“I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.”
– A.A. Milne, in Winnie-the-Pooh
Short words and phrases are effective. Whether it’s a query letter to an agent, or a review blurb excerpt, keep it short and sweet, and you’ll impress more than you would with a long version.
Why is the short pitch so effective? Because an appealing, succinct summary of a work is a likely indicator of the nature of the work itself: good focus, clear communication, and good storytelling – all of which we want and expect in our reading materials, whether for pleasure or profession.
This is why the movie or book blurb is so effective:
“Thrilling.” “Great storytelling.” “A real page-turner.” “Essential.”
It’s the shortest version of a pitch. This ultra-short approach is not just a marketing gimmick or a problem of tight space. It’s an effective bit of quick communication.
If you’re a chef, you know the value of what’s called a reduction. For Christmas dinner in our household, we tackle a different country’s holiday menu each year. This year was Spain. I made some tasty seafood crepes. One of the great ingredients was the cooking liquid (mostly wine) in which I’d just poached some red snapper and crab. That pan-full of liquid was then reduced, by boiling it for a while, to a tiny amount, just a half cup. Wow! It was bursting with a savory, delightful flavor – not something you could buy in a store – which I used to flavor the fish and creamy nutmeggy stuffing, with a sherry cream sauce on top . . . yummm!
The same is true for your pitch. Start with a paragraph. Then, boil it down, Reduce it to a couple of sentences. Then, cut those sentences to a shorter form. What are the fewest key words that best sum up your work, in a quick, essential, delightful way?
If you can’t describe a book in one or two pithy sentences that would make you or my mother want to read it, then of course you can’t sell it.
— Michael Korda, editor-in-chief, Simon & Schuster
Why does this work?
1. We’re all busy.
Tell it quickly, make it exciting and brief, then be done. Trying to cram more at me than I want to hear, especially at first when I just want to know if it’s even the type of thing I like, is not going to put me in a better mood about you and your work.
2. You can quickly tell a lot.
By reading just a little bit, using a professional instinct developed over many years, a professional can get a good sense of the potential of a longer work. (It’s fractal theory; the small bits reflect the work as a whole.)
3. It’s a fair test.
Hey, you’re claiming to be a good writer. If so, it’s fair to ask you to find and quickly tell me the core essence – the one- or two- or three-line short description – that will create interest and inspire everyone, from agent to reader, to want to find out more.
4. Less is more.
Fewer words carry more meaning. They are powerful, selective, intriguing. Whatever the length, people like richness, and, like making a great sauce in cooking, that is achieved with concentration, not watering it down.
As one agent said about pitching, “There’s no need for flowery language – I can read between the lines, so the shorter the better.”
Business intuition is a highly evolved set of deep knowledge. The more complex a decision (the less quantifiable or black and white it is), often the more the call is made quickly, based largely on instinct.
So boil it down. Go for that ultimate reduction, bursting with flavor. You’ll impress your readers, and can enjoy seeing them beg for more, like hungry guests and a plate of seafood crepes at Christmas dinner.
It has often been said
there’s so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.
So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.
That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.
– Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)