Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conference Pitching: A Nitty Gritty Workshop (Part Two)

If you're headed to the ACFW Conference in a couple weeks, you're probably busy polishing up your manuscripts and your pitches. Two weeks ago, I dissected Alley Cat Angie's elevator pitch--that short blurb for when an editor or agent asks you in passing, "What's your story about?"

If you have an appointment with an editor or agent, however, you may want your pitch to be slightly longer (although some agents and editors still prefer the short pitch in these appointments).

So today I'll do more dissection. I feel like I'm in 10th grade biology with a dead frog staring me down. :-) This time I'll analyze Angie's longer pitch, which doesn't resemble a dead frog in any way.

We worked on her pitch in two waves, so I'll start from the beginning. Here's what she had to start, with my comments interspersed.

Chief Vio has chosen three men to fight for Yana's hand in marriage—savage beasts who assure her nothing short of a life of misery. [Wow, fascinating premise!] But when an unusual crew [I'm unsure what the term "unusual crew" means. Is there another way to phrase?] steps foot in their Amazonian village, her heart begins to beat for the first time at the sight of the coiled-haired [Okay, I'm getting uber-picky here, but "coiled-haired" reads a little awkward to me. I'm wondering if a different description would work...I'm not sure I can picture what coiled hair looks like. Is it curly? Is it a certain color?] man, Andres Garcia. Yana resists her forbidden attraction to Andres, a foreigner in faith and blood [love this phrase!]. Yet when she indulges in her heart's desire [This is sort of broad. What exactly is her heart's desire and how does she indulge in it? Are you talking about falling in love with Andres? If so, I'd maybe state it more clearly.], and admits faith in his God, Yana finds herself trapped between two worlds [How so? I'd love to see you show the stakes here].
Her village's fury is soon kindled by the deceit of the pale-skinned men [I'm a little lost here. Who were the pale-skinned men and how did they deceive the village?], and Yana and Andres find themselves in a dangerous pursuit [Would love to see some specifics here in place of "dangerous pursuit"]. Just as the villagers have reason to claim Andres' head, Yana escapes with him beyond her world. [This feels sort of vague. Is there a short phrase you can use to provide a clear picture of where they go?]
But danger is not lost in the jungle. It waits for the couple, like a jaguar hunts its prey, ready to attack from the hills of Andres' Spanish home. Is Yana's newborn faith strong enough to endure what lies ahead? [Nice ending! You've resisted the urge to spell out the ending of the book, which leaves all the right questions in my mind.] :)

A few weeks later, Angie sent this revised version:

Yana's father, chief of an Amazonian tribe, has chosen three men to fight for her hand in marriage—savage beasts who assure her nothing short of a life of misery. But when a crew of Spanish explorers steps foot in their village, her heart begins to beat for the first time at the sight of the pale-skinned man, Andres Garcia.

Yana struggles with her forbidden attraction to Andres, a foreigner in faith and blood. And when she discovers his commander has crafted a plot to steal the chief's medallion, she must choose between her loyalty to her people and protecting Andres' life. She succumbs to his love and warns Andres about his commander's dangerous pursuit. Disease strikes the village, and Andres and Yana assume the plot is abandoned when the Spanish crew chooses to depart and avoid its spread. They bid farewell in secret. Yana once again faces a future with a ruthless warrior, without love or happiness.

The villager's fury is kindled when the medallion is found missing the morning when the crew sets out. After days of man hunts and deaths from illness, Yana finds Andres upon the road to her village, with the medallion cradled in his hands. Danger is inevitable, even in his noble quest to return the treasure, and Andres must escape to save his life. Yana cannot bear to say goodbye again, and chooses to follow him and His God across the seas.

But danger is not lost in the jungle. It waits for the couple, like a jaguar's eyes upon its prey, ready to attack from the hills of Andres' Spanish home. Is Yana's newborn faith strong enough to endure what lies ahead?

I really liked the clarity that Angie provided in this version, but I felt like she almost went the opposite extreme and got a little too bogged down in the details. I sent her a revised version, in which I condensed about a third of her pitch and jumped straight to the last paragraph (which I loved!).


Yana's father, chief of an Amazonian tribe, has chosen three men to fight for her hand in marriage—savage beasts who assure her nothing short of a life of misery. But when a crew of Spanish explorers steps foot in their village, her heart begins to beat for the first time at the sight of the pale-skinned man, Andres Garcia. Yana struggles with her forbidden attraction to Andres, a foreigner in faith and blood. And when she discovers his commander has crafted a plot to steal the chief's medallion, she must choose between her loyalty to her people and protecting Andres's life.

Disease and threats push Yana and her lover to escape the village in secret, and while Yana cannot bear to say goodbye to her home, she follows Andres and his God across the seas. But danger is not lost in the jungle. It waits for the couple, like a jaguar's eyes upon its prey, ready to attack from the hills of Andres's Spanish home. Is Yana's newborn faith strong enough to endure what lies ahead?


This pitch sets up the conflict and motivation for Yana at the outset--the arranged marriage, followed by foreigners and her attraction, and then the fact that Andres's commander is plotting to steal her father's medallion. Then by scrunching down those other details, we've given a brief glimpse of what the story holds while also leaving a powerful story question at the end. Some editors or agents might prefer that this be trimmed even more, which would allow you to have more of a two-way dialogue in your appointment.


But no matter what she goes with, Angie's job is to practice saying her pitch so many times that she'll sound natural when her mouth goes dry and her knees start knocking against each other. :) I know she'll do great!!!

Are you preparing a pitch for conference? Any questions you have about the changes we made to Angie's pitch? If you're feeling brave, share your pitch with us in the comments!


*Sponge photo by nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
**Keyboard photo by
Gregory Szarkiewicz / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

14 comments:

Wendy Paine Miller said...

This was really cool to see how each stage of this pitch developed into a succinct polished hook.

Well done, ladies!

~ Wendy

Julia M. Reffner said...

I liked watching the journey. Great post, Sarah!

Jeanne T said...

I agree. Well done! I'm struggling to figure ougt my shorter and longer pitch (not going to need it for ACFW--but I know I need it), and reading this post has been helpful. Thanks for putting it out there!

Angie said...

Your help was tremendous, Sarah. Having a hard time concentrating on the pitch and moving...but I hope that I will pull it off in two weeks!

Casey said...

Thanks for the pitch dissection Sarah! And for letting her Ang. Sounds like a great story. :) The pitch makes me uber nervous, but compared to a four minute speech in front of hundreds (have done that) this should be no biggy. Hopefully. Yes. Maybe. Okay... ;-)

Mary Vee said...

So nice to have an objective eye look over the summary. Our books have sooooo much...how can we cut it down???
I could see Angie's desire to include those important nuggets, but I could also see your point Sarah--our audience--which at the time will be the editor.
Thanks, Sarah!
Thanks, Angie for letting us learn from your work.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Enjoyed seeing the dissection (Now that's a first!) I also think you showed how trust is so important between crit partners. You could only do this kind of give and take on a pitch if you and Angie trusted one another.

Angie said...

So true Beth! And it helps that Sarah was encouraging as well as willing to point things out in a constructive way. It's so important to get your stuff in front of others so you can become teachable and not just sit with your arms crossed thinking you're awesome! Geez, God humbles me EVERY day I get to big for my britches. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Sorry I'm late to the party today! Busy, busy morning.

Anyway, I'm so glad this was helpful! I agree that it's hard to step back from our own work to summarize, so an extra set of eyes is always helpful. And thankfully Angie is still friends with me afterwards. :)

Sherrinda said...

Wow...I love seeing the step by step process! I know Angie will feel confident going in with such a great pitch! Yay!!!!

Pepper said...

Oh this is SOOOO good to see!
You are an expert, Sarah -
I'll send my 'short' versions in, if no one else is going to be brave?
Don't you guys know that Sarah needs something to do? (eye roll) :-)

Pepper said...

I can use ALL the help I can get ;-)
Here are two:

When a disillusioned single-mom travels to England to uncover a family mystery, she finds more than she bargained for in a reformed British bad-boy

A rookie professor determined to escape her Appalachian upbringing makes a wager to transform an embittered mountain man into Prince Charming without losing her heart in the process

Sarah Forgrave said...

Yay, Pepper! I have a sucker...I mean, taker. :)

I love both of your blurbs, seriously!

On the first one, I think you could maybe be more specific than "finds more than she bargained for". Does he sabotage her mystery or does he play into it somehow? What about something like, "When a disillusioned single mom travels to England to uncover a family mystery, a reformed British bad boy hijacks her sleuthing." Or something like that...Or even something more specific. Obviously the plot might be totally different from what I said. :)

For the second one, I love what you have! I'd maybe just take off "without losing her heart in the process". Unless that's part of her goal...maybe she's made a wager to not fall in love with the guy?...I'd say that component is implied enough to not need it.

Pepper said...

I'm the brave one and she calls me a sucker!
Sarah! ;-)

Thanks for the tips. Yep, that last one does sound a bit redundant now that I think about it.
AND
in the first one - the hero is more of a 'distraction' to her rejection battered heart than anything.
Maybe 'hijacking' is a good word :-)