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« Lesson 5: The Pitch Begins With Premise | Main | Lesson 2: A Kick-Ass Pitch (Do It Like This) »
Thursday
Jan062011

Lesson 4: Where's The Beef?

**This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.”  Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.**

Catherine Caine joins us today from glorious Brisbane, Australia. She makes marketing dance and knows how to Be Awesome Online.

Catherine has a talent for making up words, creating kick-ass company names, and making money and joy live happily ever after.

Note:  She'll join us to answer any questions you have around mid-day, our time.  So, post your questions!  Make the most out of having access to this woman who can find and celebrate the hook hidden inside our dreams.

 ~*~*~*~

Remember this fiesty old lady and her quest for the meat of the burger?

I bet you a squillion dollars that she could get a three-book deal in five minutes flat.

Clara has a rare and wonderful talent: she can zero in on the one thing that matters most. Actually, she has two rare talents: she's also bulldog tenacious, refusing to talk about anything else.

You need to be like Clara.

Why do I need be to be like Clara?

One of the keys to powerful communication - including powerful marketing - is simplicity.

There's a classic line in marketing, "You can say one thing, or you can say nothing."

(Tragically, experts can rarely do this. And you are definitely an expert on your book.)

Imagine, for a second...

You're an agent with a dozen authors in your waiting room, ready to impress on you how they're written the Next Best Novel.

One by one they file in and do their best to tell you their entire novel in twenty minutes. "And then he goes to the Andes to find the next clue! And he meets a charming old lady named Flo, who..."

By the end of the day, you have a headache that would kill a mule and all of the stories have jumbled together into one really confusing epic.

Then your last author walks in, introduces herself, and says, "This is the story of a man who realises that everything he wants is toxic, and what he does about it." Then she stops talking.

Which pitch will you remember tomorrow morning?

So how do I find the beef?

1. Write out your standard answer to, "So what is this book about?"

 

Made-up example: It's about a girl called Dorothy who lives in Kansas and she gets caught up in a twister and ends up in a magical land called Oz with her dog Toto and they find a tinman and a scarecrow and a lion and they all journey down the Yellow Brick Road to find the wizard who can give them their heart's desire and they kill the Wicked With and the wizard turns out to be a humbug and they realise they all had their heart's desire all along and there's no place like home and Dorothy and Toto get home with the ruby slippers.

(Okay, that's not a made-up example. It's the Wizard of Oz.)

2. For every fact, ask the question: Would this be the same story if this was different?

Would this story be the same if the girl was a boy? No, it wouldn't, especially at the time. This is a girl's adventure. Okay, that matters.

Would this story be the same if she didn't live in Kansas? Well, sorta, because not many other places have gigantic twisters. But it could equally be Texas. So that doesn't matter a lot.

Would this story be the same if she wasn't caught in a twister? No.

Would this story be the same if she didn't end up in a magical land? Heck no.

Would this story be the same if she didn't have Toto? Pretty much. (Sorry, Toto!)

Would this story be the same if the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion weren't in it? Well, Dorothy needed companions. But it would be the same story if the Tin Man were made of aluminium, or if he was a woman, or if he wanted something other than a heart. So companions matters, but not the specifics.

Would this story be the same if the Yellow Brick Road wasn't in it? Sure. They would have travelled some other, less colourful, way.

Would this story be the same if there was no wizard? It's fascinating, but the title character matters very little in the story. It's what he represents that matters.

Would this story be the same if they didn't have a heart's desire? No.

Would this story be the same if they didn't kill the Wicked Witch? This story would be much less interesting without her. She can stay.

Would this story be the same if the wizard could give them what they needed? No.

Would this story be the same if they didn't realise they all had their heart's desire all along? No.

Would this story be the same if Dorothy and Toto didn't get home? No.

3.  Take a deep breath.

4.  Put all the elements that made the cut together.

This is the story of Dorothy, who got caught in a twister and sent to a magical land. She met three companions and traveled with them to find their heart's desire, fighting - and beating - the Wicked Witch on their way. At the end, they realise that the Wizard they sought is a fake and they all had their heart's desire all along. Dorothy returned home, grateful to be back.

5.  Edit it again.

How Dorothy got to the magical land doesn't really matter. And this could flow better. Maybe present tense?

Dorothy finds herself in a magical land and goes forth with three new companions to each find their heart's desire. They triumph over the Wicked Witch and reach Oz only to find that the Wizard was a faker and they all had their heart's desire all along. Dorothy realises that there's no place like home, and so she makes it back there.

6.  Edit it again. Viciously.

Dorothy travels through a magical land and realises at the end that there's no place like home.

But... that's too short!

No, but it does use a lot of shorthand. Everyone knows, even if they've never read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the shape of the hero's journey. There will be challenges, and probably allies, and an important new understanding. The specific details of what they are create the flavour and uniqueness of the story, but you have to convince someone to open the cover - or the bound manuscript - first.

By giving the shape of the story and the flavour you give the agent enough to know whether that book could be for them. If the agent only works with stories of dystopian cyber-punk, then your touching morality tale in a magical setting won't work for him.

And if this is his cup of tea... he can ask more questions. Once someone understands the shape of your story and its most key elements, you can spend most of the time talking about how cool the flying monkeys are.

Or in other words... once you've found the beef, then you can talk trimmings after.

Where's your beef?

Catherine talks about transforming your marketing and creating message clarity by telling stories at CashAndJoy.com.

She is now seriously considering launching a new service called Where's the Beef? because it's a great name.

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Reader Comments (18)

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Comments need to be...

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Don't be* that* writer.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Catherine,

I love this method of breaking down what is needed and what isn't! (Poor Toto)

This could be very effective when it came to a tagline as well.

Off to read your posts from the links above. Thanks for a great post.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandi Wall

Some great advice and a great website. Congrats. Now, I'll go around all day saying...
"Where's the beef?"

CC

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristie Craig

Candi and Christie,

I couldn't agree more. This article is just amazing, because the thing is you remember her advice because it has a hook. :)

And on top of that, by showing how using her question "Would the story work...?" narrows things down, I can see how I get side-tracked. I would answer YES to many that are really noes. So, what I've learned isn't that I'm wrong, but that I should explore the idea that the answer is really no and not cling to the importance of all the neat details. They're just neat details.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Love this post. Very concise but spelled out for easy reading and understanding.

Thanks, Catherine!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Bray-Weber

I've been running my query through Query Hell at Absolute Write and having a very frustrating time. Then I posted my 72-word pitch that I've been working on as I've been studying this site, and got a bunch of "that's it!" comments. The last element that I've had trouble getting in is the love interest/romance, and it definitely passes the "Would this story be the same without it?" test--it belongs in the query. Sigh--back to figuring out how to have loverboy fit in with the ghosts.

Thanks for the insights!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngelica R. Jackson

Candi: This is pretty much exactly the technique I use to help people with taglines, too. Thanks. :)

Christie: I am ridiculously excited that we have the same initials. And asking, "Where's the beef?" about everything is a great habit!

Jennifer: Thanks!

Angelica: Feel free to post it here if you want some off-the-cuff advice. Always happy to help a loverboy fir in with ghosts!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

Dear Catherine,

I’m excited to try your question, “would my story be the same if…?” and see if I can come up with a solid verbal pitch for one of the projects I’m working on.

Maeve’s Tale is a 100,000 word, romantic adventure similar to Romancing the Stone. It starts with Maeve Bishop, who has lost everyone she’s ever loved. She’s very, very alone and quite desperate.

At the moment she can’t go on any longer, she hears a knock at the door. And when she opens the door, there’s this beautiful man—a stranger--who’s carrying an ancient manuscript… and he believes that he’s her husband and loves her very, very much. And he also claims that together they’re deciphering the manuscript that might just lead to the holy grail.

Finally someone loves her, cares about her…. She’s not alone, even though she knows it can’t be real. But the next morning, when he’s missing and so is the book, she decides to go in search of him. But when she finds him, unfortunately, he’s never seen her before in his life and certainly doesn’t love her. The only thing she can do is use the manuscript, drag him on the quest, and remind him that somewhere, somehow, their love still exists.

Okay, that’s pretty long. So, "would it be the same…?"

Well, if she weren't desperate she wouldn’t fall for a stranger at the door. She’s probably just call the police like any sane woman would do. So desperate is in, I think. Asking myself, about all the elements, hmmmm.....

Another try:
When a desperate woman finds a handsome stranger at her door--a man who claims to be her husband and love her deeply-- she wants to believe him. And when he says they’re deciphering an ancient manuscript together, she hopes it's true because it’s such a relief not to be alone anymore. But when he and the manuscript disappear the next morning, she starts out on her own quest to find them both…. Except when she does, the real man thinks she’s nuts and the real manuscript comes complete with a lineage of devoted protectors determined to “save” the beloved book and kill anyone who steals it.

Better?

No, too long, I bet.

How about this: Maeve searches for a man she believes is her future husband and an antique manuscript that might lead to the holy grail, and ultimately realizes that great love, like mythical boons, belong to those whose hearts are strong enough to keep trying, even when all hope is lost.

Close? (I’m open to opinions and suggestions from everyone here, too.)

Another try...Maeve searches for a man she believes is her future husband and an antique manuscript that might lead to the holy grail, but finds the real-life versions ill-behaved and uncooperative.....

Probably not.

Maybe It's about a woman who searches for her future husband and the holy grail, but the way is bumpy, the future husband uncooperative, and they're all pursued by the family sworn to aggressively protect the book from all those who aren't "The One."

Or... how about this...

it's about a woman who goes on a quest and comes back to life.

LOL. Hard to get shorter than that.

This is the point that I think most of us get to, where we kinda thought we had it, but now we can't tell what works and what doesn't!

Thanks, Catherine, for a wickedly good post.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Diane: Maeve searches for a man she believes is her future husband and an antique manuscript that might lead to the holy grail, but finds the real-life versions ill-behaved and uncooperative.....

I really like this one! Also, witha few tweaks...

It's about a woman who searches for her future husband and the holy grail, but the way is bumpy, the future husband uncooperative, and then there are those peksy obsessive cultists...

I clearly get the sense that this an a light-hearted adventure with complications galore.

Of course, you could always try this one:

It's Romancing the Stone if only one of the couple thought they were married.

:)

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

Hey Diane,

I love this one-
'Maybe It's about a woman who searches for her future husband and the holy grail, but the way is bumpy, the future husband uncooperative, and they're all pursued by the family sworn to aggressively protect the book from all those who aren't "The One.'

And love Catherine's sugg -
'It's about a woman who searches for her future husband and the holy grail, but the way is bumpy, the future husband uncooperative, and then there are those peksy obsessive cultists...'

The 'who aren't The One' and pesky obsessive cultists grabs me big time. Could you use both? ...pursues by those pesky obsessive cultists who protect the book from those who aren't 'The One'.

I love this way of paring down the needs and need nots. Catherine, how important is it to have the same tone in your pitch as your story carries? You nailed it when you said the pitch gives the imagery of a light-hearted story. What about a darker tone? I posted my pitch on Christine's day and I'll have to go back to the drawing board, but I'm concerned about a fun, light pitch if the story itself is dark/serious/horror etc.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandi Wall

Dear Catherine,

You made me laugh and scare my dogs. Snort! Love It's like RMTS... if only one of the couple thought they were married!! And so simple.

And amazing what a couple hours away from your pitch can do. I like the one you selected too. :) But by the end of my original post with all the versions, I had totally lost perspective. Couldn't tell which way was up.

I really like playing around with pitches, knowing there's a sounding board... more of a group activity. ;)

Thanks, my dear!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Thanks so much, Candi!

And you know, I have a serious, dark, thriller as well. Maybe we should both play around with (dum, dum, DUM) Dark Pitches. :)

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Diane,

I'm always willing to play!

Here's mine, after using Catherine's formula, and trying to keep the tone -


Ceres Wrath is a 79,000, dystopian YA.
Krista Brewer has created the power of the sun. A power she soon learns men will kill to possess. Trusting the mysterious Jace Reed and braving the elements of impact winter might be her only chance to give the ‘Suns’ to what remains of humanity.


Anyone who has an opinion/idea, feel free to add your two cents!

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCandi Wall

OH, I like it!! My only comment is that you might use quote around "impact winter," because it's a specific term that has meaning in your book. But otherwise, it's not a term we use in conversation. Anyway, quotes helps with the understanding.

And seriously, I like it!

I've worked on Pitch U for, like 11 hours straight, so I'll try one for my thriller tomorrow. :)

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Candi: It's very important to have the word choice match the tone of the story, it helps me form the right mental picture. For darker stories, include words like pursue, relentless (and dark!) to match the tone.

Just a small re-arrangement of your pitch:

Krista created the power of the sun, a gift for the remains of humanity. Can the help of the mysterious Jace (and the dangerous protection of impact winter) allow her to outrun her murderous pursuers long enough to deliver her gift?

What do you think?

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

"And if this is his cup of tea... he can ask more questions. Once someone understands the shape of your story and its most key elements, you can spend most of the time talking about how cool the flying monkeys are."

Aha - key point!

After reading this, I'm ready to try this exercise on all my favorite novels. Thanks!

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM.E. Anders

Hi M.E. It's a great way to practice. But don't forget to do it for you!

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Caine

This article is the very thing I was looking for some time. And finally I found your awesome blog. Thanks a lot.

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