If a Butterfly’s Final Pitch
Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on April 22, 2014
[Comments from 2021 are in italics, enclosed in square brackets, like this one.]
My previous post was about starting to split a very long novel into two parts. I started working on doing that a few days ago, and it’s going well. There will be a few posts about that process over the next few weeks to months (depending how long it takes). This post is about the pitch I used when presenting the idea for the novel to agents at the Writers’ League of Texas’ Agents and Editors Conference in 2012, and why it (generally speaking) didn’t work. In another post (or two or three), I’ll post several versions of the pitch (I pitched it for two years, 2011 and 2012) and I’ll show how radically it changed from one year to the next. This pitch is also the final oral pitch I developed for the book. I’ve used versions of it in queries, but haven’t pitched it face-to-face since the summer of 2012.
The Pitch (as of 6-21-2012):
The pitch was meant to be delivered orally, so the bolded words below were for my benefit, so I could memorize it with the emphasis I wanted to use. Also (sorry), I’ve [edited] the pitches severely because they gave away too much of the plot.
“The mainstream novel, If a Butterfly, is like Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon — but with a butterfly; and it has [something] in space, kidnapped [things], and [someone] going postal. If all life is connected, and a butterfly flaps its wings, will a ripple-effect cause [something to happen], or did [something else cause it]? An astronaut on board the International Space Station has difficulty [doing something]. Is it because her husband researches butterflies, or could it just be because [of something else]? When a married couple, driving across the country, accidentally [do something], does that cause [something else to happen]? Or cause them to [do something else]? These characters and others are all on journeys. Some of the journeys are remarkable, and some of them do seem to be ordinary, but others just can’t be explained as coincidence. Did I mention the [something] in space? If a Butterfly.”
This version is 175 words, and (if delivered correctly, and without interruptions) timed out at fifty-eight seconds. The first sentence (the hook) ran eleven seconds.
The hook is the part of the pitch where you need to grab the agent’s attention and make them want to keep listening. One of the agents I pitched stopped me five words into the second part of that first sentence (basically just after I took my first breath) and said, “You lost me at [something] in space.” We did continue to talk about the book, but she didn’t ask me to send a query or pages.
Later in the conference, they had a panel called Final Pitch. Agents drew written versions of our pitches out of a box and critiqued them. The pitch for If a Butterfly was picked, and another agent said the same thing, that the “[something] in space” line blew it for her. The agent I had pitched earlier (who was also on the Final Pitch panel) agreed, but said she had spoken to the author (me), and she thought the book was probably more interesting than it seemed from the pitch. One of my biggest regrets was not asking them specifically what it was about the [something] in space line that stopped them, because that has bothered me ever since.
The [something] in space is an important element in the book, but really only a tiny part of the whole novel. The earthbound characters participate in that something much more than the crew members on the International Space Station did. I also think that one element of the pitch that probably caused so many agents to reject it without seeing the material was how many rhetorical questions were peppered throughout.
In the next post, I’ll compare earlier (usually much longer) versions of the pitch with this final one, and try to show my editing process.
How do you prepare a pitch? Any techniques you’d like to share?
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