Monday, November 16, 2020

The joy of Brainstorming

 Every so often I teach classes on how to pitch books to editors and agents and I’m also working on a new book on pitching. Among the questions that always come up are how do you know when you have just the right pitch and how do you even get started with a pitch?  Unfortunately, there are no easy answers – most pitch opportunities will be different and your books will be different too. You can always find a better way to say something and different people hear things differently and take different meanings from things.

But the one thing that I do know works for pitches or even for getting started on any book is brainstorming. Recently, I have been working on finishing edits on a book as well as working ideas for a new story with several friends. What is the best way to get things started? Well, ideas, of course, but how do you come up with them? There’s a simple answer whether you’re pitching or starting a new book.  The key is brainstorming! 

 Years ago, when I worked as a TV news producer, I worked alongside several other producers. We all had our various programs that went on the air at 4, 5 and 6, and we usually had different stories we wanted to tease or “pitch” during our newscasts.

One of the things I learned over the years was that we all had our strengths and challenges, and we all wrote our teases to the next segments in different ways.  Those teases were actually very much like the blurbs I often teach in my pitching classes. Just like pitches are for promoting or selling a book, those teases were aimed at getting viewers to stay tuned for the next segment of the news program.  We were all arranged in a row 4pm, 5pm and 6pm producers and one of the things we all did every day was to test our teases on each other.  We all knew the stories so  we sort of competed to see  who wrote the best one. We also tested our individual teases about stories the others didn’t have to see if they sounded interesting.  We often found the other person might not understand exactly what we were trying to get across and we might then re-write our tease to be more accurate or more understandable.

 I often recommend writers do that with their pitches, especially if you’re preparing to meet with one at a convention or if you’re looking to write a query letter. Write out your pitch and then test it on those around you, or your friends, your loved ones, your writing buddies, your critique partners. . After all, this is something you will be sending out to total strangers. If your friends have questions, consider what the interest or the questions of those other strangers might be. Or eventually you might be writing that in the blurb that goes on your book or online at Amazon.  Are you saying what needs to be said? Are  you attracting interest?

But there are more cases to be considered. Are you being too vague?  But that isn’t necessarily a bad
thing. Vague in some cases is good.  What you’re looking for is for them to say, “Yes, I want to read that,” or “I want to publish that.”

That is the bottom line for the pitch or blurb you develop.  If you leave a few questions that make them want to read the book, fine! That is the point.  If you leave them confused so that they are uncertain about what is in your book, then you need to go back to the drawing board. You want your pitch to sell your book.

Brainstorming can be useful when you get stuck in the middle of the book too. Why not try a wine party and let everyone come up with some ideas for where to go next in the story? Input doesn’t need to be followed, but it might get you out of a rut and into a new direction that allows you to move forward.

The writing process can be a quiet, lonely time, but getting those around you interested in your book can also lead to suggestions that can help you.  Just don’t feel obligated to do whatever anyone says and let them know that too. Trying to please one person may be a big mistake. You know what your readers are expecting from your work, or if you are a new author, pay attention to what draws readers and what they say in their reviews.

The more you learn about your story whether coming from others or from inside yourself can only make the story better.  I often set my stores Currently I am working on a book set in southern Colorado. Whenever I need brainstorming help, I check in with my brother and sister who can bring me back memories of the old days and the countryside we remember from t he past. 

Now I know that some of you may feel awkward about sharing your pitches or ideas with those around you, but keep in mind when you pitch, you will be giving that pitch to and when your book is on the shelves or at Amazon, you are selling that book total strangers.  Don’t be afraid to test your pitch, and it’s easiest to start with people you know.  When we were writing teases for our news programs, we would  be constantly changing things until the words came out of the anchor’s mouth and were heard by millions. Until then, even the anchor might change something.  For you, until it is set in print perhaps as a blurb on your book or a description on a website, you can still re-work and fix and polish the pitch.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and polish.  That can only make your work better.

My only caution is that you don’t want to lose the meaning of the book.  Remember, the story is at the bottom of everything and selling that story is what we want to achieve. Listen to suggestions, but don’t let someone else force a change on you that won’t work for the story. A pitch that sounds great won’t result in a sale if the story is not as promised. The story is still the bottom line.

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