Evolution of the If a Butterfly Pitch: Life Cycle One (2011)

In the previous post, I showed you the pitch I used for my novel, If a Butterfly, at the 2012 Writers’ League of Texas’ Agents and Editors Conference. This post and the next one are to show how it evolved.

By 2011, All I really knew about pitching I had read in books or online. The basics were that you had to catch the agent’s attention right away, and then keep them hooked with ever more interesting bits of your story until they said, “Yes, that sounds wonderful. Send it to me right away so I can make you famous, and we can make a fortune together.” Or words to that effect.

Having been an actor for over thirty years — from about the age of fifteen until I was in my forties — auditioning (pitching) for a part (to sell my book) by now seemed like a natural process to me, but in the past I had always (unless the audition called for improvisation) used a script that somebody else (the playwright or screenwriter) had written for me. Here, I had to write my own script, and I had no idea what I was doing.

I had some guidance from the things I had read. Tell your story, keep it short, make it exciting, don’t give away too much, highlight your writing style, etc.

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One of the earliest I pitches I wrote for it was done for a Pitchapalooza session, held on February 11, 2011. It was 195 words long (edited down from around 300), and ran just under a minute if I talked very, very fast. Here it is.

During a Monarch butterfly’s epic migration from Canada to Mexico, nine disparate lives are examined as the butterfly intersects some of their paths, and we see how each life can touch another, and see the extraordinary effect such chance encounters can have on those around us.

ROBERT MEYERS, a research biologist, copes with his crumbling marriage. His wife, DEE, an astronaut on the International Space Station, tries to resist a charming Russian cosmonaut. DICK and JANE JARVIS take a vacation, unaware they are heading into a hurricane. LAURA BENSON, a teacher, wants to witness the Monarchs’ migration. BILLIE CROWDER becomes lost in the Grand Canyon when one of her multiple personalities takes over. Disc jockey, ROCK JACKSON, helplessly watches his life spiral out of control. STELLA LAMBERT, a widowed quilter, struggles to become accepted in a new place. And a British student, JASMINE WILLIAMS, visits America while trying to give up drinking.

Some of their paths coincide with the butterfly’s. Some paths diverge in new directions, but connections are made, and various disasters are either averted or diminished. The journey ends with everyone feeling differently about life, wearier and sometimes battered, but a little wiser.

At least one of the character’s names changed after that. Looking back on it, it seems a bit vague and wishy-washy. Fortunately, I wasn’t picked at the Pitchapalooza session (it’s done randomly), so I had a chance to rework it.

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A month after that (3-13-2011), I had already made several changes (not necessarily for the better). This was the first pitch I tried to create for the 2011 WLT conference, but it never made it to the conference. The approach I was taking with this one was to have two pitches ready, an intro pitch, followed by a secondary pitch that explained the book more completely. Part One is the elevator pitch. It’s 109 words, and probably runs less than thirty seconds. Part Two is an expansion of Part One, and is what I planned to say if the agent let me keep talking. It was an additional 262 words (maybe another ninety seconds). It’s doubtful they would have allowed me to natter on that long.

Part One:

Nine people and one Monarch butterfly become connected during a September filled with usual and unusual journeys. During the butterfly’s epic migration from Canada to Mexico, a couple on vacation drives through a hurricane, a dissipated disc jockey implodes on the radio, and a woman with a split personality gets lost in the Grand Canyon, one attempts to give up drinking, another has sex in outer space, and others do some bizarrely normal things. These nine people become connected as the butterfly intersects some of their paths, and we see how each life can touch another, and see the effect such chance encounters can have on those around us.

Part Two:

It’s September 2003. America shifts its focus from a war in Afghanistan to a war in Iraq as a Monarch butterfly begins its 2,000 mile journey from Canada southward. At the same time, nine people begin month-long journeys, some of distance and some of understanding.

ROBERT MEYER, a research scientist, studies butterfly migrations, knowing his marriage has ended in every sense but the legal one. His wife, DEE, an astronaut, is on board the International Space Station, attempting to resist a charming Russian cosmonaut. DICK and JANE JARVIS embark on a driving vacation, unaware they are heading into a hurricane. Other characters are on their own journeys. BILLIE (with an E) CROWDER, a woman with multiple personality disorder is lost in the Grand Canyon (a problem compounded by BILLY, with a Y, her primary alter, who thinks the people searching for her are out to get him), a disc jockey, ROCK JACKSON, tries desperately to keep his life from spiraling out of control, LAURA BENSON, a teacher in Ontario dreams of going to Mexico to see the Monarchs begin their journey north, STELLA LAMBERT, a widowed quilter, is struggling to become accepted in a new place, and a British student, JAS CALDER, visits America to look for a university for her graduate work, but has promised to give up drinking while she’s there.

The path of the butterfly and the paths of some of the people coincide, not without incident; but connections are made, various disasters are averted, or sometimes diminished, and September ends with nearly everyone safely home, wearier but wiser.

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On the next pitch, written in mid-May, about a month before the conference, I included an intro, so I would have something to say if words failed me as soon as I was face-to-face with an agent. It was 217 words (not counting the intro). Here it is.

Hi, I’m Michael Sirois. I have a mainstream novel called If a Butterfly. Can I pitch it to you?

It’s 2003. America has shifted its focus from a war in Afghanistan to a war in Iraq. A Monarch butterfly on its 2,000 mile migration from Canada to Mexico, and nine people become connected during a September filled with usual and unusual journeys.

DICK and JANE JARVIS begin a driving vacation, unaware they are heading into a hurricane. ROBERT MEYER, a research scientist, studies butterfly migrations. He knows his marriage has ended in every sense but the legal one. His wife, DEE, an astronaut, is on board the International Space Station, attempting to resist ALEXEI, a charming Russian cosmonaut. Other characters are on their own journeys. BILLIE (with an IE) CROWDER, a woman with multiple personality disorder is lost in the Grand Canyon — a problem compounded by BILLY (with a Y), her primary alter, who thinks the people searching for her are out to get him. A disc jockey in Virginia, ROCK JACKSON, tries desperately to keep his life from spiraling out of control.

These characters and others are struggling to find peace and acceptance in their lives. But will they? Will Dick and Jane survive the hurricane? Will Billie find her way out of the Canyon? Will there be sex in space? Will the deejay implode on the air?

Find out in If a Butterfly.

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By June 11, 2011 (two weeks before the conference), I had changed it again, maybe not for the better. It’s 265 words. I remember I managed to deliver it in a little (maybe ten seconds) over a minute.

What do an actress, two teachers, a scientist, a widowed quilter, a woman with multiple personality disorder, a rock deejay, an astronaut, a grad student, and a Monarch butterfly have in common? It’s September 2003, and they are all about to begin journeys, some of which will intersect the path of the butterfly on its 2,000 mile migration from Canada to Mexico.

A married couple (the actress and one of the teachers), begins a driving vacation, completely unaware they’re heading into a hurricane. The research scientist studies butterfly migrations, trying to forget that his marriage is over in every sense except the legal one. His wife, the astronaut, is on board the International Space Station, attempting to resist a charming Russian cosmonaut. The woman with multiple personality disorder becomes lost in the Grand Canyon (a problem which is compounded by her primary alter, who thinks that the people searching for her are out to get him). The disc jockey in Virginia tries desperately, with little success, to keep his life from spiraling out of control.

These characters and others are struggling to find peace and meaning in their lives. But will they? Can they? Will the couple survive the hurricane? Will the woman find her way out of the Grand Canyon? Will there be sex in space? Will the deejay implode on the air? And the butterfly – after being kidnapped, battered by storms, and having to dodge a beer and gasoline soaked bonfire, will the butterfly even make it to Mexico? Find out the answers in the engaging and humorous cross-country tale, If a Butterfly.

This one seemed to be universally hated. I think it might have been the huge number of rhetorical questions. I’ve been warned several times since not to do that. It also could have been because it was too long (I did see a couple of agents’ eyes glaze over), although I did get to discuss the book a little further with one agent. He had me send him 75 pages, and gave me a nice rejection a couple of months later (yes, there is such a thing as a good rejection). It wasn’t until the following year that the “sex in space” line seemed to bother anyone, though.

Next time I’ll talk about the second year I pitched Butterfly (2012, AKA Life Cycle Two), and try to analyze why it has been such a hard book to explain (which is why I’m preparing it for self-publication).

Have you pitched at a conference? What was your experience like?

Michael

About michaelsirois

Just a retired educator taking a stab at the Great American Novel.
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