Save the Cat!

by Blake Snyder

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!

Writing book review by Steve Barancik

Eager to find a publisher for your picture book manuscript? You're going to hate this book. And that's exactly why you need it.

I'm a screenwriter, as well as the owner of this site. The first time I read this book, I was trying to figure out why my recent screenplays weren't selling.

This book told me.

When I read the book again more recently, I saw how applicable it is to anyone trying to make it in any writing field, but particularly children's books.

You see, what Save the Cat is about is writing fiction that can be marketed. It's about putting yourself in the shoes of the people faced with the prospect of marketing your work.

Remember, books don't sell themselves. A publishing company considering your manuscript has to think:

Do we know how to sell this? Can we sell enough of it to make back our costs and then make some profit?

What author Blake Snyder reminds us is that if we don't take the marketing of our fiction into mind before we start writing it, we're most often doomed to fail.

For those who want an example about how companies think marketing first, here's a story from personal experience. (But if the movie business bores you, skip ahead.)

I'd been invited to pitch on a planned re-invention of a movie series that had been hugely popular in the first half of last century. They wanted to bring the character, a detective, back, and make him hugely popular again.

Now, when a screenwriter is invited to pitch, he's paid nothing. He's usually one of about five screenwriters who have been invited to pitch.

The hope is that you're the one of the five who gets picked to write the project. That's when you start making money.

So I spent the next two weeks conjuring up a highly original spin on the old series. I was pretty excited. I was confident none of the writers would have come up with anything nearly so unique.

The day came to pitch. I was out of town, so I did it on the phone. On the other end was a roomful of studio types, all of them working beneath one high-ranking studio exec.

I gave my pitch. There was silence on the other end. Everyone was waiting for Mr. Big to express his opinion.

I could practically hear him lean back in his chair thoughtfully. I could practically hear him stroke his chin. Finally, he spoke.

Steve, that's very interesting. We hadn't thought of anything remotely like that. Wow.

He paused again to think some more on this fantabulous new notion I'd brought into the world. Usually you have to wait a few days to find out if you got the project. I started thinking he might tell me I was hired right now.

These were the next words out of his mouth:

"But it doesn't go with the poster."

It's true. They hadn't even hired a writer, but they already had a poster.

altered chapter heading from Save the Cat

As a writer hoping to be published, it's incumbent upon you to appreciate the job of those who have to sell what you write. (If you self publish, it'll be your job!) In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder explains this better than anyone I've ever encountered.

For instance, he reminds us that before a company buys your manuscript and starts selling it to the public, it has to be sold within the company. The editor who reads it has to sell it to her boss.

And she doesn't just say, "Yo, Boss, read this!"

Her boss will want to know what the book is about and she'll have to explain. It's that explaining which is at the heart of what Save the Cat has to offer. You see...

The heart of selling is boiling something special down to its essence, and once boiled down, it still has to sound special. Blake Snyder's thesis is that if your idea can't be boiled down to a single sentence that

  1. Is clear
  2. Creates mental images
  3. Has never been done before
  4. Contains irony, and
  5. Enables the listener to imagine how the story will play out...

...then your work isn't going to sell. Period!

So what does Save the Cat advise?

Doing the hard work of planning a story that CAN be boiled down to such a sentence BEFORE you ever start writing!

Save the Cat!

Snyder goes on to advise you how to plan such a story.

Naturally, with a book subtitled The Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need, the topic is screenwriting, but translating Snyder's wisdom into other forms of storytelling isn't hard. When he tells you where your story should be on page 80 of a 120 page screenplay, you can assume that that's where you should be on word 400 of your 600 word picture book manuscript.

This is amazing, infuriating stuff. Why infuriating? Well, because we all want to write what we want to write. Snyder reminds us not only do we have to write something that someone else will want to read, we have to write something that others will know how to market.

If your goal is to get published, Save The Cat is an engaging crash course in this most valuable lesson.

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