How to Fix Your Broken Book Pitch
The first step on the path to becoming a bestselling author is not word 1, chapter 1. It’s a compelling pitch.
Tragically, I awoke from my coma to find I was now a single mother of six children. My husband had completely abandoned us.
You need to SELL your book before you write your book!
The coma example might be exciting, but unless you’re really into confessions or the author is a Kardashian, you won’t buy this book. Why? Because even if you can relate to the story (hopefully, you can’t), it is personal. What’s more, this pitch offers no evidence that you will be rewarded for your time if you read this book. These days, most people don’t have time to waste.
You need to deliver as much excitement and information as you can in the shortest word count possible AND to prove benefit and value to the reader. You want the target audience to identify with your pitch. You want the AUDIENCE (not you, the author) to believe the book is written for them.
You might have heard of a one-sentence summary called an elevator pitch or a logline. Call it what you want. What is important is that your pitch is your calling card. If your pitch is broken, your book is broken.
Imagine that a complete stranger approaches you at an office party and says, “I hear that you’re writing a book. What is it about?”
The next two sentences out of your mouth should knock this partygoer on his ass. He should be so compelled and enthralled that he has no choice but to buy your book. If you haven’t written the book yet, your pitch should get this stranger to stalk you on social media until it is available. That’s your goal.
If you’ve tried to summarize and sell a book in two sentences before, you know it’s a lot harder than it seems. It might even be the hardest single task you face when writing your book. If you are anything like me, you will revise your pitch many, many times.
While I was writing my first novel, people would ask me what my book was about. The pitch I gave was so numbing and confusing that whomever I was talking to would inevitably excuse themselves in a panicked attempt to escape the awkward conversation. This “horse caught in a burning barn” reaction hurt my feelings until I learned what I was doing wrong and corrected my course.
My horrible pitch started something like this, “It’s a fictionalized nonfiction book about how I started my career as a circus performer in the early 90s when the circus world was transitioning from animal acts to human-centric performances, except the book is not about me exactly — more a composite character sketch, a character that I made up that is like me…” And on I’d ramble.
OMG. Just shoot me. Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes.
One of my (many) mantras is, “If your target audience is everyone, then your audience is no one.”
It is essential, at the pitch stage and at every step, that you have a defined target audience. Protect yourself against falling down the rabbit hole of a poorly defined audience and a rambling pitch. Your audience doesn’t care about you (yep, hard truth). At least, they won’t care about you until you make them care about you. Until then, it’s about them! It’s about what excites them. It’s really important to internalize this.
In the case of nonfiction, know what benefits your audience.
In the case of fiction or biographies, understand what excites your audience.
Isn’t that marketing, you might ask? Damn tootin’ it is marketing! You want people to buy and read your book, right?
We are shooting for an audience that is not too large and not too small. Get as large as you can without losing the integrity of what you want to say. For example, for my upcoming book, my audience might look something like this:
Professional writers OR amateur writers who have purchased online writing courses, attended writing conferences, purchased books on writing, or participated in NaNoWriMo
U.S. residents earning over $30,000 per year
People who have completed at least two years of college OR are actively pursuing personal development through books, classes, or groups.
Your turn. Be specific. Define your audience as if you are selecting demographic and interest groups for a social-media advertisement. Do it like you are spending at least $1,000 on this ad. Do it like you mean it.
Understand your target audience by creating a fictitious character based on the audience’s group characteristics. The more fleshed out and real, the better. You’re a writer, so write it out. Get so specific that you see a living, breathing personification, including profession, gender, and income level; what they do in their spare time and who their friends are; their favorite foods; and, most importantly, what they lack, what they want to improve, and where they are dissatisfied in life.
Now sell your book to your audience! Hook your audience so hard that they know they will be missing out on a great opportunity or a life-changing experience if they don’t read your book. Do that and you will be on your way to the bestseller list.