Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Trouble with Blurbs and Pitches

~Sia McKye~

I’ve only gotten serious about my writing the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a lot of writing in my professional life for articles, seminars, radio, newspapers, and industry styled periodicals--that's work. While I’ve told stories all my life and written down many of them, it’s only been a recent thing for me to consider fulfilling my dream of writing novels and having them published.

I have several friends who are authors and who have been a big encouragement to me. They’ve taken an interest in my writing and try to help me improve. One asked me to give her a brief blurb about one of my stories. I’m thinking, brief? You see, me and brief, we have problems and we’re not exactly close friends. I thought, hey, I can do this. After all, I wrote several 90,000-word books, so how hard can it be? I hunkered down and got to it.

Three days and seven drafts later I gave her what I thought was brief. Ahem, need I say it was in need of a major blood transfusion when I got it back? Then she added the word “concise”, sigh…I thought two pages was concise.

She then gave me a helpful clue; think of the back cover of a book. Two days and twelve drafts later I hand her the blurb. Her response? Sia, just how big do you think a book cover is? Oh-oh. The next day and we won’t mention the draft count, I handed it back to her. Good word count, however…then came all this stuff about character goal, motivation, conflict, word choices, and yeah, it was still bleeding to death.

My friend is tough and has pushed me to be the best I can be and not to give up. She also thinks one should always practice pitches—who knows when you might meet an acquiring editor? I have a lot of respect for her. So, you know whom I went to when I was preparing a 50-word pitch for an editor. This time it only took me one day and four drafts—I had been practicing. I got it back, “close but not quite.” I growled—hey it impressed my dog. I went for a walk, did the dishes, polished my nails and sat down, determined to get this thing right.

My final draft? “Wow, you got it!” Shock, followed by the wet noodle thing, and then elation.

If an editor does more then just read the manuscript, and offers me a contract?

I’ll tell you what it feels like to win a lottery.

Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction.


jrafferty said...

Hi, Sia. I'm with you on the short pitches. After spending years writing a novel, it is really hard to boil it down to a few words. Nonetheless, the pitch is a marketing tool and if you want your work to get noticed, it comes with the territory.


Sheila Deeth said...

I find the pitches get shorter the more often I refine them. But the "back of the book" advice is really good.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sheila, pitches are easier for me now, but that's because I'm practicing. I'm thinking it's a good idea to have any of your completed manuscripts prepared to pitch, especially if you go to the conferences or seminars where there are acquiring editors.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The wet noodle thing made me laugh!

I do know how to do concise, though. Ask anyone who emails me three pages worth of stuff - they're lucky to get more than four sentences in return!

And thank you for visiting my blog today.

L. Diane Wolfe

mynfel said...

Wow. Good post. :) I was hoping to have something ready to pitch by RT at the end of April, but I honestly don't know if I'll be finished. In either case I'll probably need some help!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Diane, I always enjoy coming by your blog! When I write letters to people, as in between friends, they've always been chatty, clice of life things. In business when I need to be concise, I have no problems. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

RT and things like that are why she tells me to be prepared. :-)

Pat Bertram said...

Blurbs are difficult to write if you have multiple point-of-view characters. Whose story do you tell? I still don't know. Maybe I should get you to write my blurbs!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted for:

ANNA CAMPBELL at 2:15pm March 14
Sia, what a great blog! Actually whenever I have to do a blurb I think of that line from Shaw, was it?, that he wrote a long letter because he didn't have time to write a short one. A good blurb is tough. But I try and do one for every book because if I can't do a blurb, I haven't worked out what the book's about and knowing what the book is about is a great tool to get me on track if I'm losing my way.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted for:

Dellani Oakes at 2:25pm March 14
Ouch! I understand about not being brief, Sia. I have the same problem. Witness the length of "Indian Summer" I thought I had a longer one than 240k, but I was wrong. My longest is 177,324 words. Hmm, and I thought I had trouble knowing when to stop!
However, I did edit a 35k word story to less than 17k for a contest, so it can be done! - Eventually and with a lot of coffee -

~Sia McKye~ said...


My first MS was 130K but I edited it down to 90K. Yes it can be done although I needed some help when I couldn't be ruthless enough, :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted for:

Sue O'Shields at 7:25pm March 14
Anna, I LOVE that quote. Thanks for sharing it; it's new to me.

Sia, Pat, Dellani, it really IS a problem knowing when to stop. It was "completed" at 247,500, but it's now just about at 230,500 with 17 of 20 chapter self-edited. "This plow won't scour" as Lincoln once said. It's not going to work if I don't clean it up. :-)

A friend who I let read it chastised me for editing it because she can't imagine removing a thing. No choice, I'm afraid. I'm going to have to get brutal with myself. It's not like I'm cutting Christ out of the Last Supper painting! :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted for:

ANNA CAMPBELL at 11:03pm March 14

Sue, another quote I love is Aldous Huxley's 'kill your darlings'. It's really tough to follow through on this, though!

I just checked the quote to see who actually said it and it seems there's a bit of confusion. Most people seem to go for either Mark Twain or Blaise Pascal. It's good, isn't it? I had a couple of short stories published last year and believe me, I think it would have been easier to write a novel!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anna. I have to agree with you. Writing short stories is hard for me. I don't know if it's because I think in terms of a big story? Who knows. I rarely read short stories, although I will read an Anthology of three authors I like. Really, those ARE short stories or novellas. Maybe I just need to read more shorts to see the time line format.

I like Anthologies because sometimes a good new author can get exposure with two experienced authors of a similar genre.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted from Facebook discussion on the article, for:

MALCOLM R. CAMPBELL at 7:59am March 15
After reading Diana Gabaldon's novels, 240,000 words seems very short. Nonetheless, those blurbs on the back cover aren't quite that long, Sia. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh, I know Malcolm. lolol! But this had been my first experience with taking 90k and trying to do a blurb. My first draft was over 7 pages long, lolol! I remember thinking, well, hell, this will never work. That's not the one I gave my friend but it was a good exercise for me. I think I gave something like couple of pages. I finally got it down to about 3 paragraphs? Just took time. Reducing your book to a tag line isn't easy either, because you have to hint at goal motivations and characters. It was tough. I have it in my files

I'll post it in a minute.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted from the Facebook discussion of the article, for:

DELLANI OAKES at 10:58am March 15

Sue, I understand your problem with the editing. I get suggestions from different people on what I can ADD but not what I can take away. I'm working on a futuristic romance - it's in the final editing stages. Still well over 300 pages in MS form (EEK) so it will be horrendous as a book. My eldest son read it 2 days ago & said, "You need to add more detail." I was thinking, "How?" He's right though, that section needs clarification. I guess in my efforts to be brief, I cut too much

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sia McKye at 11:04am March 15
I found it.

For Doug and Roxanne falling in love should have been the easiest thing in the world…until Roxanne’s ex-husband set his sights on her lover. Now, Doug has to decide if “for better or worse” is worth the “worse” and Roxanne must learn to love Beyond the Shadow of Fear.

90,000 Words
Romantic Suspense
First in a Trilogy-related characters

~Sia McKye~ said...

Posted for:

DELLANI OAKES at 11:05am March 15

Wow! Very good, Sia!!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Dellani. I worked my butt off on it Dellani. But I've decided that all my book will have a tag line. From that, I can build a blurb. Like Anna mentioned, "...if I can't do a blurb, I haven't worked out what the book's about and knowing what the book is about is a great tool to get me on track if I'm losing my way."

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia- have you done the 15 word or less tag line yet? (Evil grin) this was tough for me as well but I found a nice way of doing it. (See my click on the writing tips tab- scroll down to sell sheets and click- I discuss tag lines-like the ones used for the NY Times list- and short pitch/blurbs.)

Angie Ledbetter said...

The writing of the ms is the easy part, isn't it? Glad you got your pitch whittled down. Thanks for checking out my post at the Rose & Thorn's blog.

I went to a great conference in May (Pen-to-Press) a friend organized, and we did a LOT of pitch & query work. Check out the next conference in 2010 if you get the chance.

Lesli Richardson said...

Don't feel bad, blurbs and synops are the hardest thing to write. One thing that helps me is the "X" meets "Y" formula sometimes. I can't always come up with a sure-fire match for that, but it can help me boil things down in a lot of cases.

One example for one of my books was, "Men in Black" meets "Ghost Hunters" with an "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" mythological twist. *LOL* That's the pitch. Then that helped me figure out the tagline and blurb from there.

Now, it's actually easier for me to find the tagline and then backtrack from there and expound on it. Like, "Nevvie never felt like she was loved. Tyler and Thomas want to take care of that problem for her."

Or, "An ancient curse, evil house, and a Labrador Retriever who's no Lassie."

Or, "Love hurts...if you're lucky."

Trust me, it DOES get easier. Once you nail one, you'll sit back and say, "OH!" and it'll click.

Lesli. (aka Tymber)