Saw Mary Robinette Kowal
's local book-tour stop Tuesday night. It was an excellent presentation, and jam-packed. (Puppetry! Books! Regency dressmaking! I don't believe the woman sleeps.) Both Without A Summer
, which I haven't gotten to yet, and the fourth book, out next year, sound like they're going to be a lot of fun.
Afterward, I had a chance to speak to her briefly about pitching. MRK is something of a genius at this -- seriously, "Jane Austen with magic"? How great is that? Four words, and you know exactly what you're getting into. I'd been hoping she might be talked into doing a pitching workshop at a certain upcoming convention, but alas, it is not to be. She did kindly take the time to offer some advice, however. She made some good suggestions, among which was to focus on the "gee-whiz" factor, the thing that made me excited about the story. This is advice that I've heard before, and for various reasons it doesn't apply. In the spirit of showing willing, however, I gave it another try, and may have at least figured out why this excellent suggestion doesn't get me any forwarder.
See, the other common advice for pitching/summarizing is to practice with other media, books you've read or movies you've seen that you're really excited about. And I'm terrible at that, too. Seriously, if you ask me about, say, The Avengers
movie, what you're going to hear about is how there's this great fight scene with excellent use of small-unit tactics, and Cap showing actual leadership and personnel management skills by tasking each of his team members in ways that play to their strengths.... are your eyes glazing over yet? What you're not going to get is any idea of the plot, or any kind of overall impression of the movie -- not even any notion of what kind
of movie it is, beyond the kind that has a really cool fight sequence in it.
And in trying to pitch Highway of Mirrors
, I have much the same problem. Thinking about the things that got me excited about writing the book, I come up with (1) the theme of conflicting loyalties, and what happens when someone tries to stay loyal to multiple forces that are pulling in different directions, (2) the idea that two people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions, without either of them being evil or stupid, and (3) the moment when the main character realizes that in order to stop the bad guy, she's going to have to run her own daughter as an asset -- in short, she's going to have to do the very thing she's been fighting all along to keep him from doing. The first two are thematic matters, much too vague and generic to use in an elevator pitch. And the third is back to the same problem that I have in trying to pitch The Avengers
, an isolated scene that gives you no sense of what the rest of the book is like, and that probably loses a certain amount of its own impact in isolation.
Now, I'm not completely hopeless; in talking with the housemate, I've figured out that I can probably pitch ...And The Kitchen Sink
as "the Avengers in space", though I do have to specify that I mean the old British TV show The Avengers
and not the superhero movie. But Kitchen Sink
is a much simpler book; it's a fun, quirky sci-fi adventure, not a... well, if I could describe Highway of Mirrors
that easily, I'd have half the battle won. The basic scenario of Highway of Mirrors
just does not readily reduce to a pithy sound-bite. It doesn't help that the concept is one of those things that could either be really cool or really stupid, depending entirely on how it's done. I've yet to come up with a means of conveying that I've done it the really cool way, which means that my pitch generally leaves people attacking the concept instead of asking follow-up questions. Not fun, and not useful to me or anybody else.
So, how about you, oh reader? When you're telling somebody about a story with the idea of getting them to read/watch it, what bait do you use?