Friday, October 26, 2007

Blog Pitch Workshop (Part III)

STATUS: TGIF! Now if only The Rockies could nail a win on their home turf. If they don’t, I’ll never hear the end of it from my clients Hank Ryan and Becky Motew who are Boston Red Sox fans.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOTEL CALIFORNIA by The Eagles

I lied. I’m not moving on to adult titles this afternoon. Let’s try one more Young Adult novel and then move forward next week. I’m hoping to hit all kinds of genres, and I won’t forget literary fiction either.

Okay, you guys want an example from a novel with a serious tone. Let’s take a look at a National Book Award nominee STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr.

I didn’t have this book handy when I wrote this blog so I’m not certain of the exact wording of the cover flap copy but here’s what the Publisher posts about the novel:

When she is caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother's best friend - Deanna Lambert's teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome the lasting repercussions and the stifling role of "school slut," she longs to escape a life defined by her past.

With subtle grace, complicated wisdom and striking emotion, Story of a Girl reminds us of our human capacity for resilience, epiphany and redemption.

And here is a longer blurb from Library School Journal that could have acted as the cover flap copy so I’ll talk about both because they could each make a damn fine pitch blurb in a query letter.

From Library School Journal:
When Deanna's father catches her having sex in a car when she is 13, her life is drastically changed. Two years later, he still can't look her in the eye, and though Tommy is the only boy she's been with, she is branded the school slut. Her entire family watches her as though she is likely to sleep with anyone she sees, and Tommy still smirks at and torments her when she sees him. Her two best friends have recently begun dating, and Deanna feels like an intruder. She tries to maintain a close relationship with her older brother, but Darren and his girlfriend are struggling as teenage parents. Deanna learns to protect herself by becoming outwardly tough, but feels her isolation acutely. Her only outlet is her journal in which she writes the story of an anonymous girl who has the same experiences and feelings that she does.

Through this, readers see the potential that Deanna cannot identify in herself. This is a heartbreaking look at how a teenager can be defined by one mistake, and how it shapes her sense of self-worth.

Now let’s analyze.

1. Publisher copy is 3 sentences. Library Journal copy is 9 sentences (and a little longer than some of the other examples we’ve analyzed but still quite within the realm of a pitch paragraph in a query letter).

2. What’s interesting to me about both these cover copies is that they both focus on an event that happens before this novel even begins. We know it’s going to be a story about the repercussions of this action--of not being trusted by her family and also of being branded the “school slut.” We have been immediately introduced to the tension that will shade this whole novel. In the last two examples, we’ve been talking about spotlighting the catalyst that happens in the first 20 or 30 pages of your novel and in this example, it’s an event that happens prior to the story being told in the novel. Probably hadn’t thought about that as a vehicle for a pitch blurb but it can work—as long as the novel is about the fallout from that prior event.

2. The publisher copy then highlights the serious nature of the novel by focusing on several themes that will be explored which are resilience, awareness, and then redemption (and we could perhaps add forgiveness).

3. The Library Journal copy gives us more details about what Deanna will face from her family and from her school fellows. It also gives us more sense of this character’s intense isolation (which ratchets up the tension because we don’t know what Deanna might do—to herself or to others). I’m hooked.

4. The Library Journal copy then sums up for us the power of the story—“This is a heartbreaking look at how a teenager can be defined by one mistake.”

I don’t know about you folks but this Library Journal copy is a powerful pitch and makes this novel a must-read—for me anyway.