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Question of the Week: The Pitch

by Susan Henderson on January 8, 2007

Half the battle of writing and selling a book, seems to be in the pitch. In two sentences or less, tell me about the book you’ve written or the book you are currently writing.

Wednesday’s guest, Maria Dahvana Headley, author of the memoir THE YEAR OF YES, has something to say about the importance of the 2-sentence pitch. While she’s led a fascinating life and writes like a fiend, she believes it was the focus of those 2 sentences that helped her to write and sell her book so quickly.

What is her book about in a nutshell? Dissatisfied with her love life, Maria decided for one year she would say yes to every single person who asked her out on a date. Stop by on Wednesday to meet Maria (I love her!) and find out more about pitches, dates, and herbal numbing ointment.

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Mr. Henderson was a little concerned what I might write about my Christmas vacation. He doesn’t need to worry at all. I’ll only say that I spent Christmas in Hawaii.

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Does anyone here remember that TV show called The Mothers-In-Law? Can you imagine if Eve Hubbard also had Tourette’s syndrome and you could keep a daily tally of how many times she called her visitors “Idiot”?

Imagine!

It’s good to be home again. I missed you guys!

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon Haynes January 8, 2007 at 7:36 am

It takes me longer to come up with two pitch sentences than it does to come up with a whole chapter of the things 😉

Oh well, here’s one I prepared earlier … Much, much earlier.

A mysterious sealed crate, a pair of shady mercenaries with more guns than brain cells and the amnesiac robot which may or may not be on a secret mission … Only interstellar ignoramus Hal Spacejock and the unflappable Clunk could turn a straightforward cargo delivery into space opera with clowns.

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Ellen Meister January 8, 2007 at 10:19 am

Anyone who would call you or any of the Henderson’s an idiot is … well … never mind. Welcome home!

Fastest pitch for my published novel: In SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA, three women conspire to get a George Clooney movie filmed in their children’s schoolyard … and become town heroes in the process.

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amy January 8, 2007 at 10:43 am

Here’s what I came up with:

Back in high school, Dorothy Abramson’s boyfriend, Eugene, ran off with her drama-fag best friend. Eight years later, she has the chance to win Eugene back — but will her feminine wiles be any match for the machinations of Eugene’s bitchy new lover?

Ugh, doesn’t that sound awful and offensive and chicklitty? As if sexual orientation were just some amusing obstacle in an otherwise formulaic romance.

I swear the book’s not really like that, but the real plot is too meandering and complex to explain in three paragraphs, let alone two sentences.

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Susan Henderson January 8, 2007 at 11:59 am

Simon, Ellen, Amy – I’m so happy to see you here. Your books all sound marvelous! Isn’t it hard to condese everything to two sentences?

(Ellen, thank you.)

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Anne Brooke January 8, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Hi – here’s the 2 sentence pitch to my most recent completed novel, “Thorn in the Flesh” – When lecturer Kate Harris is attacked in her home, this act of violence forces her to try to come to terms with her past, which includes the death of a love affair and the decision to give away her child. Can she confront and overcome her mysterious attacker when her own survival is at stake?

Hey, nothing like a bit of fem-jeop to get you going on a Monday!

:))

A
xxx

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Matt Osborne January 8, 2007 at 1:18 pm

South of Strange pitch:

Private Investigator Joe Abraham thinks he’s on another boring Worker’s Comp case…until he has a Close Encounter of the Ridiculous Kind, meets a survival-nut at the center of a global conspiracy, falls in love with a powerful young witch, and discovers that his memory has been reprogrammed by Sinister Men In Black. Has be been sent to solve the case, or become the ultimate patsy?

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Myfanwy Collins January 8, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Welcome home, Susan! You were missed.

I had to do some fancy (i.e. sloppy) punctuation to get this three sentence pitch down to two:

The Halfway is not just a small town bar in the middle of a potato field in upstate New York; it is a state of mind. Margot LaFleur believes that she and the rest of her would-be family who frequent The Halfway are nowhere near to reaching their full potential, but it is not until she wakes up one Christmas morning and discovers that her brother-in-law has been murdered, and her boyfriend and sister are on the lam, that Margot begins to unravel the secrets that have kept them from moving past the half-way.

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Tish Cohen January 8, 2007 at 1:19 pm

This is for my recently completed novel, Inside Out Boy:

A neurotic mother, a dying man and a sexually confused teenager all chase their own ideas of perfection–each to be changed forever by a learning disabled boy obsessed with rodentia.

Bu-ut, it probably doesn’t say enough about the actual plot, does it? It’s in three POVs, so it’s hard to get each characters story into two sentences.

Hope you had a great vacation, Susan!

Tish Cohen

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Jon Armstrong January 8, 2007 at 1:39 pm

For my novel Grey, coming out February from NightShade Books:

Michael Rivers father is the loudest, richest, most powerful, vulgar, narcissistic, man who ever wore a striped shirt, plaid pants, platform shoes, a neon green wig, and a jacket with two holes cut show his black-painted nipples like cartoon eyes. Almost as bad, he’s ruined Michael’s life and love in a desperate attempt to save their high tech company.

Welcome back, Susan!

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Mark Bastable January 8, 2007 at 1:39 pm

The Penny-Falls

The odd thing about the Lyne twins is that there are three of them. One of them’s dead, but that unfortunate circumstance isn’t about to deter him from living life to the full, even if he has to steal another twin’s life to do so.

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Robin Slick January 8, 2007 at 1:55 pm

Susan! Yay! Welcome back.

Your m-i-l called you an idiot? Hey, mine calls me the “Jew bitch” Nice to meet you, Idiot.

So it’s interesting you ask this question because I was just looking at my PM page and realized my synopsis for the book is no longer accurate since I’ve revised it about a thousand times, and now, thanks a lot, Susan, I’ve just spent the past hour trying to sum the book up differently in two sentences.

This still needs work, so in case anyone here feels charitable, I’m open to suggestions.

The novel is called “Daddy Left Me Alone with God”.

Annie, a former groupie/hipster, struggles to come to terms with middle age and a faltering marriage when she reconnects with Mick — a legendary guitar God from her wild past — while accompanying and allegedly chaperoning her young rock star offspring on a tour across America.

Daddy Left Me Alone with God is a creative non-fiction account of the brilliant teenaged musicians featured in the documentary, Rock School, and also offers a peek at the music scene in New York City in the late seventies.

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Jim January 8, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Missed you, Sue! Welcome back to the mainland.

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Maria Headley January 8, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Welcome back, Susan!

Reading all your pitches, I will only say that I want to have written YOUR books!!!

Or at least, I wanna read them.

Looking forward to reading more! What a great idea, Susan – and I sympathize with everyone who has moaned this A.M. It’s bloody hard to get a whole plot down to a couple lines. I’m trying to do it to my next book now.

xo
Maria

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Sarah R. Roundell January 8, 2007 at 3:17 pm

Welcome back, Susan and all of the park people!
No book idea to pitch at the moment. Looking forward to Wednesday’s guest.

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Susan Henderson January 8, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Who from NYC is smelling this weird, gassy smell? Tell me if you smell it, what it smells like, and where you are.

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Robin Slick January 8, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Susan, you’d better put on CNN – this is apparently breaking, major news. No one in NJ or NY can ascertain what’s happening…yet.

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Susan Henderson January 8, 2007 at 3:28 pm

Anne, Matt, Myf, Tish, Jon, Mark, Robin, Jim, Maria, and Sarah – It’s so good to see you all here! I love hearing your books condensed to so few words – it’s exciting to know what you’ve written about.

Maria – I should be done writing my book by Martin Luther King day. I’m doing the last polish. And then, with luck, maybe you’ll be able to read it before I’m sitting in a rocking chair with a blanket on my lap.

Robin – We could write a joint sit-com, I think. Of course, it’s only funny when it’s on TV and people are just acting.

And Mark, you should get paid to write 2-sentence pitches. Maybe you’ll write mine?

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Lance Reynald January 8, 2007 at 3:56 pm

welcome back Susan!

two sentences? I know I have it here somewhere…

er uh….can i get that hallpass??

isn’t that in my bio somewhere??

😉

xo-L.

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Maria Headley January 8, 2007 at 3:56 pm

I was just going to say that Mark’s pitch rocked!

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Anneliese January 8, 2007 at 4:28 pm

I was going to write a memoir, then lost interest in writing that. Then I began to write a nonfiction book about a territory I dearly love, but in putting together a book proposal, filling out the list of books somewhat-similar to what I am working on, I found a 1999 magazine article that pretty much covers my topic!

Stymied, I am trying to remember what it was that I wanted to say about this area that is different from what I found already written in the article. I have no two sentence synopsis to share at the moment, but will work on it as an exercise in getting me to think about what I wanted to say in the writing of my book.

=\

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Ric Marion January 8, 2007 at 5:15 pm

Hearing someone when to Hawaii while we were stuck here in winter – no, wait, it’s 50 out, in January – never mind.

Falling Leaves – Do you remember the first girl you were really in love with? The one in high school who could take your breath away with a glance, a touch? Now, you meet her again and the old flame flares, but thirty years have passed, families acquired, baggage galore, the perfect love you’ve searched for all these years isn’t going to get away again.

Blink – Gil, a young professional, thinks life is grand until his new bride starts disappearing at random intervals, just ‘blinking’ out, only she isn’t aware of it. Of course, no one believes him, he thinks he’s going crazy, and the only way to prove he isn’t is to figure out where she goes.

Welcome back, Susan.
Ric
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/RicMarion/

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Carolyn Burns Bass January 8, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Life is no carnival for eight-year old Sheila White when her bohemian, sword-swallower father leaves her repressed, torchsong-singing mother and she goes to live with her eccentric grandmother in a house full of dolls. Set in the turbulent 1960s when divorce was a sin, negroes were untouchable, Vietnam sent bloody images into American living rooms, and the Beatles led the British invasion of rock and roll, THE SWORDSWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER is a coming of age novel about loving people despite their failures, faults, and fetishes.

This was a great exercise, Susan, especially because I’m still writing this novel. I’ve played with pitches here and there, but you forced me to put words to my concept.

I think Mark deserves a prize for the shortest, yet pithiest pitch.

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n.l. belardes January 8, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Oilhead:

A dead-end journalist once on the fringe of newsworthy events finds himself caught within a brotherhood of punks and oilfield working class blues. Eventually he confronts news-making issues of ethnic troubles and terrorism and must decide where his own loyalty lies.

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Darrin January 8, 2007 at 6:32 pm

So I’m not alone in thinking that the task of writing a 2-line pitch is like solving a tricky puzzle.

Here’s the pitch I’ve been using for my travel narrative Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama Without a Car:

Join Darrin DuFord as he hikes, bribes, and barters his way across Panama, an overlooked filament of the tropics. Sampling barbecued jungle rodent and fermented corn homebrew, DuFord encounters a land where the machete can slash through just about anything–except the nation’s spirit.

Happy New Year, Susan!

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Aimee January 8, 2007 at 7:23 pm

Ah, idiot, huh. And Jew Bitch for Robin? Well, no names for me but future FIL told the entire family I am a stripper. I know, not so funny in print but if you saw me you’d have tears. I am a flat chested non-makeup or fake nail wearing, white as a ghost furthest thing from sexy stripper there is. The slight was actually flattering and I found myself going, “Really? you think I could make money doing that? Wow, thanks. I never saw myself as sexy in that way.”
Anyway, I don’t have a book to pitch at the moment, just a few ideas that I’m working out in my mind right now.
Sorry you’re an idiot!
XOXO
Hollywood Heather

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Juliet January 8, 2007 at 7:31 pm

Welcome back everyone! I’ve missed being here over the holidays, and look forward to getting caught-up.

My pitch:

What if the most destructive force in your life is you? And when the running is done—how do you return to the life you’ve capsized?

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n.l. belardes January 8, 2007 at 8:24 pm

Juliet’s book idea is giving me a sinking feeling.

just jarshin’.

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Maria Headley January 8, 2007 at 9:11 pm

Sometimes, it’s fully legal to refer to it as a two-line bitch.

It is a good exercise, though, no matter how hard it is – even if, as some have suggested, it’s just for clarifying your own brain. I know I did it a few times trying to get clear on my 2nd book’s story. I can’t wait to read your book, Susan, and I trust it will be long before you’re in a rocker.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted January 9, 2007 at 12:30 am

Welcome back, Susan! Here’s the pitch for my second YA novel, due out this summer:

“When Ren D’Arc’s novelist mother is crushed to death by a stack of Harry Potter books, her father moves them to CT, where Ren becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a zebra-striped notebook, an online predator, and her new nemesis, Farrin Farraday.”

I favor the one loooong sentence approach.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted January 9, 2007 at 12:31 am

Oh, and I *loved* The Mothers In-Law!

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Kris Yankee January 9, 2007 at 12:48 am

Ahh…Hawaii over Christmas. I hope you had a wonderful time. We were there during the hurricane season. Luckily we didn’t encounter any windy days.

I seem to be a lurker here, but this exercise really made me think. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Here’s my pitch for Stolen Years:

What do a grieving mother, a stillborn child and a missing lawyer have in common? They’ll all linked together by a newspaper photograph that will rocket the mother toward getting her “dead” daughter back from the man who stole her.

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Lee January 9, 2007 at 1:58 am

Two sentences to pitch the novel I’m currently developing:

How do you handle unwanted pregnancy? Is suicide the deterioration of faith in humanity?

NOT autobiographical, in a sense. (This isn’t one of my two sentences.)
((This is a hard exercise.))
(((Thanks for the mental aerobics!)))

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Jonathan Evison January 9, 2007 at 4:14 am

…war and peace meets general hospital . . .

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Terry Bain January 9, 2007 at 7:48 am

Sheriff Small, determined to do what is necessary but unable to euthanize his dying wife, comes home to discover that not only has someone done the job for him, but has vanished the body in the process.

Includes sax and violins.

Blessings and welcome back, L’Idiot.

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Susan Henderson January 9, 2007 at 11:31 am

Robin – I’m glad the gas smell appears to be nothing. I turned on the TV as you suggested. I have a terrible relationship with my TV. I’m dismissive and forgetful. It’s in the basement, where I never go. So I turned it on, found CNN – there was a commercial on – wandered back upstairs while I waited, and found the news on the internet. The boys came home from school and told me the news was on in the basement, and I completely forgot. I don’t know why I can’t watch the thing.

Lance – I’ll help you with your pitch when your ms. is done. Yours will be easy.

Anneliese, Ric, Carolyn, n.l., Darrin, Hollywood Heather, Juliet, Lauren, Kris, Lee, Jonathan, Terry – I’m so happy to see all of you! These things are monsters to write – they always make me feel stupid – and I appreciate you being brave and putting your two sentences out there. I love being able to connect you with the books you’re writing and your fascinating lives/imaginations.

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Bernita January 9, 2007 at 12:09 pm

I just found you through Ric.

Tempest in Time:
A forensic consultant, myth-buster and time traveller faces challenges from the past, the present and the future.
She takes on the the violent post-Conquest world of a famous ancestor – and the slight problem of the family dragon, unmasks a member of a resurrected cult of les Assassins – intent on the murder of the British PM ,and then there’s her lovely, dirty thoughts about a hunky Detective-Inspector with the anti-terror squad – which may be the biggest problem of all…

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Julie Ann Shapiro January 9, 2007 at 4:19 pm

Susan,
Welcome Home.

1. Flashes of the Other World (Pulp Bits) is a quirky collection where magic realism, traumas and the absurd meet. From talking spirits to wine bottles and dimes that have their say it’s one wild, surreal world.

2. In the One Shoe Diaries, a digital Cinderella story delivered digitallly in twelve installments, Brad Lynberry, a successful photographer is torn by grief. Haunted by the memory of Jen-Zen, he becomes fascinated then obsessed with
shoes – but only lost shoes and must unravel their messages or go mad trying.

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Mary Akers January 9, 2007 at 5:32 pm

VIEWING MEDUSA–a collection of stories–explores the connections between ancient myths and modern womanhood, illuminating the lives of thirteen women as they search for forgiveness, identity, and purpose.

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Bruce Hoppe January 9, 2007 at 7:54 pm

A fun question and comfort in knowing the shared agony. Which brings to mind this thought. How close would say an agent or publicist come in writing a pitch for the same book? Different POVs?

DON’T LET ALL THE PRETTY DAYS GET BY-An irreverent romp through the New West. Pint-size fireball, Teddy Gibbs, takes on nudist balloonists, Indian gaming impresarios and political hi jinks in state legislatures to save her family ranch in this seriocomic original and tour de force of American theater of the tongue-in-cheek.

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Lee January 9, 2007 at 8:21 pm

I like where Bruce is going.
What about trying to do a two sentence pitch for your favorite book? It already sells, in most cases.
Kind of like the writing exercise of taking a line from a book and writing a story based on that line.
Might give us insight . . .

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Terry Bain January 9, 2007 at 10:20 pm

By the way, I totally made that pitch up on the fly, and it has utterly nothing to do with my novel. Though maybe it should.

Damn. Guess I have work to do.

Damn you, Susan Henderson.

And all the rest of you Litparkers too. Damn all of you, okay?

And bless you too.

T

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Gail Siegel January 10, 2007 at 3:26 am

It’s refreshing to read book jacket copy by writers rather than publicists. The publicists always get it wrong, don’t they. They don’t ever seem to have read the book, get the facts mixed up and emphasize the wrong part of the story line.

I don’t have anything to summarize right now. I need someone else to decide which stories go in my purported collection, Wage Slaves. Too many to fit.

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Simon Haynes January 10, 2007 at 4:51 am

Gail – the pitch I posted (1. I think) is the back cover blurb from my current novel. The publisher let me have a go at it, liked my effort and used it.

I have a good relationship with my publisher – they don’t mind me being hands on, but that’s because I understand the final choice is theirs. After all, it’s their money going into all those books, and if the book tanks I’m not the one losing a fortune.

It’s very nice to have some input, though.

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Susan Henderson January 11, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Wow, how wonderful to read all of these pitches. Welcome, to those of you who are new. Everyone will be linked on Friday’s Weekly Wrap, so see you then!

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