Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The dreaded elevator speech (or, can a book be pitched in a very few words?)

In marketing, it's called the elevator speech. The scenario: you happen to find yourself on an elevator with the ideal target for pitching your idea/product/self (a venture capitalist, editor, hiring manager, or whomever). You have, perhaps, fifteen seconds till he or she gets to their floor and exits. What do you say? How do you get him or her to "take a meeting?"

For writers, there's an elevator-speech variant: when a prospective reader (at a con or bookstore signing, say, or just happening to meet you and discovering what you do for a living) asks "What's your book about?" He or she is not expecting a treatise. Answering -- for me, anyway -- can be surprisingly difficult.

Writers want to believe our books have depth, nuance, meaning. Even when a particular book is intended (not that there's anything wrong with this) only as entertainment, as mental popcorn, a brief description is hard. A pure adventure, spy story, or mystery may be in one sense formulaic -- but surely the author has aspired to unique twists and turns, to clever fake-outs and surprising reveals. "It's a murder mystery," for example, is so generic a description as to be lame and useless.

Writers struggle to synopsize for an editor in several pages what will be unique and interesting about a book. Call that a 1000 words, give or take a few. Post-sale, if a publisher is amenable to authorial input, we struggle even more to capture a book's essence in a mere 100 to 200 words. That's all the copy that will fit on a dust-jacket flap or back cover. We want the description or preview to be interesting -- nay, irresistible -- and yet avoid spoilers. But distilling a book into a sentence or two, to share in a chance encounter with a prospective reader? OMG!

And yet, it must be done. After the break, we segue from introspection to commercial material. You have been advised ;-)

Herewith, my attempt at an elevator/reader pitch for each of my titles. (There will be new books, and I'm also sure to have second thoughts about at least some of the following -- painfully developed -- summaries. So: I expect to update this post from time to time.)

And re any and all of these teasers ... feedback welcomed!)

Fleet of Worlds novels (with Larry Niven)
  • Fleet of Worlds: epic interstellar adventure; unique aliens; starless worlds literally flying through space
  • Juggler of Worlds: spy vs. spy; species vs. species; with a delightful soup├žon of paranoia
  • Destroyer of Worlds: interstellar, inter-species war against an existential threat
  • Betrayer of Worlds: battle for the soul of the Fleet of Worlds
  • Fate of Worlds: battle for the survival of the Fleet of Worlds
Modern hard-SF space opera. Listed in recommended reading order. All (except perhaps Fate of Worlds) stand well alone.

InterstellarNet novels
  • InterstellarNet: Origins: Everything changes when we hear from, and learn to communicate with, alien neighbors. Not always for the better ...
  • InterstellarNet: New Order: Some of the neighbors come calling. Better they hadn't.
  • InterstellarNet: Enigma: The interstellar neighborhood shouldn't be this way. And asking why it is this way is generally fatal. 
No faster-than-light tech here for authorial convenience! Hard SF. Listed in recommended reading order. All stand well alone.

Standalone novels
  • Dark Secret: The end of the world, and what (and where it) comes next.
  • A Time Foreclosed (novella): Your time machine won't prevent Hitler. Maybe you can stop something even worse. Only maybe you'll make it worse.
  • Energized: International intrigue in Earth orbit.
  • Countdown to Armageddon: Time-travel adventure in the darkest of the Dark Ages -- with the entire modern world at stake
  • Small Miracles: are the nanobots a medical miracle ... or a curse?
  • Fools' Experiments: What if you build a better mousetrap ... and discover you're the mouse?
  • Moonstruck: The aliens come bearing gifts ... and with one very dark hidden agenda
  • Probe: We are not alone ... but the others may not be who we think
SF and technothrillers. Listed most recently published (per their initial appearances) first. These titles are unrelated.

Collections
  • Frontiers of Space, Time, and Thought: popular-science essays, and some of my short fiction that inspired them.
  • A Stranger in Paradise: an eclectic sampling of my short fiction. 
  • Creative Destruction: a computer-themed sampling of my short fiction
With one or two brief exceptions, stories do not repeat among these collections.

Wrap-up

And if a well-phrased overview makes a prospective reader want to know more? I'm happy to say more.

But you and I aren't on an elevator, are we? If I've left you curious, check out a particular book by clicking its thumbnail on the right-hand side of this post. Or visit the biblio page on my website. And (wink, wink) there's always my authorial page at Amazon.

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