Pitching “Perceval’s Secret”

My Kickstarter project page to raise money for the e-publication is almost done.  As I’ve been exploring the online e-book stores where I want to sell my e-book, I’ve discovered that I need to really start thinking in terms of selling, i.e. writing a “summary” of the novel that will entice readers to buy it.  I’ve written a lot of ad copy in the past, and I do not relish writing more about my own book.  But that goes with the territory whether self-publishing or querying agents and publishers.

Oct WriterOnce again, The Writer comes to my rescue.  In the October 2013 issue, there’s an article by Grace Bello entitled “Shrink Tank.”  In this article, Bello describes how hard it is for authors to write a sales summary of a novel they’ve written.  It goes against the grain.  After all, a novelist has just written an 80,000- to 100,000-word story, and now she has to write it all in 200 words?  Well, no, not really.

Think of it this way: imagine you’re on an elevator with a potential reader who’s just asked you about your novel.  What do you say?  That’s the sales summary or pitch for your book, and that’s what needs to be written to include at online stores if you’re self-publishing, or in queries to agents or publishers.  The purpose is to pique the person’s interest, to create a desire to read the book.  All in 200 words.

Bello offers a breakdown of what’s crucial to include in the sales summary:

Character — give your potential reader a character that’s unique, someone a reader will want to read about and care about.  That’s usually the protagonist, in my case Evan Quinn, and that’s a good place to start.  Who is this person and why should the reader want to follow his story?

Setting — every story takes place somewhere and during a specific time period.  Put your character in his time, for Evan the summer of 2048, and place, for Evan in Vienna, Austria.  Characterize the setting: dystopian, futuristic, contemporary, rural, urban, etc.  Introduce the conflict at this point also — for Evan, it’s music vs. America, embodied in the characters of Woody Lewis, Bernie Brown and Vassily Bartyakov.

Plot — the idea here is not to relate every plot point in the story but to give a sense of action and tension in the story.  It’s not necessary to reveal all.  The goal is to lure your reader into follow you into the novel’s world.  An example Bello gives from publishing consultant Jennifer Keishin Armstrong: “What would someone tweet about my book?”  Now there’s a challenge.

Tone — write the sales summary in the same tone as the novel.  Tone can be especially hard to capture in so short a description, but by staying true to the novel, you can draw the reader more easily into the novel.  Writing in a totally different tone could prove jarring and misleading.

Genre — this bit of information can convey to a potential reader not only the type of story your novel is, but where in a bookstore it can be found.  I have struggled with this item in the past.  Now, I tend to tell people the novel’s speculative fiction set in the near future with elements of espionage and psychological suspense.

Comparable titles — this compares your book to one or two other similar books in the same genre.  This is also tough for me because there really isn’t any other book quite like mine. In the past, I’ve actually steered away from including this because I haven’t been able to think of any books.  Now, I think I may compare the book by comparing characters such as “John Rain” in Barry Eisler’s Rain series, or an action like a spy hunt in John le Carre’s Smiley novels.  Oddly, agents do not react well apparently to comparisons with established and/or award-winning writers.  A good, acceptable example that Bello gives: “This is a male Eat, Pray, Love.”  

Bello ends with five tips for writing the sales summary:

  • Study the pros
  • Stick with what works
  • Think small
  • Workshop it
  • Make it catchy

Ask friends to read what you’ve written and give you feedback on it.  They can see things you might miss, and give you more ideas of things to write.

I have this challenge to overcome, both in writing and in video.  Yes, I’m also working on a video sales summary for the Kickstarter project page, and I’m finding it more difficult than expected.  I really don’t like watching and hearing myself on film….



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