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Marketing: Writing the Pitch

Marketing a book starts long before the book itself is more than a gleam in the author’s eye. For me as a writer, the toughest part of the marketing package is one that comes early on: the pitch. This is the teaser that will hook an agent or an editor to read the manuscript. Or, if you're publishing your work yourself, the pitch is what goes on the back of the cover, or in the description on the e-book websites to hook readers.

A pitch isn't a summary, but it does need to give a sense of the writing and the story. It also needs to explain why the book matters. And it should be short: certainly less than a page.

What works for me in writing a good pitch is to step back–way back–and focus on the essentials: why the book matters and what makes it unique. The pitch below is the draft I wrote on a recent weekend for my memoir, Bless the Birds.

Let me know what you think!

Bless the Birds is part of a national conversation that is happening quietly and privately, but needs more attention--how we die. We spend a great deal of energy and billions of dollars denying that death will happen to us--but we're all going there. We even shy away from the word itself, preferring euphemisms: We "pass away," "meet our end," "lose our life," or even "cross the great divide." Yet death and dying is the next big issue for nearly 40 percent of our nation's population, the 76 million Americans who are Baby Boomers. Will they be the generation that reshapes how we die as they have reshaped how we work, love, and live? I fervently hope so, because we all need practice learning to accept and integrate what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke called "life’s other half."

In late summer of 2009, my husband Richard, an economics professor just finding success in a second career as an abstract sculptor, woke one morning and saw thousands of birds. Birds lining every barbwire fence, birds perched wing-to-wing on power lines; tiny birds on each blade of grass, huge birds on the rim of distant mesas. Birds that existed only in his brilliant mind. Those bird hallucinations lasted just 24 hours and were the only significant sign of something growing in his brain. That "something," we eventually learned, was a glioblastoma, the most deadly form of brain cancer.

Bless the Birds follows our journey with Richard's brain cancer, a journey we were determined to live well, mindful of our every-days and with a great deal of love. We weren’t perfect--if we humans were perfect, we couldn’t stumble and fail and thus learn and grow. Which Richard and I did a lot of. Among other things, I learned that the war he thought he had forgotten--Viet Nam--still shaped this reluctant veteran. While he, used to being a strong and physical man, learned to respect my strength and stubbornness, as his caregiver. We learned together how to live honestly and with a great deal of joy even when it became clear that Richard's life would end much too soon.

What carried us through four brain surgeries, a course of radiation, two courses of chemo and innumerable MRIs and other tests and procedures, through the shock and anger and grief, the insights and grace, the pain and laughter, and ultimately, through our parting, was love. Love for each other and our family, for the village of friends who sheltered us, and for the earth and its whole extended community of lives, the miracle that quickens our existence on this blue planet. At heart,
Bless the Birds is a love story, an intimate and unflinching tale of the choice to love life--every moment, no matter how painful--through its end.

Susan J. Tweit is a plant biologist and award-winning author of 12 books, including her most recent, Walking Nature Home, A Life's Journey. Visit her website at: susanjtweit.com

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