
Every story has been told. You know that…think. How many ways can you write about a romance?
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl enjoy each other’s company eventually. Girl gets annoyed, disappointed, or hates boy. Boy finds a way to make amends. Boy and girl get back together on some level.
Here’s what is going to make your romance novel different. You are going to find two unique individuals. They are in opposition in thought, ideals, careers. Pick one that your readers will find interesting and will be able to identify. Then, throw in some “what ifs.” What if it were set in NYC? How would it change if it were in Kansas? Or set in Alaska? Or in Jakarta?
What do we have so far? Two unique individuals engaged in an opposing viewpoin and living in a locale embracing who these two are or completely challenging them. The venue is like a silent character. Bring texture to your novel by selecting a venue that will heighten the differences or be symbolic of the conflict betwen them. For example, did the inclusion (like a jounralist’s sidebar) of a mother bear protecting her young, emphasize the nurturing characteristc in the female protagonist? Or is the salmon’s run to its spawning place highlight a male protagonist goal?
These examples are stereotypical of the male and female role. What if you have the nature image switched? What if you show the male bear protecting its cub and pair that up with the male protagonist? How does that subtly change the message?
None of your stories will be originals. What makes them unique and yours are the elements you choose to craft the storyline. You also bring your unique viewpoint and personality. These are the things that mask the underlying storyline and tug at the reader’s emotional heartstrings. Think of all the possible combinations and permutations that are embedded in the simple storyline. When there are too many similar combinations, we recognize that and think it was a ripoff of another more familiar story. So use your unique experience and writing style to make the story yours.
A good story has all its elements intertwined and working to support other story elements. If you are cognizant of why you choose what you decide to include in your novel, you will increase your storytelling power. Like a large jigaw puzzle, there are pieces that almost fit and really look like they do fit because they are so close in color and shape. But upon closer examination you can tell they don’t quite fit. The puzzle pieces are not pressed snugly against each other, a small gap along one curve. To leave that one piece in the wrong place, will not change the result— a piece or many pieces left over; there will be unanswered story threads. And therefore, under the critical eye of the reader, your novel won’t rate a “WOW!” It will solicit an: “Oh.”