Nancy: Selling Your Book in 150 Words

There’s been a lot of buzz here on the blog lately about upcoming book releases from several of us here at 8LW, This includes my own Victorian Romance series, with the opening novella tentatively slated for a late October release. One of the realities of publishing these days, whether via the traditional route or self-publishing, is the requirement for authors to market their own books. With that in mind, expect to hear a lot about book marketing here on the blog over the next several months to a year.

Today, I’d like to look at one of the basic marketing building blocks every writer needs that has dominated my brain-space for the last several days: the pitch. You’ve probably heard of it. But what is a pitch? How do you use it? And is it really necessary?

That last question is the easiest to answer: YES!

I’m going to glom together the answers to the other two questions because, in reality, there are different types of pitches, and they’re used for different purposes.

The Twitter Pitch

Twitter pitch contests have become all the rage over the past few years, with those like #PitMad drawing hundreds of writer and the attention of some well-known agents looking for new talent. This is (I hope) the shortest pitch you’ll ever be asked to write, coming in at the Twitter-limited length of 140 characters. With such limited space, you’ll need to focus on the hook of your story, that gotcha! that’s going to grab attention and showcase a unique and intriguing aspect of your story. If you need some help honing your pitch down to this length and some fun examples of classics summarized in 140 characters, check out agent Carly Watters’s guide to Twitter pitch contests.

The 2-3-Sentence Pitch

This is the ‘elevator speech’ for your book. Elevator speech is a marketing term fora clear, brief message about a product that can be delivered in 30 seconds or less. That equates to a 2-3 sentence summary of your 25k, 50k, or 100k masterpiece. That doesn’t sound quite as intimidating as the limitation of the Twitter pitch does, but it comes close. Think hook plus heart – your story’s deep-down point (more about hook and heart in a minute).

The elevator pitch is a very good thing to have for in-person situations such as conferences, where you might quite literally be on an elevator with  or at the bar beside an agent, editor, or interested fellow author who asks what you’re writing. That crowded elevator or long line at the bar is not the place for your long-form agent/editor pitch. Keep it pithy. If you’re headed out to a conference in the near future (looking at you, RWA Nationals attendees!), check out this article on BookBub from writer and coach extraordinaire Jennie Nash to craft your book’s elevator pitch.

The 150-200-Word Pitch

This is the most versatile and, IMHO, necessary of the types of pitches. Not every writer will enter a Twitter pitch contest, or feel compelled to give an elevator pitch of their book. But many writers will need a story description for queries to agents or editors, or in-person agent/editor appointments at conferences. And every writer, traditionally- and self-published alike, will need back cover copy and an Amazon description for her book.

This back cover copy-type pitch is where I’ve focused a lot of my attention lately because I’m ready to hire a cover artist for my book, and they all seem to want that pesky ‘brief marketing description’ of the story, literally the text for the back cover they’ll be designing. To cut down on some of the stress of this process, I read approximately a hundred how-to articles on the topic. You can do a Google search for yourself and go down rabbit holes that look interesting to you. The articles I found most useful were K.M Weiland’s article explaining the difference between the story hook and story heart, and how to combine them in a pitch; and Marcy Kennedy’s guest blog post detailing five essential elements of pitching romance. (One caveat here: I disagree with #5 in her list, as my h/h are each other’s primary antagonists in nearly every book in my VR series.)

The Results

After hours of procrastination research, I took a first pass at my 150- to 200-word blurb for my novella, the book that will kick off my Harrow’s Finest Five romance series. My goal was to get as close to 150 words as possible, but my first effort yielded a 204-word description.

Mr. James Alcott, younger son of a baron, has finally found his raison d’etre in establishing a scholarship program for underprivileged young men at Harrow, his alma mater. He’s also found a way to fund it: with the annual prize money for Best Charitable Venture, given out by the Duke of Bridgehampton’s Charitable Trust. James’s scholarship fund is all but a fait accompli, until competition arrives in the form of the mysterious Mr. Pettibone, with a ridiculous idea to fund a young women’s university program.  

As the only daughter of an Earl with no use for intelligent women, Lady Jessamine Harmsworth is quite accustomed to using nefarious means to satisfy her thirst for knowledge. Her fabrication of the reclusive Mr. Pettibone, with Jessa as his public representative, is the only way for her to win the prize money from the Duke’s Charitable Trust and establish a university track for England’s brightest young women. It’s a stroke of genius, if she does say so herself, until nosy competitor Mr. Alcott sets out to reveal her ruse.

As James and Jessa cross wits in the ballrooms and respectable gardens of England’s finest families, they discover love might be the Achilles heel that fells both their dreams.

Undaunted (well, maybe a little daunted), I revised and cut and reworked, and came up with several interim iterations of this blurb. Eventually, I got it down to this 159-word summary:

Mr. James Alcott, younger son of a baron, has found his raison d’etre in establishing a scholarship program for underprivileged boys at Harrow, his alma mater. Funding it with the annual prize money from the Duke of Bridgehampton’s Charitable Trust is all but a fait accompli, until competition arrives in the form of the mysterious Mr. Pettibone, with a ridiculous idea for a women’s university program.  

As the only daughter of an Earl with no use for intelligent women, Lady Jessamine Harmsworth is quite accustomed to procuring her education through nefarious means. Her fabrication of the reclusive Mr. Pettibone – with Jessa as his public representative — as a means to win the Duke’s Charitable Trust competition is her best ploy yet, until nosy competitor Mr. Alcott sets out to reveal her ruse.

As James and Jessa match wits and cross verbal swords across all of London, these scholars learn love might be the Achilles heel that fells both their dreams.

Now it’s time for you to play. Let me know what you think of my back cover copy. Be honest. Be ruthless. Be mean if you must! But let me know whether this blurb would have you clicking that Add to Cart button or would just have you clicking away from the page.

(You might have noticed I didn’t mentioned another important element of this romance novella I’ll need for my cover: the book title. Well, that’s a process and a story unto itself. I’ll share that story with you next week, and will be asking for your help in choosing the final moniker.)

10 thoughts on “Nancy: Selling Your Book in 150 Words

  1. That’s pretty good, Nancy! I tripped on only one thing: “cross” and “across” in the final paragraph. A bit of an echo. Maybe say “throughout” instead of “across?”

    Otherwise, well done!

  2. This got me to thinking about what my own Twitter pitch might be. “Love, magic and treasure in a 1970s Berlin night club. ‘The Golden Years of Nixie Voss’ (amazon link). By E.M. Duskova.” (21 characters left over.) (-: Not grammatical, not reflective of my writing style, really, but it condenses the juice of the story. “When Olivia’s date app dumps her during a snowstorm, magic plays the matchmaker. ‘Blizzard Bae’ (link) By E.M. Duskova.” (Still 21 characters left over — enough for a proper link.) Hey, that’s not bad, either! These are short stories, so it’s possible that I could use them for elevator and just general pitches.

    “18–. A fight for the Duke of Bridgehampton’s scholarship money leads to romance for James and Jessa.” (40 characters left for name, title — enough?) ??

    I loved what I read of your story! I think you set up the date and general atmosphere with your sentence structure, not with quick, telling words.

    I’m not fond of the “As the only daughter of an Earl with no use for intelligent women” bit. There could be sons. (I can’t remember if there were.) I don’t know if Daddy issues are really so important as to be included in the pitch. Obviously, they are extremely important in the story, but do they sell stories?

    You also lead with James. Is he really the most interesting person in the story — the one who is going to sell it? Or is it Jessa? (Both were engaging creatures in your first pages.) It’s okay in a blurb to break with chronology.

    The things I think are going to sell: Money fight. Romance. Fake people (ala Remington Steele — remember Remington Steele?). Victorian era. Intelligent, feisty woman. (You don’t describe the “sexy” (not necessarily sexual, just attractive to readers) bits about James — I think you should.) Banter. (This isn’t really in order of importance, either.) Also, you should mention the title. Possibly “First in the Harrow Six (Seven?) Series”.

    • I think you have a future in writing twitter pitches for hopelessly long-winded writers *raises hand*.

      Regarding your suggestions:
      The series name, book number, and Victorian Romance will be on the front cover.
      I don’t think I can lose the ‘daughter’ bit, because that’s the whole reason Jessa creates the ruse and wants the university program/prize money in the first place.
      I don’t think it’s important to know about James’s lineage, though, in the pitch, so I cut that.
      I hope to convey the banter with ‘match wits’ and ‘cross verbal swords’.
      I’ve added a few descriptions of each MC from the other’s viewpoint, and talk about their passion in the last paragraph (although perhaps in too trite a way?). Anyway, following is an update. And it is longer. Of course:-).

      Mr. James Alcott has found his raison d’etre in establishing a scholarship program for underprivileged boys at Harrow, his alma mater. Funding it with the annual prize money from the Duke of Bridgehampton’s Charitable Trust is all but a fait accompli, until competition arrives in the form of the mysterious Mr. Pettibone and his beautiful emissary Lady Harmsworth, with their ridiculous idea for a women’s university program.

      As the daughter of an Earl with no use for intelligent women, Lady Jessamine Harmsworth is quite accustomed to procuring her education through nefarious means. Her fabrication of the reclusive Mr. Pettibone – with Jessa as his public representative — as a means to win the Duke’s Charitable Trust competition is her best ploy yet, until the annoyingly clever and irksomely attractive Mr. Alcott sets out to reveal her ruse.

      As James and Jessa match wits and cross verbal swords, they fight to deny the passion igniting between them. But these scholars are about to learn love might be the Achilles heel that fells both their dreams.

      • (-: Yes! This is better! I don’t need to know James’ lineage in a pitch — I just need to know he’s a gentleman (which you convey), and I love what you added about him being annoyingly clever and handsome. There’s the juice!

        I would like to see more of a “hook” in the first paragraph. My interest doesn’t really get piqued until “mysterious Mr. Pettibone” shows up. Love the beautiful emissary phrasing. I know the first info is very important, but the set-up is burying the juicy bits.

        Moving Jessa up to the first paragraph makes the “daughter of an earl” stuff flow a lot better, IMO.

        I was looking at self-publishing rather seriously yesterday, and one thing they mentioned is that the juiciest bits of the book description must be above the “Read More” line.

        An elevator pitch (which I was thinking about while mowing the lawn) would include the novel title, the fact that it is a novella, and something grabby in the first two seconds. I wonder what mine would sound like?

        “I’ve written a short-story about magical creatures who hang out in a 1970s Berlin nightclub. In “The Golden Years of Nixie Voss”, Nixie needs someone to help guard her home, and the scoundrel frost god, Jack tries to avoid the commitment while staying in her good graces (and the good graces of anyone sexy that he can find). Music, magic, treasure, leprechauns all mixed in with glam and glamour.”

        For me, that 1970s Berlin nightclub was the juicy, juicy part, but I have a feeling (now that I see it as a blurb) that it’s not going to be a very attractive selling point. It’s a detail — an important vital detail in the story that will never be removed — but maybe not the best detail. (-: Unless there’s a bigger niche for that kind of thing than I think.

        • Agreed that mine needs a hook. I’m cogitating. I don’t think I can swap the order of the paragraphs because, the way it reads to me, the first leads into the second.

          Also, I know there was confusion among critique readers about whose story it is. As a romance, the answer is both James’s and Jessa’s, but he will change the most, hence it is just slightly more his. The tone of the first draft made this ambiguous, so I owe a big thank you to you (and Jeanne and Jilly) for helping clarify that.

          I am also cogitating on your pitch and will try to provide some helpful comments. But really, I think you are much better at this than I!

      • There’s a reason we pattern things the way we do, and it’s so helpful to see if others see what we see. I don’t exactly see why (in the blurb) James should be the center of the story, but I can see from where he starts that he’s going to have to make big changes in order to become a Worthy Hero.

        Hmmm. That makes me think of Lord of Scoundrels. I wonder how those blurbs are structured. Ah. http://www.lorettachase.com/lord-of-scoundrels/ They set him up as a rake-to-be-reformed, and a lot of women love a bad boy. I haven’t read many books with the kind of reformation you are setting into action. I’m not even sure how to put it into words. James isn’t a misogynist, exactly. Sexist. That’s the word. Not sure how to sell that as sexy, though. “Infuriatingly” and “annoyingly” are strangely sexy, though (-:.

        (-: BTW, if you need eyes at any point, let me know. I read your first pages for this, and enjoyed the story a lot!

        I learn so much from all of you guys!

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