I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the car over the last few weeks. When I’m alone and driving I often get sleepy. The solution is lots of fresh air and music to which I can sing. I only sing when I’m alone for it’s not something to subject on anyone else. As I was joining James Blunt belting out “You’re Beautiful,” I had one of those moments when there was a sense of clarity.
James and I were cruising down Route 495 in Massachusetts with me hoping to not get pulled over for excessive noise and it all was certain. A song of two or maybe three minutes is a synopsis.
In a very short time it’s all there. It’s the elevator pitch we talk endlessly about. How do you get the message across about your book in the time it takes to rise four floors? Listen to songs.
On this drive I started to flip among the artists on my iPod. Mournful, happy, loving, sad, silly, upbeat, wistful, and long cowboy stories. They all had a message. Some connected with me while others didn’t. It was unimportant whether I got it or not.
What was important was that in a simple few minutes a full story was delivered.
We work so hard to condense our books into three or four sentences. Granted we don’t have the full band and music arrangement behind us, but we do have our craft of language.
As I listened to the songs, I was struck by two things. First, the particular choice of words was potent. Each word creates an image. Second, nothing is wasted. Even with the repeated phrases in the refrains, the theme was reinforced. The first time Blunt sings “You’re beautiful, it’s true” you feel not only his desire but also the affirmation—the need to make his point. This is all in four words. Then, again and again you begin to hear the pull, the sadness and the resolution.
So, how does this tie into our pitches? We have maybe fifteen minutes in a sit-down pitch, much less in an elevator. On the phone with our agents and editors we have about the same. What words do we choose to convey the essence of our work?
I offer the thought that we look to those who have only a few minutes to sing their stories, yet move us with their careful phrasing.
How do we create the same draw? Often the synopses and quick pitches I’ve heard become so wrapped up in the plot details the allure of the journey our characters undertake becomes lost. I’ve decided to listen to more music.