Sunday, October 21, 2012

On Heroes


When writing my stories for High School Heroes, I delved deeply into the world of heroes. But what is a hero, what do they do that makes them who they are? Why are we drawn to heroes?

And most importantly of all, how do we, as writers, create a hero that is believable?

I think back to the ancient heroes when I think of a hero. There is Beowulf, Odysseus, Achilles, Jason, King Arthur, among others. If you look at many of these heroes, they are perfect in every way except for having a tragic flaw. Beowulf had his pride, while Achilles had his rage. These things lead to their downfall.

This same concept can be applied to more modern day heroes as well. Superman has his Kryptonite, Hulk has in uncontrollable rage, etc. But are these the things that make them heroic?


A hero is defined by their actions. A hero must do what is necessary in any situation. The hero must help someone or right the wrongs of someone or help topple an evil-someone to be the hero they must be.

The problem is, when writing a hero, many writers make them too perfect. After all, the hero needs to be a likable character, doesn't he or she? So, we shouldn't have them do anything unlikable, should we? The answer to this question is a resounding NO!

Like the heroes of old, our heroes we write should have some kind of flaw. Our heroes we write need to make mistakes. Our heroes need to be... HUMAN. No one wants to read about a hero that is too perfect. It is too unreal and frankly boring. A hero needs to grow. A hero needs to have real world problems just like the rest of us.

For Christine, the main character in High School Heroes, one of her biggest problems is dealing with the fact that she is a social outcast. It makes her more relatable than if I just made her go in and save the day. Through the story she makes friends, and loses them, all the while struggling with the question of whether she should use her newfound powers for herself or for others.

That is a hero.

So, if you're just starting out a story, or even if you're well within writing it. I suggest doing an outline, but not of the story, an outline of your hero. Talk about what makes them great, but give them an inner conflict - something that makes them worth reading about. You need to make your hero something that someone wants to succeed despite their flaws.

Just remember, as you write your hero, no matter if you want him/her to be larger-than-life like the heroes of old, or you want him/her to be a simple schoolteacher or taxi-cab driver, make them great, but don't make them perfect.

Now go and write!


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch can be summed up in a sentence, which is kind of funny, when you consider that's exactly what an elevator pitch is. It is a one or two sentence summary of your book that is meant to entice someone to learn more about it.

It seems like such a simple thing, and while it isn't all that complicated, it can be very easy to mess up. Either people make them too short with not enough exciting details, or they cannot think of how to condense a 300 page novel into a sentence and make the pitch too long.

The attention span of most adults is eight (8) seconds. So, you have that long (if even that) to grab their attention. Essentially, what I'm saying is that by this paragraph, if I haven't hooked you already, I'm never going to.

Conventionally, the target of the elevator pitch is usually an agent or an editor. Many writing conventions and conferences actually have special times set up for just such pitching sessions. They usually will give you a few minutes to present your work to agent or editor in hopes that they will say, "Sure, I'll take you on." But what about for those of us who are already published?

While I did many an elevator pitch before I had my novel, High School Heroes, published, I have made the pitch many, many more times since. I have actually said my elevator pitch so many times, that I have it memorized.

"High School Heroes is about a group of teenagers who desperately want to become superheroes but high school keeps getting in the way."

It's simple, to the point, and it always illicits a reaction--usually a chuckle and a comment. Now, this is the same pitch I used when I was looking for agents and publishers. This line was the first line of my query letter. This line I also use when I attend shows where I am sitting at a table and trying to get people to come over to my booth.

Depending on the show I'm at, I have seen as much as 50% of the people I say this line to actually come over to my table and pick up a book. Now, does that always turn into a sale--absolutely not. However, what my short and sweet pitch does, is entices a person to want to learn more. Now of those 50% that actually come to look at the book, somwhere between 5 and 10% buy it. While this sounds low, if you think about it, if I make the pitch 200 times, and I have 100 people actually come over to look at the book, I am going to sell between 5 and 10 of them. Generally, during a 6 hour show, I will make the pitch anywhere from 300 - 400 times. I'll allow you to do the math.

Now that I have explained the benefits of using an elevator pitch for something other than trying to get your book published, we can get into how to create one. There are a few criteria that every elevator pitch should have.

1. Keep it Short
Nothing will throw someone off more than having someone talk their ear off. Remember you have only eight (8) seconds (if that long) before someone tunes you out and moves on. Your pitch should ideally be one (1) sentence, but definitely no more than two (2). Look back at my pitch, it's only one sentence, but it captures the essence of my entire novel. Think about your novel and try to sum it up in a sentence.

2. Hook Your Audience
Just like your novel has to hook your audience on the first page (the first couple paragraphs really) you need to hook your potential editor, agent or customer with your elevator pitch. In other words, you can't just stick with your summary--it has to pop in some fashion. Again, I'll direct you back to my pitch:

"High School Heroes is about a group of teenagers who desperately want to become superheroes but high school keeps getting in the way."

That underlined part is the hook. No matter if they're 15 or 50, everyone remembers their high school days, whether good or bad. They remember how high school gets in the way of what a teenager wants to do. Like I said earlier, I usually get a chuckle when I say my pitch at shows, which is usually followed by a comment like, "Doesn't it always?" or "Yes it does." They want to find out how high school gets in the way, so the person comes over and looks at the book, which is our goal.

3. Tell The Genre
This is a tricky one, because you want to tell the genre of your novel without actually saying what it is. I could easily say, "High School Heroes is a young adult fantasy novel about..." But I don't. It isn't necessary. The simple fact that I have the words "teenagers" and "high school," tell me that this book is probably young adult, and the word "superheroes" tells me this is a fantasy. Saying that it is a young adult fantasy is adding extra words that is cutting into my few seconds of attention.

Now, what might happen is that your pitch will draw them in, and then they might ask for clarification of the genre. When this happens, I will quickly say, "It's a young adult fantasy." There's no problem there, because now the person I'm pitching to has engaged me and hasn't simply walked off, and I have a chance to continue the conversation.

On the flip-side, if I hear a pitch that talks about a "series of murders" I know that we're looking at a mystery, possibly a horror. If I hear the words, "space" or "starship" I know we're looking at a science-fiction. Think about the genre and what you can include in your pitch that will let someone know what it is.

4. Be Prepared to Talk Further
Once you have your person hooked, you need to give them something more. Usually, like above, the person will ask a question, and you need to have an answer for it. What I will normally do, is then direct the person I'm pitching to to look at something on the table--the back cover of my book, for example. The back cover has a lot more information about the book. However, if you don't have a book yet, you can always have this same description written down somewhere. While they are looking at it though, don't forget to add another little tidbit of information.

"The novel has gotten great reviews on Book Blogs and GoodReads."

Just one small thing to keep the person engaged and talking about... well, you and your book. And as always, have answers to some typical questions. For instance, the questions I always get asked is, "Who's the girl on the cover?" and "What are the kids' superpowers?" I can answer these questions quickly without even thinking about it.

The key is, keep them engaged as long as possible, because the longer they're engaged, the longer they are considering picking your story up.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Edit
Sometimes, even a well thought out pitch doesn't work. To be honest, I had three (3) other pitches before the current one. They didn't work, or at least, they didn't work as well as the one I have talked about through much of this blog.

The point is, we as writers can be stubborn. I definitely fit into that category. However, sometimes you have to evaluate what works and what doesn't. So, if your elevator pitch doesn't work, then you need to make some changes. Try it out a few times, and if you don't get a warm response, then go home and think of how else you can possibly say it. Think about where you can add some more active, exciting words. Think about where you are going wrong with your hook. Then change the pitch accordingly.

That's all the advice I can give, other than to just keep pitching and don't be discouraged when people still "walk on by". Remember, that no matter how well written your story is. No matter how many people you think will like your book, remember that it isn't for everyone and there will ALWAYS be people that will pass on it.

With that being said, I'm going to give you two other examples of good pitches for you to look at. Good luck writing your elevator pitch.

Harry Potter
Harry discovers that he has magical powers when he's invited to attend Hogwarts school for wizards, but the evil wizard who killed his parents is hiding at Hogwarts, waiting to finish the job.
A girl falls for a sexy vampire--but the boy who falls for her is part of a werewolf tribe committed to defeating the vampires.