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?”
Writing is all about discipline. I know that. Then, my question is, what does it mean when you like to write but in the end find writing to be a task? For those finding it difficult to settle down and write, is it part of our DNA to prefer activities that don’t chain ourselves to a chair? Or are we running away from ourselves? Will our writing reveal more about ourselves than we want to share? All interesting questions for the writer who finds they are not writing.
Recently, I found out that I am not alone in this struggle. A talented writer/ friend is exploring that very same question. What in the world is holding us back? Why are we self-sabotaging ourselves?
Probably the answer is different for all of us. However, I do see a similarity as I listen to other potential writers (there are oodles of us out there), read writing threads, and read blogs. It simply comes down to avoidance behavior.
If you look closely at your favorite writer, or for that matter, any successful person, you will see that people who show up every day and work at their craft, their business, their passion are the ones who eventually reap rewards for overcoming the challenges from every day demands.
So, I’m talking to all those out there, and I’m talking to myself — If you want to be successful at writing, you need to show up and write every day. Although the editor in you will say “This sucks!” Keep at it. You’ll get better and faster with just the commitment to working at your writing with consistency.
If you have experienced yo-yo dieting, you know it doesn’t work. All those successful weight loss stories come from a place of discipline and exercise. Sorry to say, I’m learning that writing is no different.
You are like your first novel. Just like every character and every scene must in some way advance the plotline of your novel, so must the writing and reading activities of your writing time.
I’d like to hear from you, if you had many starts and stops to your writing. How did you eventually move past your hurdles?
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.
Tonight we are going to talk about weaknesses. This is part of the SWOT analysis explained in a posting dated 4/19/2008. The W stands for itinerating your weaknesses. I know that we all know what we are weak in, but if you write it down, the cumulative picture shifts a bit. You will see yourself slightly differently and begin to connect these weaknesses with other events in your life. Since I am sharing, I have listed my weaknesses in regard to my writing goals. You may realize that these very same weaknesses may appear in other areas of your life as well.
Need more fiction writing time
Easily distracted by family and responsibilities
Too eager to help others
To-Do List is overwhelming
For a long time I’ve been trying to work this out. Obviously, I am my own worst enemy. I have no one to blame but myself. I look at this weakness list with more clarity. I don’t want it to be me, but it is me. I have drifted through life, not paying enough attention. I compounded these weaknesses with a cardinal error. I kept telling myself that in a couple of years, life will be more settled and I will have time to write. Don’t believe it. It doesn’t work that way. Action, even the smallest amount, consistently performed toward a goal is what yields achievement.
So, here’s what I learned from the list above:
1. I should have set aside time to write consistently. The same spot every day at the same time, even it is for a very short time.
2. I should have learned to say NO on occasion.
3. I should have learned to delegate tasks.
4. I needed to push my writing time to the top of the priority to-do list.
Here’s the hard part. I’m going to have to change my behavior to overcome these weaknesses. This is no small feat. But if I change one thing, maybe it will make a noticeable difference? The next thing I need to do is create an action plan to resolve these weaknesses.
1. I have to ask myself every time a task sits before me: To which of my goals will this task advance along? If it isn’t advancing my writing or the top 4 goals, then I have to ask myself “Can this be done at some other time? Or does it have to be done at all? And if it does need to be completed, can anyone else do it?”
2. I have to talk to my family and win there support verbally. This will make for less problems in the long run, if my new schedule should cause the family stress.
3. I am getting out a grid to schedule what my days are like. Write in colors. The visual cues of daily chore will help move your writing project toward completion. You assign a time to write. The empty space on the grid calls for you to claim writing time. Because this time will be sandwiched between two other engagements, you will make this time very productive.
4. I have many years of unconstructed behaviors. There will be the occasional lapses into being too nice…and you will notice it, because suddenly you have stopped writing.
I will post this now, but I’m thinking that I will also share with you my time schedule, so you will see how I needed to fit writing time in. A visual calendar is a good way to keep you on track.
Next we will see what opportunities awaits me. How can I use that to my advantage?