Ok, I’ll admit it, I am a sucker for a good Rube Goldberg machine. The crazier the mechanism, the more interested I become. I am sure there is a screw loose somewhere that makes those things so attractive, but perhaps there is more to it. Fiction novels aren’t so dissimilar to a good Rube Goldberg. As writers we are trying to take something as simple as; ‘Girl saves Boy’ or ‘Man solves Mystery’ or ‘World is Saved’ and expand that simple idea into a fascinating story filled with drama, suspense, intrigue. In one sense we are all building these crazy Rube Goldberg Machines with our words.
Rube Goldberg machines are fascinating because they take simple everyday objects and use them together in unexpected ways, to achieve unexpected results. A really good Rube Goldberg machine is so interesting and curious that you can’t take your eyes off of it. Better yet, you want to see it again, and again. You want to show all of your friends. Doesn’t this sound like what we are all trying to do in our writing? Taking familiar language, characters, settings or even tropes and using them in unexpected and delightful ways to achieve unexpected results?
Instead of dismissing the Rube Goldberg, perhaps it is worthwhile to unpack it and learn a few things. Fast Company did a nice article with Hamster Wheel about how to design an Awesome Rube Goldberg Machine. You should read the article (and check out their awesome machine). I took their points below and applied them to creating a pitch for your novel. I think you will be surprised at how closely they align. I’ve even included a few Rube Goldberg Machines to show you how they work.
A great pitch is only as good as the sum of its parts. With limited time and limited word counts make sure you are assembling the most important parts of your book in your pitch, but you can’t include everything. One of my all time favorite Rube Goldberg Machines is Melvin the Mini Machine by Studio HeyHeyHey. The whole machine fits into two suitcases. Your novel might fill a whole neighborhood or a whole world in your mind, but when you pitch you can only take a suitcase and a carry on for the trip. What would you pack?
Rube Goldberg Machines are only really interesting when they are all fully set up and ready to go. Watching someone put dominos up for hours at a time, or finding the perfect balance between a bowling ball and a ball bearing is about as interesting as watching paint dry. It takes days, weeks, sometimes months to build one of those machines. Your novel surely took at least that long, and you will need to invest the time to write a great pitch. Once the machine is built and the action starts it has to be slow enough to follow and understand, but fast enough to keep things interesting. When you are writing and delivering a pitch the same rules apply. Your audience needs enough information to follow along, but the pitch has to move quickly and efficiently. Watching Honda’s The Cog commercial every moment almost feels too long, yet I keep going waiting for the payoff. The timing of that Rube Goldberg Machine is entrancing, and perfect.
Make Sure it works in One Take
There are no do-overs when you pitch. The appointment is finished, the bell rings, the elevator door opens, and your time is up. A great Rube Goldberg Machine works the same way. Practice as long and as often as you want, but when the cameras role, or you get in front of that Agent or Editor make it count. Be prepared to give your pitch as perfectly as you can. The team a Purdue knew they had to pull off one perfect take to get a world record with their Time Machine Rube Goldberg.
If you can make it repeatable
We all know that we won’t only pitch once. In fact, you should expect and hope to pitch many times. You will be telling this story to publishing professionals, but also to friends, loved ones, and to your audience (who will hopefully become fans) again and again. The pitch will transform based on the situation, but the guts of it should be the same. Get comfortable telling your pitch in a variety of situations.
Get outside feedback
The whole machine works! The marble made it to the end of the run! The match is lit! The postage stamp is one the letter! It works, but does it? Is it interesting? Is it fun? What could be better? Those lingering questions stick with designers just the way they do with writers. You will need feedback. We all do. When you are writing a pitch, build a feedback loop into your process.
While it is fun to see the finished product of all of these machines, take a look at this video on the Making of Honda’s The Cog. You’ll see the variety of people and voices that went into that Machine and that Ad. While this is a astray of the feedback you might get on your novel’s pitch it really shows the effort and care that went into creating that Machine for a great result.
Go out with a bang
I love this tip. Rube Goldberg Machines are well known for their big finish. Watching OK Go – This Too Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg Machine) I get lost in the video and can’t help but smile at their big finish. (I also love their story telling technique of giving a hint to the ending in the opening shot. Yes, watch it again, you’ll see it too.) Your pitch needs something that will grab an audience and make it memorable. Finishing the formal pitch strong is critical to cut through the noise. Bring the fireworks and the balloons and the Hollywood kiss. You’ll get some attention.