Prepping For the WLT Conference (2011)
Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on April 28, 2014
[Comments from 2021 are in italics, enclosed in square brackets, like this one.]
A month after that (3-13-2011), I had already made several changes (not necessarily for the better). This was the first pitch I tried to create for the 2011 WLT conference, but it never made it to the conference. The approach I was taking with this one was to have two pitches ready, a very brief intro pitch, followed by a secondary pitch that explained the book more completely. The Intro Pitch is called an elevator pitch. It’s 109 words, and probably runs less than thirty seconds. The Secondary Pitch is an expansion of the Intro, and is what I planned to say if the agent let me keep talking. It was an additional 262 words (maybe another ninety seconds). It’s doubtful they would have allowed me to natter on that long. [I’ve cut some bits of both pitches below so I don’t give away too much]
The Intro Pitch:
“Nine people and one Monarch butterfly become connected during a September filled with usual and unusual journeys. During the butterfly’s epic migration from Canada to Mexico, and others do some bizarrely normal things. These nine people become connected as the butterfly intersects some of their paths, and we see how each life can touch another, and see the effect such chance encounters can have on those around us.”
The Secondary Pitch
“It’s September 2003. America shifts its focus from a war in Afghanistan to a war in Iraq as a Monarch butterfly begins its 2,000 mile journey from Canada southward. At the same time, nine people begin month-long journeys, some of distance and some of understanding. [at that point I added a complete list of the nine characters, with their names, what they did for a living, and how they fit into the story before finishing with] “…The path of the butterfly and the paths of some of the people coincide, not without incident; but connections are made, various disasters [either happen or are averted], and September ends with [and I gave away the ending].”
I knew it wasn’t even close to good.
On the next pitch, written in mid-May, about a month before the conference, I included an intro, so I would have something to say if words failed me as soon as I was face-to-face with an agent. It was 217 words (not counting the intro). Here it is.
Hi, I’m Michael Sirois. I have a mainstream novel called If a Butterfly. Can I pitch it to you?
It’s 2003. America has shifted its focus from a war in Afghanistan to a war in Iraq. A Monarch butterfly on its 2,000 mile migration from Canada to Mexico, and nine people become connected during a September filled with usual and unusual journeys. [Again, I listed the characters and what they did and how they fit into the story – but a trimmed-down version at least.] These characters and others are struggling to find peace and acceptance in their lives. But will they? Will [a list of four crucial events in the book] happen? Find out in If a Butterfly.
By June 11, 2011 (two weeks before the conference), I had changed it again, maybe not for the better. It was 265 words. I remember I managed to deliver it in just over a minute. It began
“What do an actress, two teachers, a scientist, a widowed quilter, a woman with [a condition], a rock deejay, an astronaut, a grad student, and a Monarch butterfly have in common? It’s September 2003, and they are all about to begin journeys, some of which will intersect the path of the butterfly on its 2,000 mile migration from Canada to Mexico.” [to that I added a basic plot, which still gave away too much of the story, closing with] “These characters are struggling to find peace and meaning in their lives. But will they? Can they? [and, as before, closed with wondering whether those four crucial plot elements would happen, but added] …will the butterfly even make it to Mexico? Find out the answers in the engaging and humorous cross-country tale, If a Butterfly.”
That one seemed to be universally hated. I think it might have been the huge number of rhetorical questions. I’ve been warned several times since then not to do that. It also could have been because it was too long (I did see a couple of agents’ eyes glaze over), although I did get to discuss the book a little further with one agent. He had me send him 75 pages, and gave me a nice rejection a couple of months later (yes, there is such a thing as a good rejection).
Next time I’ll talk about the second year I pitched Butterfly (in 2012), and try to analyze why it has been such a hard book to explain (which is one reason why I’m preparing it for self-publication).
Have you pitched a book at a conference? What was your experience like?
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