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January 25, 2009

Short Subject

                               Short Messenger_big Subject

By Jan Burke

TLC is proud to present guest blogger and Edgar Award winning novelist, Jan Burke.

I’m writing this on Christmas Day, 2008. Santa did not give me what I asked for, but I’ve been naughty, so fair is fair. And I never expected to find what I wanted under a tree or in a stocking.

So here I am, on the eve of the release of The Messenger, my first supernatural thriller, and I’ve got a big problem. In the immortal words of Steve Martin, I’ve got to get small.

No, I’m not talking about losing weight before the tour. I mean, I’ve got to get The Messenger small.

Every author hears this advice: learn how to pitch the premise of your story in a sentence.

I think this all started with Hollywood, where a limited attention span is apparently an invaluable asset. Friends of mine used to make a joking game of the Hollywood pitch – "It’s Gone With the Wind meets Dawn of the Dead and Brigadoon." (Don’t bother writing the screenplay I just inspired. It has been done — although I doubt that pitch is how 2000 Maniacs got backing.)

If you’re too logorrheic to manage the one sentence pitch, you’ve got to get it down to the elevator ride: be able to tell someone about your book in the time it would take to ride an elevator – about thirty seconds.

Frightening. But now, word is the elevator and the sentence are so over. In the world of Web 2.0 we come to Twitpitches – no, not some athletic event in which one throws idiots as far and fast as possible, but pitches that fit into a "tweet" on Twitter.com – a tweet is limited to 140 characters.

I like and use Twitter, but … I’m a novelist. Novelists like words. We aren’t confined, as screenwriters are, to limits that have to do with how long someone can pay attention to a story while sitting in a popcorn-scented dark room with his feet on a sticky floor and a kid kicking the back of his chair. We get to explore characters, ideas, settings, backstory — all that good stuff — 100,000 words and more at a time.

Yes, the process of distilling my novels down to pitch is one I find difficult. Few promotional tasks create greater anxiety. Say too much — especially about a mystery novel — and a potential reader may wonder why they should bother to read a book you’ve spoiled for them. Say too little, and you run the risk of making them wonder why you bothered to write it.

One wants the essence, and also to intrigue. A taller order than 140 characters may be able to fill.

So I started by narrowing it down to a few paragraphs. You can see those on my blog. [http://janburke.com/blog.html]

Here’s the elevator version, although my husband said it must be the freight elevator:

Tyler Hawthorne, dying on the battlefield after Waterloo, accepts a bargain from mysterious Adrian de Varre, and becomes a Messenger — never aging and nearly immortal, he will live a nomadic and solitary life, his only companion Shade, the cemetery dog who guards him. In return, given the power to hear the final thoughts of the dying, Tyler must convey their messages to their loved ones.

In present-day Los Angeles, he finds himself drawn to Amanda Clarke, who has secrets of her own. But will Adrian’s return put an end to any hope they have of being together?

I kept working on it. As it turns out, I’m not as bad at this as I thought I’d be. In fact, I beat the 140 character Tweet limit.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the 80 character edition:

Tyler Hawthorne. Shade. Amanda. Awesome.

Adrian creepy.

Read The Messenger.

By the time you read that brief message, I’ll be lying in an exhausted heap somewhere. My tour for The Messenger will be over, and I’ll be home, hoping the people who first ordered it liked it enough to talk someone else into reading it. If you’re one of those folks, my thanks.


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Oh, Jan, I sympathize! Condensing a whole novel to a "pitch" is so hard! But yours sounds excellent. You've got all the important "key words" that will intrigue an audience. I find it helps to do a few bookstore appearances, though, since an audience somehow forces me to keep the info to the most important stuff. (I don't want to bore anybody.)

Thanks for being our guest! I can't wait to get my hands on THE MESSENGERS. Here's a link: http://www.mysterylovers.com/index.php?target=products&product_id=51507

Haiku is composed of 5 syllables, then 7, then 5. Given the short attention spans these days, this might work:

Jan Burke nice lady.
Jan Burke writes good books for us.
Buy her new book now.

It's quick, easy to understand, and versatile. It could be used for a pitch to a publisher or at a book signing....

Arggh. The dreaded pitch. Coming up with a title was hard enough. Now there's the 140 character pitch. What else will they do to us?

Well your pitch works for me, I WANT TO READ THAT BOOK !!! SusanCo

I want to read it too!

Jan, it cheers me no end to count as one of my friends someone who uses "logorrheic" in casual conversation.

I'm buying the book! I can't wait to read it.

I sympathize and don't think I'll try to emulate the brevity. At Chicken Festival, we had one session of very short stories, with prizes for the shortest, but I naturally tend to draw things out a bit . . .
Meanwhile, I know it won't help sales, but I'm dealing with house-induced poverty right now, so I've added my name to the reserve list at the library. The fact that there is a waiting list tells us something, eh?

Thank you all for inviting me to be part of the fun here!


I am searching for an alternative for msn messenger.
Should support video chat with other msn users, be spyware-free, and
have a less draconian eula than msn messenger (I would need a lawyer
to even understand that one fully)

cheap and easy to use would be a bonus too :)

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