One of my grad school professors told me that any report I handed in had to tell him everything he needed to know in 30 seconds, 3 minutes, and 30 minutes. But when you’re pitching your novel, you’re not writing a 50-page report and you don’t always get 30 seconds. Sometimes, you get 25 words and three seconds to convince the reader your book is on their to-buy list.
“I’m planning to pitch my book to a publisher in October, and I realize I will have time to give more than the 25 words, but I want the first words I say to hook their interest.”
Let’s take a look at those words:
In this Pitch Slapped article, I’m going to give the blurb a good pecking and talk about the importance of appropriate and deliberate language decisions.
But first, our impressions:
There are some intriguing elements here. Who doesn’t love human sacrifice and a character who discovers some secret in their heritage? It sounds like Ki has some dormant paranormal powers. Intriguing…but there is always a “but.”
In attempting to get as much information out in such a small space, Woods ended up selecting the words that convey the most information (dormant traits, lineage, symbiosis, consequences…). The end effect of this, though, may not have been what she intended for the story. The blurb’s language creates strong associations with science, new age literature, and, if we stretch a bit, perhaps to the harder sci fi sub-genres. The more syllables to each word, the more baggage it has.
Starting with the basics:
Similarly, a title like ”Symbiosis” screams “Science” (and maybe other words like “technical,” or “pretentious”–depending on subgenre). In a previous Pitch Slap, “Selling the Story without the Blurb,” we talked about the use of genre appropriate titles and how they can reel the reader in. Here are some current examples of titles in three Fantasy subgenres:
In fact, publishers often change titles to better fit a book into its overall genre and readership. There’s a reason some titles are labeled unmarketable.
Back to the Blurb:
Rephrasing for simpler language clarifies what’s going on and settles the story more comfortably in a casual style.
“Witnessing a human sacrifice awakens a dormant part of Ki’s heritage. To survive, she must allow this transformation within herself.”
But with this revision, with the verbosity stripped down, we see that the information the reader actually gets about the story is pretty darn scarce. What heritage? What transformation? Survive what?
In revising the blurb, here are some examples that focus on clearly expressing what the book is about in terms of genre, title, and story:
Dark Urban Fantasy: Is this story happening in our world? Do magic creatures prowl the earth alongside us?
Here, we keep some of the original language in the title (“Dark Lineage”), clarify the genre (though repeating “Dark” may be redundant), and then narrow down the 25-word summary to exactly what Ki’s dealing with. This version of the summary still keeps the mystery of why there was a human sacrifice (intrigue!) and why Ki was forced to watch it (danger!) but clarifies the consequences of her dormant traits (she’s a demon!).
It also makes a promise to the reader: we will see her struggling with who (or what) she is. Will she control that part of herself? Can she destroy it? Or will she accept it?
But what if the story is actually closer to…
Chick Paranormal Romance territory instead? Will the kick-butt action be paired with some hawtness? Might we be getting some humor and fun in the mix?
True, this gives out a lot less information per 25 words, but we get the story set-up nonetheless. There’s a relationship, and Prince Charming might just be the bad guy (Boo, lying, human-sacrificing men, boo!). But is Ki possessed? What is she? How is she gonna deal with this latest relationship crisis alongside an identity crisis? The title promises that the book will be a lot of rom com fun.
Epic Fantasy: Maybe it’s a completely different fantasy world. Are we looking at magic creatures, kingdoms and political intrigue? Will we be getting some knights-in-armor action out of the book?
The idea stays the same (girl has demon heritage thing going on), but with this shift, we see a ruler-to-be torn between her responsibilities. This Ki is royalty and a fighter–and she might lose it all if she has a demon inside. The title, “Black Legion Rising” adds even more spice and intrigue to the story, hinting at what will happen when Ki’s demon awakens. Dun dun dun.
I’d read this book. What about you?
What we have here are three different book pitches drawn from the same original 25-word blurb. In the end, by trying to fit everything into a very short format and say more, authors need to make sure that they do not find themselves saying less or saying it all too vaguely to interest the reader.
And of course, we should never forget to use all the tools (title, genre, tone, etc) at our fingertips in getting the soul of the pitch across.
Sometimes, three seconds is all you need.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.
What do you think about the blurb, Canaries? Authors love input!