Every author needs a pitch. Here’s mine, honed by a weekend of practice at the 2012 Willamette Writers Conference:
My name is David Ozab, and my 80,000-word memoir, titled A Smile for Anna, tells the story of my daughter’s life from the womb to age four, including her cleft diagnosis and surgery, her motor-speech disorder, and her irrepressible spirit.
“Cleft lip.” The words rang in my head since the ultrasound. At twenty-two weeks a shadow on our unborn child’s lip shattered our dreams of the perfect baby. We faced surgeries, possible feeding problems, and the fear of cruel, insensitive, or thoughtless comments. We struggled with our faith in the God who gave our child a cleft, and were betrayed by a trusted spiritual guide. But instead of turning inward, we reached out, raising over $2,000 to buy specially-made cleft bears for over 200 Oregon families like ours.
Now that’s a good story, but life is full of plot twists that make good stories better. At two years old, Anna’s friends spoke clearly but she didn’t. No one could understand her. And as strange as it sounds, it was her cleft that made the difference. Without it, her speech disorder might have gone undiagnosed for another year or more. But a routine visit with her cleft-lip-and-palate team gave us an answer: Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
Through intensive speech therapy, Anna found her voice, and through our journey together, I answered the question that my wife asked me the day we found out we were expecting. “Are you ready to be a daddy?”
A Smile for Anna is a unique book within a broader category of special-needs-parenting memoirs like Expecting Adam by Martha Beck, Babyface by Jeanne McDermott, and Schuyler’s Monster by Robert Rummel-Hudson. It is a book that will appeal to anyone who has faced similar struggles.
An excerpt from A Smile for Anna was published last October in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Tough Times, and another excerpt will be included an upcoming anthology titled Not Afraid: Stories of Finding Significance.
In the last year, I’ve spoken on both radio and television, and now that my book is finished, I plan to publish more excerpts, to continue promoting it in a variety of media, and to increase my involvement in the Cleft and Apraxia communities.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity, and I am glad to answer any questions you might have.
Over the course of the conference, I internalized my pitch and learned to vary it depending on the context. I can pull out the opening sentence as an elevator pitch, or run through the following paragraphs as a stand-alone synopsis. I can stop to answer questions, and then pick up where I left off, skipping sections I may have covered in discussion or elaborating when necessary. Overall, I’ve developed a somewhat modular approach to the written text that seems to be working well for me.
More importantly, my pitch was successful. I received positive responses and requests for materials from four agents and one editor.
Of course, all five may still answer “no.” I’m only starting out and I have a long way to go to publication, but as of this week I’m through the door and in the foyer.
Now back to work . . .