Making better books one author at a time.
Arielle is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. David is the author of 12 books on a wide variety of subjects, from memoir, to YA novel, to sports, to anthology, to reference, and a regular Huffington Post contributor.
They've written "The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published," and this summer I had the pleasure of being a judge at Book Passage's Mystery Writing Conference at one of their "Pitchapaloozas." Brave aspiring-to-be-well-published writers took courage in hand and stood before the crowd to deliver their pitch. Time limit: 1 minute.
Then we on the judges' panel rendered the verdict. Honest but kind. The photo on the right shows the talented winner. It was obvious to everyone in the audience, as well as the judges.
I'll let Arielle and David tell us about what they've learned by running Pitchapaloozas all over the country. Arielle, David, what makes a great pitch, and to what kinds of pitfalls do writers fall prey?
ARIELLE ECKSTUT AND DAVID HENRY STERRY:
Before we reveal the secrets of a great pitch, let us explain why your pitch is one of your most important tools—a tool that will be required from the moment you tell someone, “I’ve got a brilliant idea for a book!” And that person says, “What is it?”
Your pitch is going to follow you through and past the publication of your book. You’re going to need it entice an agent. An agent will then use it to entice an editor. An editor will then use it to convince their publicity and marketing departments and their sales department to hop on the bandwagon that is your book.
Once your book is bought by a publisher, the publicity and marketing department will use your pitch to attract media. And the sales department will use your pitch to get booksellers to stock your book.
Booksellers will then use your pitch to sell your book to customers. If you’re choosing to self-publish, you’re going to need your pitch to help you build your audience. You’re going to need it for the copy on the back of your book. You’re going to need it for your website. You’re going to need it in order to get any press. And you’re going to need it to sell.
Your pitch is your #1 sales tool. A great pitch is a key that can open many doors. It allows you to grab people’s attention in under a minute. Without one, you’ll probably still be talking long after someone’s eyes have glazed over, or worse, walked away. Your pitch will be constantly evolving and will develop over the months and years that follow.
So what makes for a great pitch?
Every book makes a promise to its readers: to educate, to challenge, to amuse, to romance, to inspire, to entertain. A pitch must take your particular promise and deliver it lickety-split.
The beauty of a major league pitch is that it contains the juicy essence of your book, it’s over in no time at all and it leaves the crowd oohing and aahing in awe. Your pitch should entertain and delight, pique interest or give pause, depending on what kind of promise you need to deliver. At the end of your pitch, you want the person you’re pitching to say, “Wow I can’t wait to read that book!” or “I can’t wait to tell Terry about this one so we can book you on Fresh Air next week!” or “We’ll take 1000 copies!” or “On behalf of HarperCollins, I’d like to offer you one million dollars!”
Now for the pitfalls! Fiction writers have a few favorites:
1. The plot-heavy pitch: There are a number of pitches we’ve heard over the years that would still be going on if we didn’t have our minute timer. That’s because some writers think that every detail of their fabulous plots need to go into their pitches. Wrong! Nothing is more boring than a recitation of plot. Get a birds-eye view. Think movie trailer. And read LOTS of jacket copy so you understand how to give only the necessary twist and turns of your plot.
2. The hilarious, tear-jerking, thrilling pitch: Lots of people like to fill their pitches with adjectives to try to convince readers how great their book will be. Please, don’t tell us how funny, sad, page-turning your book is. Write a pitch that makes us laugh, cry, scream, “I want more!” It’s like those people who wear t-shirts that say “SEXY” across the front. Let your readers be the judge!
3. My book is like…: Agents, publishers and even readers tend to like books that are similar to something they already know, but with a new twist. That’s why it’s great to add what we call in the business “comp titles” to your pitch. “Comp” is short for comparable and it gives your audience an idea of where your book will sit on the shelf. Are you more Rhys Bowen or Hank Phillipi Ryan?
4. Title Torture: Don’t forget your title! That’s part of your pitch. A great title can help sell a book. Don’t wait for an agent or publisher to come up with that blockbuster title.
Once you’ve got a pitch you’re happy with, start testing it out on everyone—people who read books like yours, booksellers, even your cat. The more practice, the more perfect the pitch!
HALLIE: Thanks, Arielle and David. So enlightening!
We all know that step one is getting published is to WRITE A GREAT BOOK! But that doesn't get it published. Thanks so much for your great advice and for a terrific book.
Are you perfecting a winning pitch? Arielle and David will be hanging around today to answer questions.