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