For God’s Sake, Don’t Talk in the Elevator: The Social Media Pitch

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[Added later: This post has been included on Joshua Palmatier’s blog round up of posts about creating pitches. If you want to read more (after you finish mine, ‘natch) check it out.]

The elevator is a terrible place for an elevator pitch.

The idea behind an elevator pitch was that maybe someday Earnest Hopeful, young production assistant at Big Wig studios, might unexpectedly find himself alone in an elevator with Mr. Big Wig himself! How could he best describe his movie idea so that Mr. Big Wig falls in love with it, gives it the green light, and casts William Powell and Veronica Lake to star. Earnest has to be prepared! His pitch has to be shorter than the elevator ride but compelling enough that Mr. Big Wig invites young Earnest to get off at his floor.

But that’s not why we need an elevator pitch. In my entire life, I’ve never had reason to talk to a stranger on an elevator unless I couldn’t reach the button for the floor I wanted.

No, elevator pitches are supposed to be for the writer, and for social media.

For a long time, elevator pitches were mixed up with the idea of the “log line”. Log lines were the short descriptions of TV shows or movies that appeared beneath the listings in the TV Guide. But, if you went online during the late nineties hoping to find advice that would make you a pro, creating a log line for your story was commonplace advice. In that context, the log line was:

[Protagonist] struggles to [goal] in order to [what’s at stake] to prevent [terrible price of failure].

Or something like that. It was always a little different each time, but the basic Mad Libs of the thing are in that line above.

The point of a log line was to show beginning writers where their story could be found. It was about [Protagonist], not a million side characters. [Protagonist] was in pursuit of [goal] because [what’s at stake] was so important. They didn’t laze around mom’s basement, feeling sorry for themselves. And so on. It’s a fine way to highlight the important parts of a certain kind of story (essentially: stories that are like movies or tv shows, which is where these ideas come from) but it didn’t apply to every sort of fiction.

Eventually, this Mad Libs-ed log line idea merged with the elevator pitch to become the most basic way a writer could describe a story. It told you where to go with the story. It told you what mattered. It was extremely limited and limiting.

But it’s a tool, and all tools are limited. When we teach writing, it’s much easier to gas on about basic story construction than what most new writers really need: the skills and judgement needed to organize sentences and paragraphs in an enjoyable way. That’s what I really needed to study but that shit is hard to teach in a 300-word blog post or message board thread, so instead the internet filled up with “How to make your protagonist compelling” and Freytag’s Pyramid.

So, has an elevator pitch/log line ever been useful to me before I wrote a first draft? Yeah, actually, in short fiction. The format has helped me keep the story from spinning out into an unpublishable length.

For novels, which are a complex, sometimes digressive form, no. Not ever.

After the book is started, I’ve found some use for these pitches/log lines. Has the plot started to wander? Have the characters motivations become jumbled? Does this one particular scene seem to be going nowhere? That’s a good time to remind myself what, specifically, each character wants and what’s in their way. When I’m blocked in something as small as a few lines of dialog, filling in those blanks can help point the way forward.

But really, the elevator pitch is the social media pitch. It’s the short description that fits inside a tweet (oh for the luxury of a five-story elevator ride) that piques readers’ interest. It may not sell the book, but it might get readers to download the sample. I didn’t have one for the Twenty Palaces books, but I did for The Great Way: “An epic fantasy trilogy about a sentient curse that destroys an empire.”

At one point a reader asked me if I hadn’t gotten that wrong: shouldn’t elevator pitches focus on the character? Who’s the story about? What are they trying to do? This reader was focussing on all the log line essentials: Shouldn’t I fill out that Mad Lib? I responded by saying that a pitch should highlight what’s most unique and compelling about a book. If that’s the lead character and their goal, awesome. Going that route is easy enough, and it can be effective. If, instead, what’s unique and compelling is an apocalyptic tone and a weird antagonist, then some other format has to be created. The Mad Lib of a log line is a fine tool to start with when organizing a pitch, but it’s a poor fit for a lot of books. Sometimes the work has to be done without that tool.

For example, the pitch for A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark was: “It’s a pacifist urban fantasy with a hero who’s a cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf.” Nowhere does that define her goal (which is to solve a murder) or what awful thing will happen if she fails (because she doesn’t know at first and it’s supposed to be a fun surprise) but it does highlight what I think is unique and compelling about that book.

Currently, my agent is shopping One Man, a fantasy/crime thriller, and I’ll have to create a social media pitch for it. That means I take a sheet of scrap paper and list elements that I think are fun/unusual/exciting. Not all of them will make the cut, but lists gives me something concrete to work with. Should I focus on the protagonist, a former golden boy responsible for the deaths of those nearest to him, who now bears unknown magic? The setting, a city built within the skeletons of two “dead” gods (both killed while fucking)? The plot’s macguffin, a piece of forbidden healing magic that might lead to civil war?

Nah. For me, the most unusual and interesting aspect is the stakes. The protagonist isn’t trying to destroy a magic ring, or defeat an evil army, or slay a sorcerer-king. He wants to rescue an orphaned little girl that no one else in the whole world cares about. They’re small, personal stakes for a book filled with fighting, magic, and impending war, but that’s what makes it interesting to me. Will readers feel that same way? It’s impossible to know. Fantasy readers like their stakes to be big. Epic, even. Will pitching the stakes in One Man push people away from a book they might love if they read it?

I haven’t worked that out. But then, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

That’s my take on so-called elevator pitches. Once in a long while, they’re useful during the writing process, but they’ve become necessary after the books comes out to help attract readers. Start with a log line, if you want, and make a list of unique and compelling elements that you believe will intrigue readers. And good luck. None of this is easy.

But please don’t talk on elevators.

A Sudden Attack of Common Sense

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Sometimes, common sense sneaks up on me and shakes me out of a stupor. When it does, I tell people.

I’ve just changed the price of The Way into Fate from a set dollar amount to a Pay What You Want system.

What is The Way into Fate? It’s a 50K word-long game supplement that adapts both The Great Way trilogy and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark into campaign settings for the Fate Core rpg. It includes world building documents, custom rules for adapting non-human species (to make them intelligent and inhuman at the same time) plus scenario ideas and “Invasion at Shadow Hall”, a full-length fantasy adventure set in Kal-Maddum.

If you’re a Fate Core player or GM, the supplement has never been more affordable. If you enjoyed the books and are curious about the nuts and bolts behind them: see previous sentence.

And if you’re gamers who haven’t read the books, maybe the supplements will make them look intriguing.

So, The Way into Fate is Pay What You Want for a not-limited time. Check it out.

Not with a bang but a buy link: the rpg supplement from my just-finished Kickstarter is now ON SALE

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For writers, the huge projects that we put hours of toil and sweat and heartache into typically end when something goes on sale. That happened today.

The Fate Core supplement, titled The Way into Fate, that covers The Great Way and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark has been sent to backers and is now available for sale on Drive Through RPG. It’s over 53K words (far more than intended) and is basically a world-building document expressed in Fate’s (deeply intuitive) game system.

Plus, there’s a 50-page adventure covering a historical incident briefly alluded to in the books. The Key/Egg section of the game covers Marley’s Farce Magic, and both sections include many story seeds for possible campaigns/adventures.

It also means my Kickstarter campaign is officially over.

The campaign that I launched in Oct, 2013 to fund books that were released one year ago, has now, with the publication of this game supplement, ended. To say this is a load off my shoulders is understating things significantly. If you’re a backer and I owe you books, check your Kickstarter messages. If you don’t have a working link, message me through Kickstarter.

And, to bury the lede, check out that final Kickstarter update for a big Twenty Palaces update.

In the meantime, if you like games and fun, pick up your copy of the game supplement here.

Special Halloween Sale Price

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Hey, are you someone who likes ghosts, vampires, and werewolves, but hates being scared?

For today, I’m putting my pacifist urban fantasy on sale:

Check it out. Give it as an anti-Halloween gift (or as a Halloween gift, I guess) for people who like monsters but hate to be terrified.

BTW, right now, the price above is $3.99, but it’s actually been dropped to $2.99.

The Blog Tour Continues, Part Nexter

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Continuing from the previous blog tour link farm

1. Like every writer, I sometimes I have to write a synopsis. It will surprise no one to learn that I have a system.

2. Here’s a post about genres, protagonists and exposition at SFF World.

3. Advice you won’t hear from sensible authors: Always Blame Yourself.

4. The way that studying screenwriting helped me as a novelist, and the way it didn’t.

5. Self-publishing vs traditional publishing, with an agenda to push one over the other.

6. He Always Runs While Others Walk: Pacing in Fiction. My ideas about pacing aren’t what I hear from so many other writers.

7. God is All Loving (Some Exemptions Apply) Religious Magic in Horror and Fantasy. I talk about vampires, crosses, and dehumanized enemies.

8. King Queen and this Three Seasons: ARROW and the Challenges of Long Term Narrative.

9. SF Signal Mind Meld: which series got better after the first book?

10. I Search the Body: What Role-Playing Games Taught Me About Writing Fiction.

11. Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels.

— 11a. That Black Gate post was linked at io9. Comments are interesting.

12. The Loneliest Student: Writing as a Subject of Study. Applying education research to the process of learning to write.

And that’s it for my blog tour. It’s Dee Oh En Ee, done. I hope you find these interesting; please share if you do.

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, Chapters 1-6

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New book! As usual, I’m providing a free sample to pique your interest, but this time, I thought it would be best to drop all the sample chapters into one post. They aren’t very long and I think it reads better this way.

Curious what the books about? The description is here.

CHAPTER ONE

AN UNWELCOME PARTY GUEST CATCHES A GLIMPSE OF HIMSELF

Evening had fallen on Seattle, and there were a great many people going somewhere they didn’t want to go. An ER nurse with an aching back, a recent graduate about to ask his father if he could move back in, a middle-aged woman facing another evening of her boyfriend’s tedious anime and even more tedious sex—all felt the helpless resignation that comes before an unpleasant, unavoidable task.

Of those thousands of people, none were expecting a warmer welcome than the man standing at Marley Jacob’s front gate, and none were more mistaken.

Continue reading

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark

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Today is the release day for my new urban fantasy novel, a standalone called A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. It’s a pacifist urban fantasy; in a genre where violent asskickers act as though modern cities are lawless hellholes, the protagonist in this book has dedicated herself to stopping supernatural evil without violence.

She’s also a sixty-five year old cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf.

Here’s the cover:

Key/Egg cover

Art and design by Duncan Eagleson

Fans of the Twenty Palaces series: This is not Twenty Palaces. Those books were about limited options, desperate violence, and people who live like criminals. A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark is much closer to an amateur detective novel, but with vampires, ghosts, and magic spells. Here’s the cover from the back copy:

A MYSTERIOUS KILLING

After years of waging a secret war against the supernatural, Marley Jacobs put away her wooden stakes and silver bullets, then turned her back on violence. She declared Seattle, her city, a safe zone for everyone, living and undead. There would be no more preternatural murder under her watch.

But waging peace can make as many enemies as waging war, and when Marley’s nephew turns up dead in circumstances suspiciously like a vampire feeding, she must look into it. Is there a new arrival in town? Is someone trying to destroy her fragile truce? Or was her nephew murdered because he was, quite frankly, a complete tool?

As Marley investigates her nephew’s death, she discovers he had been secretly dabbling in the supernatural himself. What, exactly, had he been up to, and who had he been doing it with? More importantly, does it threaten the peace she has worked so hard to create? (Spoiler: yeah, it absolutely does.)

One of the benefits of self-publishing: I get to put a joke spoiler warning on the back cover.

As you can guess, the tone for this book is much lighter than my others. In truth, I wrote the first draft as a palate cleanser after three Twenty Palaces novels in a row. That means it’s more cheerful than my previous works–even more than King Khan.

But it’s still a Harry Connolly novel. There are vampires, ghosts, werewolves, fearless monster hunters, and all the usual tropes, but I’ve put my spin on them.

You can read six (short) sample chapters here. Do it! They’re fun!

Or you can buy them right now:

| Amazon (print & ebook) | Apple iBooks (ebook) | Barnes & Noble (print & ebook) | Books-a-Million (print) | CreateSpace (print) | IndieBound (print) | Kobo (ebook) | Smashwords (ebook) |

Exeunt Omnibus

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As of this morning, the last of the omnibus editions have gone out to backers.

Well, not the last last, because someone will come along in July and fill out the address survey, wondering where their books are. But large-scale Kickstarter fulfillment of physical goods is DONE.

It’s sort of amazing how relieved I feel right now.

I still have some books left, and I need to figure out what to do with them. I also have some electronic rewards to finish and deliver. But the physical stuff. Out the door.

The Kickstarter update announcing that, and talking about the next steps, is here.

I may be writing one more KS update. Maybe two. I should get that meatbread recipe figured out.

The Way Into Darkness cover art reveal

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The September Kickstarter update just went out, but you don’t have to click through to see the unveiled cover art by Chris McGrath. Why, just look
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here:

Cover art for The Way Into Darkness

There’s a progress update, too, but you’ll have to click through to read it because I don’t want to type all that out again.