Monday, March 12, 2012

Dagger, Short Sword, Long Sword: Three PPWC Survival Tools by Court Pearman

So I move to the Pikes Peak area from D.C., where I was involved in human rights and lots of serious non-fiction. I wrote articles and got published, freelancer style, in some serious periodicals like The Wall Street Journal. But my decade old degree is in creative writing. 

I cast my penny into the Pikes Peak Writers wishing well, and stumble upon a PPW pseudo-splinter critique group a day later. They inform me the Front Range is a hot spot for novelists. In fact, this group has several published and agented writers participating. They tell me memoirs are out baby, fiction is what’s hot—and I should write a novel too.

Never wrote a novel; always wanted too; have several burning a hole in my gut. Took a not too old short story and grew it. I race to catch up with the eleven NaNoWriMo finishers in the group, so I can go to Pikes Peak Writers Conference and snag a little success—a very reasonable goal.

In order to do that, I have to get my novel written, but I also have to know how to pitch and handle myself in front of the gatekeepers to the craft. They want books they can sell.  Authors need to write selling books.  Book-selling authors know how books sell.

Who will read it? What shelf will it go on in the store? What is the theme? Don’t stutter! What is the premise? Do you even know what a premise is!

I have no right to claim expertise on conference survival, but I have talked to plenty of people around here who do. I have met those who healed from crash and burns, and those who nailed it.

There is plenty to know in order to enter the arena as a formidable novelist, but the dagger, short sword, and long sword of the conference are: Theme, Premise, Pitch.

Theme is one word.  It is the dagger, a short fast thrust into the heart. Come up with one word to sum up the novel.  Of course, there is so much more—don’t be a baby, state it with confidence and don’t be utterly cliché. All single words will have been used before; just don’t say love, war, etc. Choose something a little fresher.

Premise is the theme plus the message expressed in four to six words.  This is your short sword executed with a quick slice to the midsection—they should feel it in their gut. Same no cliché principle applies. Of course there is much more to your book than the premise; the gatekeepers know this and don’t care to be reminded verbally of that fact by amateur authors for the billionth time.

Pitch is the long sword for conference novelists. A bit more strength and know-how is required to use the pitch, but it is the most powerful weapon of the three. The pitch, a.k.a. elevator pitch, should be 140 characters or less. The pitch sums up the plot and answers: So what’s your book about? It can have a bit of voice in it. A good pitch includes: the main conflict, a colorful description of the protagonist, what is original about this book, and the emotional appeal. Answer these things and combine them into a concise, precision crafted edge, and you will have a long sword you can trust to deliver.

This is the dagger, short sword, and long sword for my novel District Curves:

Theme: Identity
Premise: An identity destroyed is not death.
Pitch: When a failed kidnapping exposes a mind control scheme, a sexy heroine must fight for her ritually abused friend as shadow governments clash.

My critique group wants me to change “sexy heroine” in my pitch. I’m being stubborn.  I have some time to practice pitch and tell my two-word concern to other bright writers I respect.  Chances are it will change to something better in the future.  Get a critique group, participate often, and mention the group in your query letters.

I will be practicing my pitch, along with verbal synopsis and some questions I think might be asked.  I will not stumble or use unnecessary words when I get the chance to talk more about my novel. From what I understand, amateurs are tested to see how well they know their novels, genre, and industry.

Be Prepared.

About the Writer: Court Pearman is a recent transplant to the Pikes Peak region from Washington, DC, where he just finished his inner city teaching career. He has a degree in creative writing from the University of Central Florida, and a decade of professional journalism, editing, and sleazy freelance work. He enjoys independent research of local flavor and hidden power. Pearman hopes to publish his debut novel, District Curves in the immediate future.