By Christina Katz
Agents and editors are flying to a conference near you just to scout out talented writers to author books. If you’d like to be one of them, get your-self signed up to make as many pitches as you can with whichever agents and editors would be the most appropriate for your book concept.
So how do you get ready? Here are seven tips that will help you show up prepared to pitch but not over-prepared or locked into an idea that you can’t sell:
Tip Number 1: Don’t Go It Alone
Plan to prepare your book pitch with the help of experienced others. Not only is getting help on your pitch less stressful, it’s just plain more fun to work on your book concept with a practice audience. In fact, getting input is crucial to your pitching success if you’ve never pitched before.
Tip Number 2: Get Help from Experienced Industry Players
Gather together a small group of Book Concept Advisors. Your Book Concept Advisors (BCAs) are writer-friends who will help you pre-pare a viable book concept and a pitch to go with it. If you are already part of a writing group, the other mem-bers may be the perfect place to start. But don’t stop there. Contact anyone you can think of who might have a seasoned perspective on book pitching and ask for feedback. After all, pitches are short and sweet (unlike book proposals, for example) so it’s not hard to ask for quick input on your pitch.
Your BCAs should include:
- Potential readers of your book (friends, fellow writers, friends of friends)
- Published author friends
Your BCAs should not include:
- Your mother, father or siblings
- Your very best friend in the whole wide world
- Your spouse and kids (unless they are 110% supportive)
- Anyone else who will tell you it is “great” without offering constructive feedback
Tip Number 3: Write More Dramatically Than You Normally Would
Remind yourself that agents and editors have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches over the course of their careers. So don’t low-ball your pitch thinking that being understated is a strategy. It isn’t! The early drafts of your pitch should have rising and falling action, like the plotline of a story. That’s a sure way to hook your listener and draw them in. And, naturally, you’ll want to hook them from the first sentence. So don’t build up to your punch line, launch right into it, and hit the climax within one minute. Your pitch should be no longer than three minutes, and that’s considered long.
Tip Number 4: Get at Least One of These Books
There are three books I recommend that you read, or at least skim, before you show up at a Writer’s Conference armed to pitch your book concept. Any of these will help you understand the scope of what will ultimately go into your book proposal—the one you will pull together quickly after you have garnered interest from agents and editors.
- Michael Larsen, How to Write a Book Propos-al, 3rd ed. (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003)
- Elizabeth Lyon, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anyone Can Write (Perigree, 2002)
- Pam Brodowsky and Eric Neuhaus, Bul-letproof Book Proposals (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006)
Tip Number 5: But Don’t Write the Proposal Yet
You don’t need to bring a full book proposal to the conference. In fact, many agents and editors will not take a proposal from you even if they like your pitch. Instead, why not collect as much feedback as you can from agents and editors and apply what you learn to improving your book concept before you submit your proposal? On the rare occasion that an agent does want the proposal on the spot, simply offer to mail or e-mail it to them right after the conference (as soon as you have finished polishing it).
Tip Number 6: What You Do Need to Bring
1. Mock Sales Copy for your Book Concept
Answers the question: “Why this book now?”
When you read about a book before you decide to purchase it, you are probably reading sales copy. Sales copy always ac-companies a book in a catalog or on Amazon.com. Imagine your book as a final product clearly enough that you can generate sales copy to go with your book concept. Write your mock sales copy as though the book is already complete and for sale. For hints about how to write it, take a peek at the sales copy on other books by the same publisher and try to emulate the form as best you can.
2. A One-Page Bio Synopsis
Answers the question: “Why are you the best person to write the book?”
Create two columns on the page separated by a half-inch gutter. On the right-hand side, list your platform credentials as they specifically support this book concept (including such information as relevant expertise, platform high-lights, big media appearances, and which reputable publications your work has appeared in). On the left-hand side use photos to illustrate your platform points (logos, images, your headshot, etc.). Limit the information and photos you provide to those that support you as the best person to write this book.
3. Market Notes That Prove an Audience and Need for Your Book
Answers the question: “Who is the market for this book?”
Do research and make a one-page synopsis of the statistics and facts about the target audience for your book. Here are some questions you want to answer.
- What’s the size of the potential market for this book? How could it be broadened or narrowed? What organizations exist for this market and how many members do they have?
- What indicators forecast a need for this book? (This includes blurbs from articles in national magazines and daily newspapers that relate to the topic.)
- What other books already exist on shelves that are similar to this book, yet not quite the same angle as this book? (Go to your local bookstore or check online retailers for ideas.)
Tip Number 7: Plan to Listen
Have a few more tidbits to offer as far as why this book, why this book is perfect right now, or why you are the best person to write the book that you can mention if there is a spark of interest. But don’t try to cram in so much information that you forget to perk up your ears and listen to the most informed feedback you’re going to hear on your book concept.
So type up just three pages for your book concept, polish them, and be-come conversant on all of your key points. Because if you can treat your idea as a concept and not “your baby,” chances are very good that you will walk out of a conference with everything you need to know to revise your book concept into a book proposal that will sell. Good luck!
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.