Debra– Pitch Perfect

Every writer has to learn to pitch.  We’re always “selling” the next idea.  Sometimes even before we’ve finished THIS idea, we have to start prepping the next.  It’s an odd existence.  Writers are working line edits from the publisher, writing against a deadline and fleshing out the next world so they can pitch it.  Multi-tasking thy name is “writer.”

The art of the pitch is in knowing what will catch the interest.  How do you frame your idea in such a way that the editor sits up straight and says, “Is that finished and when can you send it?”

Sometimes the pitch might even be about the author.  Later this month we’re publishing an historical/period novel from a 90 year-old author.  Yep.  Not only is she 90, she’s completely comfortable in the computer age.  It’s not often you get an email query from a sharp, savvy 90 year-old.  Makes you sit up straight and ask “Is that finished and when can you send it?”  Because isn’t it a rule that you have to read the submissions from all sharp, savvy 90 year-olds?

Some months back, I was sitting with a couple of writers I’d know for quite some time.  We were catching up, passing the time before we had to leave for dinner.  And then they mentioned their collaborative, humorous, cozy mystery series.  About three minutes later I was sitting up straight and asking, “Is that finished and when can you send it?”  Why would I do that?  Let me just tell you the titles of the books in this series, which is now under contract to Bell Bridge Books.

Desperate Housedogs
Get Fluffy
Kitty Kitty Bang Bang
Yip Tuck

Seriously, wouldn’t you have sat up straight and said, “How many are finished and when can you send them?”  (I’m about 99% certain the pseudonym of this clever duo will be Sparkle Abbey.  Seriously.)

When you hear a good pitch, a well-thought-out plot, a strong concept…well, when that happens you just hold your breath.  The writing has to support the pitch.  I’ve been crushed more times than I could count because the reality just doesn’t approach the expectation when you sit down with the final manuscript.

As a reader, I’m captivated by back cover copy from time to time and JUST KNOW that the story is meant for me.  Sometimes I’m right.  Sometimes the pitch on the back of the book is better than the book by a factor of ten.  But hope springs eternal because sometimes the pitch delivers.  So I purchase the next book, read the next manuscript, listen to the next pitch.

All of this brings me to my real question:  What makes good back cover copy?  What do you want the back cover to do for you as a reader?  What do you hate in cover copy?  And how does that back cover browsing experience change in our new landscape of online book buying?  The author photo won’t be a part of the pitch since we don’t actually see the back of the book online.  Hmm…pitch in and give me some feedback!

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21 Responses to Debra– Pitch Perfect

  1. cindygerard says:

    Great topic, Deb. I’m as eager as you are to hear what readers have to say. I, for one, agonize over the back cover copy of all my titles. Some amazing editor somehow manages to read the book then relate, in three short (very short) paragraphs, all the action, romance and adventure that’s going on in the book. Sometimes they nail it. Sometimes I have to work it over and tweak it a bit. Always, when I give it my final stamp of approval, I KNOW that this is my last chance to ‘pitch’ the book to someone who is trying to decide if they want to spend their hard earned money on it. I worry that there was something we missed, something we should have hammered on a little harder … well, I worry. So yes, I want to know what makes a potential reader turn into a buyer when they read the back cover blurb:o)

  2. Deb, I would absolutely pick up the Durando book for that gorgeous cover. Is that the 90-year-old author? That book cover tells me that everyone associated with the publication of the books believes in it. It’s fresh, original, lovingly conceived for this particular book. Congratulations to the author and Belle Books. I know this is a winner.

    I’m jaded on cover blurbs because I’m an author. I know blurbs are about marketing, and the key “selling words” generally sound cliche to me. I look at the first few pages of the story. That’s what sells me.

    • debradixon says:

      Kathleen– Yes, the Durando book is by the 90 year old author. And it’s so awesome that you love the cover. This is the saga of a woman’s life during and after the depression. It’s an amazing story about a time in our history that was still pretty rough and tumble for a woman trying to make something of her life.

      And now we know why *I* don’t write cover copy!

      • But what you just wrote about the Durando book would sell jaded ol’ me.

      • catslady says:

        Well, I’m a reader and I wish I could help you. Does one ever know why something clicks. I can say that I don’t want the blurb to give away very much (not an end reader – horrors).

      • debradixon says:

        Kathy– It really is an interesting story. And lovely writing. The plains, escaping an abusive marriage (in that era!!), forging a new life as a single woman in hard-scrabble Northern California. Great little romance.

        Catslady– That’s always the issue for me. HOW much do you tell? HOW little is too generic?

  3. leannebanks says:

    Deb, love the doggy books!:) They sound great! Regarding back cover copy, I like it to be provocative. When I say provocative, I don’t necessarily mean the word in the sexual sense. I like to know how this book is going to provoke me emotionally, mentally, etc… GREAT blog!

  4. debradixon says:

    Leanne– Okay, right. Provocative = arresting. Something that makes us stop the “scan.” You know where you’re just glancing through scanning what the book is about and then you hit the provocative bit. The bit that speaks to the imagination or seems so fresh that you HAVE to know more.

  5. kylie brant says:

    Ok, I’m sending in the last book for this contract tomorrow. And now I have to start a new proposal. Or two. Maybe I need to send them to you to see if they make you sit up with your hand out 🙂 I do read back cover copy but before buying a new reader I always read several pages at the beginning. It’s all about voice with me.

    • debradixon says:

      Kyle– Hey, I’ll read for you! But I’m pretty certain your editor is going to snap to attention. They know your work. 🙂 And they are going to be darned glad to keep publishing you. I always did the Plan A or Plan B proposal thing when writing for Random House. My daddy always said, “If you want folks to make the right decision then give them a choice and make sure you can leave with either decision.” Pretty good advice!

  6. Susan Sipal says:

    For back cover copy, I think I’m looking for any sort of connection…a story that shares my interests, intrigues me, sounds compelling. Any of that will do.

    But I absolutely suck at doing my own pitches and queries. My mind is too full with ALL that my story is about, and I have a hard time boiling it down to the most appealing and marketable bits.

    Thanks for a great post! And I’m learning lots from the comments.

  7. debradixon says:

    Susan– It is difficult to get out of the way of the flood of story when constructing a pitch. We all suffer from that. Some folks have a knack for the pitch. I do always let the writing make the final decision if I’m looking at acquiring something, but the pitch will ALWAYS get a book moved up if the pitch is that good.

    One of my favorite pitches was just a title: Small Medium At Large
    amateur psychic detective

  8. Helen Brenna says:

    Fun post, Deb. I’m terrible at pitching. Terrible. Not much better at proposals. It’s a wonder I ever sell anything.

    Love the doggy book titles. Very funny. And that last pitch is clever!

    My daughter is close to her PR degree – and she’s good. It’s really an art, I think, to come up with short and catchy. My brain just doesn’t work short.

    • DebraDixon says:

      Helen– I didn’t realize your daughter was close to her degree! I guess she’ll have to start thinking of intern spots?

  9. I’m also terrible at pitching. I talk too fast. I know this to be true, because the pitchee’s eyes begin to glaze over after 30 seconds of listening to my machine gun delivery. A 90 year old author? Cool! You mean I’m not BB’s designated granny anymore? Does that mean I can stop dying my hair?

    • DebraDixon says:

      Marilee ! You look great with non-granny hair!

      Well, my eyes don’t glaze over when you pitch the next book. Of course, you wouldn’t know since it’s usually in email! (g)

  10. Jacinta says:

    Sadly i have spotted a disterbing trend in back covers. The ones that dont tell you what the book is actually about, only have rave reviews from people you have never heard of on them . I dont want to read five lines all saying, great, fantastic, the next harry potter, I jsut want to know what the book is about.

    • DebraDixon says:

      Jacinta– Thank you. That’s a statement I’d been hoping someone besides me would make. I want to know what the darned book is about. I don’t want a spoiler and I don’t want a lot of hyperbole, but I do what to know the heart of the book and what story I’m getting, by golly!

  11. Suzan says:

    Deb and Jacinta–I agree! Tell me enough to spark my interest, but not enough to satisfy it. Is the pitch compelling? Does it immerse me in story and make me want to find out more? If my answer is yes and the back cover makes me want to read more, I’ll buy the book! Speaking of books, I just read the back cover of Jessica McCann’s upcoming novel, All Different Kinds of Free. I am so looking forward to its release in April!

    I loved the question you posed about how online books fair in the mix? My guess would be that, with thousands of online books at a person’s fingertips, the competition to stand out must be pretty stiff. When I’m in a book store, browsing the aisles, my purchases are very impulsive–I pick the book up off the shelf, like the pitch so I buy it. With E-books I’m a bit more discerning. I can shop for books from the convenience of home, plus I’m able to download sample chapters (a feature I love) to make sure that I really like it before I buy. Those first chapters need to really sizzle and pop with an e-book purchase.

    • DebraDixon says:

      Oh, ho! Susan, you’re probably right about online. The cover copy still has to spark the interest but so many more people will just use the sampling feature to make a final decision.

      Yep. We’re going to have to hook readers with more than just a few paragraphs and a few pages read while standing in a bookstore aisle! The world is changing.

      McCann’s book is awesome! But you guys know we don’t acquire anything we don’t believe in so my endorsement is sooo self-serving. (g)

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