29 Nov 2016

So, What’s Your Book About?

On the Saturday afternoon of the SCBWI conference I gleefully skipped along to a workshop on Pitch hoping to nail an answer to that question.  It was great session, led by a brilliant tutor, but…rather than gaining any clarity I ended up spiralling into greater confusion.

Partly it’ll have been because I can’t work creatively in a classroom environment.  Partly it could be that the partner I was working with depressed me by being quite critical of my initial pitch.  Perhaps my book is completely rubbish.  Whatever it was, my pitch was no clearer or more shareable by the end of the workshop.

Listening to other people’s pitches during that session and then in The Hook (5 writers pitching to 4 agents in front of an audience!) really highlighted how essential it is to successfully pitch a brilliant concept.  While they were all probably good stories, some grabbed me more than others and made me want to read them. 

Without a great concept/pitch, there’s virtually no hope of anyone reading a story.  The thousands of hours spent working on it will have been pointless.  It won’t matter if it’s the best story the world will ever see.  If the pitch isn’t intriguing and attention-grabbing then the world will.  Never.  Know.

By the end of the day I was declaring I’d never write a story again without having a concept/pitch first.  The opposite position to the morning’s encouragement from David Almond to set your imagination free and see where it goes :-/

Sunday morning reinforced that assertion.  The keynote speech, from a wise experienced agent, on how to succeed in publishing boiled down to two words:

Concept and Craft

I do totally understand the emphasis on concept.  I have to be able to communicate a snapshot of my book to an agent, who then has to communicate it to editors, who then communicates it to publishers’ acquisition teams (and others), who ultimately have to communicate it to potential readers.  For a concept to go viral in that way it must be clear and distinct with a hook/gasp factor.

Without this a story can’t clear the first hurdle.  Some agents get 100-150 submissions a week.  A good pitch and concept is the only way a story will jump out and grab their attention from the slushpile it’s drowning in.

Although I feel frustrated and demoralised at the moment as “The Space Between” isn’t going anywhere until I nail its pitch, I WILL nail it (I have a handout!  And a book!).  However I can’t help feeling cross that pitches are a necessary evil for two key reasons. 

The first is that the success of getting a book to market is so dependent on a very different style of writing to what most novel writers do.  The idea of concepts and pitches comes from the marketing/advertising arena, and is a specific persuasive form of writing.  To be skilled in one writing style doesn’t automatically make you equally skilled in another.  While it can be learnt, it’s annoying that writers can’t just get on with the writing they love.

My other sadness is that we’ve become a society predominantly interested only in things that can grab our attention within a few seconds.  I’m not claiming to be better with this than anyone else, but it’s an unfortunate side-effect from living with so much information and noise.  How much incredible writing, news, music, art, etc. do we miss out on because it isn’t packaged in a way that captures our attention quickly enough?

I don’t intend to ever let any of my stories be victims of that malady.  The Pitch will be conquered!!


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Like the synopsis, the pitch is unfortunately an essential part to writing a novel. This time last year I couldn’t put my book into a few sentences, let alone one! It makes it so much easier to talk about your book once you’ve whittled it down to a few essential parts.

Mel says:

That’s very true Natalie, I just have to work out which of the parts are the most essential! Watch this space…

Marie says:

Hey Mel, we all knew you weren’t yourself but didn’t realise it was this that triggered it. Why don’t we grab a coffee and spend sometime looking at your pitch before or after next Scooby meet? Happy to act as a sounding board xxx

Mel says:

Thanks Marie, you’re a star! I was just generally exhausted by Saturday evening from information overload, as well as being steamrollered by the impossible pitch. Would love to use you as a sounding board, thanks xx

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