At three book festivals this year—the Ohioana Book Conference in Columbus, the Kerrytown Book Festival in Ann Arbor, and most recently Books by the Banks in Cincinnati—I learned an author needs an elevator pitch.
I already knew this. I had an elevator speech, which I’d used on editors and agents. But the learning curve applies: competency plunges at first in new circumstances. I hadn’t faced prospective readers as an author. So I screwed up and had to re-learn what I knew. Lessons so basic and obvious that they’re mentioned by anyone with a nodding acquaintance with authorial self-promotion.
You need a few crisp phrases. People will ask you what your book is about. “It’s about the ten years my family and I lived on a sheep farm in Appalachia,” I’d say. Thus I learned that farming isn’t a sure-fire sales pitch. No one knows anymore what you mean by that, if anyone ever did. Farming’s become, at best, exotic. At worst it is associated with abuses like erosion, toxic chemicals, and animal cruelty.
People are confused—too many labels flying around—and their eyes dim as they try to slot you. Hard-fisted agribusinessman, crunchy homesteader, one of Joel Salatin’s better-than-organic grass-based acolytes? Pray tell? No, on second thought, don’t. People wonder what you’re going to inflict on them under this rubric. Are you writing about livestock that really were pets—mooning over them and boring my ears off? Or does this story involve animal deaths—because, forget it, I like warm and fuzzy, not bloody—don’t we have enough trauma to deal with as it is?