In a previous newsletter, while talking about waiting patiently for a bunch of work to come in, I wrote the following:
”And so I wait, poised to spring into “action”, ever alert for the ding on my phone that informs me one of my VIP contacts has emailed me. Once I get that ding, there will be no leisure for…I’m not sure how long. Probably until the next Winter. Well, unless some other things come through, in which case probably not until 2023.”
So…one of the big “other things” came through a couple weeks ago. And it comes with a very tight deadline. I’m really excited to share it with you…once I can. The good news is that, because of the tight deadline, I shouldn’t have to wait too long.
I do wish I could talk more freely about these projects (three of them now, if you’re keeping track), but at the same time, I understand the wisdom in waiting. Announcing something with a cover has a much bigger impact because people will have an immediate visual. Besides, it gives me time to practice my answer to “What’s the new book about?”
I think many authors find summarizing their novels to be challenging. After all, if I just took 137,000 words to say something, how could I possibly explain it in a sentence or two? And the answer is, you can’t. Not really. But that’s not what you need to do. You aren’t telling a story so much as shaping a pitch, and that is a very different thing.
I haven’t had a book published by Penguin Random House since my last YA, This Broken Wondrous World, which was…(checks copyright page) about four years ago. But I still get their author newsletter. Every issue has a pro tip for authors. It can be anything from “How and why to start using Instagram” to “How to take a good headshot.” One article I bookmarked was called “How To Pitch Your Book To Anyone” and while it’s not overly deep or complicated, it is a pretty succinct run down.
The article suggests that you actually develop 4 different pitches, each with a different audience in mind:
The Elevator Pitch is for that classic awkward moment when someone in real life asks you “What’s your book about?” Many authors, myself included, tend to ramble on in a way that is both vague and unappealing. Instead we need to keep it simple and snappy. As much as we might loathe to compare our books to other books, if you can think of something that is known by a lot of people, use it, i.e. “It’s like a medieval Jessica Jones”. Is it a really like the TV show/comic Jessica Jones? No. Does it give someone that biting noir feeling you want to elicit while also telling them it’s still in a classic fantasy setting? Close enough. They don’t know what the book is actually about, but they know what it’s going to feel like, and often that’s a more visceral pull.
The Social Media Pitch (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) can be a bit longer, but it still has to finish before the dread “Read More” link cuts it off from people’s main feed. Always remember the hashtags, too, so the AI algorithms can find it and link it up with all the other things like it in people’s feeds. And of course, images are king on social media, so focus on those. Truly, #bookstagram is a thing and my hat off to all the incredible people who spent the time and effort to perfectly compose a shot of Hope and Red with a cup of coffee and a flower or Funko Pop or whatever. They always look lovely and I gaze at them far longer than is probably healthy.
The Media Pitch (traditional news outlets), usually in the form of an “interview” of some sort, is where you can actually take the time to nerd out a little. Bring up some element of research that greatly impacted your work. Something like “I discovered that Poland, a country where I still have some distant relatives, did not exist as a sovereign nation for over a century. That made me wonder, how does a country survive when it’s no longer a country?” This is getting into deeper, more complex aspects of the story. Something with some real meat. The trick, of course, is to highlight nerdy stuff that has at least some broader appeal.
The Booksellers/Librarians Pitch takes a much more pragmatic view, as you might expect. Of course you want the booksellers and librarians to be excited for your books as readers, but this is also their job. As such, they want to know “where it sits on the shelf”. What is the age group and genre? What are comparable titles? Knowing those things is hugely helpful to them because they are often asked, “Gee, I just read this amazing book by Jon Skovron. Can you recommend anything else that’s similar?” You want those fine book-evangelizing sellers and librarians to be thinking of your books when they ponder what recommendations to give.
I wish I didn’t need to add a disclaimer on all this, but there are some folk who have a hard time parsing out when exactly it is appropriate to pitch something to someone. I get it. Social rules can be baffling at times, especially for those of us who spend a large portion of our time alone in our own heads. But please do be mindful of the setting and context in which you are meeting someone before deciding to grace them with your well-polished pitch.
I’m taking a break from research to read Jade City by Fonda Lee. I don’t read enough in my own genre. The vast majority of my reading time goes to research. When I want to read for pleasure, I often read outside my own genre or format (i.e. comics) because when I do read prose fantasy novels, it usually still feels like work. it’s difficult for me to turn off my analytical instincts and just enjoy them. Even when I like them, usually it’s more of an appreciation rather than the warm delight I used to savor before I became a fantasy novelist myself. It takes a pretty compelling book to draw me out of my jaundiced writer’s view. Jade City is that kind of book. It only took two chapters for me to relax and say “Okay, I trust you. Take me where you will.”
It’s a second world fantasy with I would say probably early 20th Century technology. The jacket copy calls it “asia-inspired” and it reminds me at times of The Grandmaster, an excellent kung fu film about the life of Ip Man set during a time of massive upheaval with the fall of China’s last destiny. The movie also stars one of my favorite kung fu actors, Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Memoirs of a Geisha, just to name a few…).
Sorry, don’t get me started on kung fu films. Anyway…
Jade City is set on an island nation that liberated itself from foreign oppression several decades ago and is now struggling to find its own way. There is government of sorts, but it’s heavily influenced by “Green Bone” clans, or warrior clans that possess incredible martial arts abilities granted to them by a combination of intense training and a magical gem found only on the island called “jade”. If a person is strong enough to handle the power of jade, they can perform astonishing physical and mental feats similar to what you would see in a kung fu film. The two most powerful clans, The Mountain Clan and the No Peaks Clan, are rivals vying for dminance in the capital of Janloon, with jade at the center of their struggle. The two have been balanced for some time, but new leadership for the Mountain Clan threatens to upend that and start a clan war.
It’s a wonderful, expansive idea that leaves lots of room for growth. It has a large, relatable cast, focusing primarily on the three siblings at the head of the No Peaks Clan. But what is truly arresting about this book is the sense of place and atmosphere. By and large, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this writing thing, but when I read Lee’s prose, I am goaded into pushing myself harder in the hopes that I might achieve something so evocative. The steamy heat and grime of the city pulses on every page. If you’re looking for a fresh, deeply immersive story with crime lords and kung fu, Jade City has you covered.
I think that book two, Jade War is out later this month, so if you’re the sort who doesn’t like to be left in suspense for long, you’d at least be able to pick up the second one quickly.
I should probably also mention in the spirit of full disclosure that Fonda Lee and I share the same publisher, Orbit, although I wasn’t given a copy of this book or asked to write about it.
Anyway, this newsletter ended up a lot longer than I’d planned, so I’m just going to salute you all, beautiful, dangerous beings that you are, and get back to the word mines.