Just had an eye-opening (and speech-busting) moment in my Dale Carnegie course this week. The speech was to be done with enthusiasm, addressing an earlier goal. Well, MY goal for this task was redoing my agency-pitch cover letter. See, I had the idea that I needed a cover letter for every occasion, an actual stable of them on hand, maintained and ready (see Augean stables). And it worked well. So now I had to report. Enthusiastically. About cover letters.
So I figured that, rather than describe the monotone tasks actually associated with this effort, I’d give them a slam-bang tour of my first few sentences and what had gone into them. The idea was to show how I could take two other cultural references and built the hook: “Indigo, where Watership Down meets Top Gun”.
And out I came, yodeling and hollering. I pointed to the audience – “How many of you have seen Top Gun?” Bunches of hands. “And how many have read Watership Down?”
Twenty people. Nobody in twenty people had read (or even heard of) the blockbuster book of the 70s. I stood up there and said, “You’re kidding”. Finally one hand came up, one of the Carnegie support staff (maybe she was doing it as a lifeline?). Anyway, I finished my speech in good order but that hit blew the momentum. All done.
I was left pondering this. Of course, there is the screaming-angry frustration that solid meaningful classics are totally forgotten while theme parks are built around dross like Harry Potter. People talk about the little wizards supporting each other, all that value of friendship crap. But nothing can compare to Bigwig holding the warren run, facing down General Woundwort. That is drama and sacrifice.
Aside from that, it made me think (and rethink). I’d believed my hook to be sacred. It’s what I was thinking when I’d first scripted Indigo out and started writing, a combination of animal drama and aerial dogfighting. I thought the hook stood on its own, a clear indication of the book’s soul. But looking out at that raised-handless crowd, I realized that a combination of time passage and cultural numbing had killed that. Readers know the book. Audiences do not.
And agents? Can I depend on agents being readers? Can I assume that a newly-minted account manager is also a book lover?
On my bike ride in today, I thought hard about this and decided that, even though it kills me, I’m going to reference Animal Farm instead of Watership Down. It’s a good reference since the animals, like my crows, don’t necessarily work together.
More importantly, it will let illiterates know that this is a book about animals.