Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Learn to Pitch Anything

Editors and agents are always looking for fresh ideas. Something innovative that will capture the imagination of the reading public. The process begins with an idea then it evolves into a story to illustrate the concept with some compelling words. 

For many years I've been interested in the publishing process. Which ideas are published and which ideas languish? What is the process to persuade an editor or agent to take your project or to get a magazine editor to publish your words?

Some of this process happens in your pitch. During writers conferences, I've often participated in pitch sessions. I've been the writer coming to the editor or agent with a single idea or maybe several ideas. I've had to craft my words and target a particular magazine or publication (researched ahead of time). I want to persuade the publishing professional to express enough interest that he wants to see my material after the conference. I've also been the agent or editor listening to the writer pitch their ideas at these events.

What are the factors that make a difference to capture interest? 

At the recent Author 101 University, a writing coach told me about a business book from Oren Klaff called Pitch Anything. Notice how I purchased this book because of a word of mouth recommendation. It is the strongest way to influence others to buy a book. It was the title that caught my attention. Then the subtitle hooked me, “An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal.”

In the first chapter, Klaff reveals that he raises capital for businesses “at a rate of about $2 million per week. From the outside, the reasons for my success seem simple: I offer wealthy investors profitable deals that involve Wall Street banks. But others do that, too. Yet I raise a lot more money than they do. They compete in the same markets. Do the same types of deals. Pitch the same kinds of facts and figures. But the numbers show I am consistently one of the best. The difference isn't luck. It is not a special gift. And I have no background in sales. What I do have is a good method.”

As a writer, you may be reading this last paragraph and think this book is only for business people and way beyond your publishing life. Not so. Whether you are pitching a magazine article or a book to a publisher, the pitching (or selling) dynamics are the same. Some creative types are going to resist the concept of selling. Yet selling is exactly what you do every time you persuade an editor to publish your work (book or magazine or newsletter or whatever).

I've been captivated with the writing in Klaff's Pitch Anything. His stories combined with how-to information make this book worth reading. I'm still reading this book and was also impressed with the customer reviews on Amazon for this book. It is one more indicator about the valuable contents of this title. 

If you want to publish your work as a writer, you need to learn to pitch. I'm gaining insights about this important topic from Pitch Anything. What steps are you taking to improve your abilities and your success in publishing? 

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lead With Your Strongest Info

It is something I learned early on as a journalist: your writing must begin with strength. What is the most intriguing question or strongest quotation or provocative sentence to start your query letter or your pitch to the editor or agent?

In pitches and proposals from unpublished writers, I often see critical information buried. As a reader, I know many agents and editors will never discover this information because they gave up after the opening paragraph.

Last Fall, I met an author with a strong gift book proposal. While Morgan James Publishing doesn't produce this type of book, there are many well-respected publishers who make gift books. This author had something unusual in her proposal: a strong endorsement from a well-known author. Yet it was buried on the last page of her proposal.

I reviewed her pitch letter or query and while she referred to the endorsement, it did not contain any of the actual words. I suggested she start with a small portion of the endorsement because it would catch positive attention.

Here's the critical fact that many people forget: agents and editors receive a high volume of submissions. They have many factors tugging for their attention besides submissions which makes them skim through the submissions making quick decisions about reading it in depth or rejecting it.

It's always surprising to me what a little reorganization can do to strengthen a pitch. The quotation from the well-known author catches attention and pulled the editor or agent to take a more detailed reading of this author's work. Something simple like this can be the difference between acceptance and rejection.

The first step for any writer is to get their material into the marketplace and in front of the editors. Many writers are missing this critical step and not taking action to send out their work.

If you are taking this step and collecting a number of rejections, I suggest you take a fresh look at your pitch or query. Ask a few questions:
  • Do I have the strongest material in my pitch in the first paragraph or the first sentence?
  • Can I read my pitch with fresh eyes and see how the editor or agent is reacting to it?
  • Am I missing something critical that I've left out of the package? One of the most difficult things to see in your own work is something that is missing.
  • Can I add an endorsement or provocative quotation or something to get additional attention?
There are many other methods to gain the editor's attention but these questions will give you some direction in this area. In our busy world, the writer has to take action and lead with their strongest information.

If you make these changes, write me and let me know how it worked out or helped you. I'm always eager to read your comments and feedback.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Pitch a New York Publisher

I'm headed out to another conference in the morning. It's the first of four straight weekends with people pitching book ideas. 

I love helping other writers to be successful pitching their ideas. As an acquisitions editor, each week I champion author's book ideas to my publication board and then help them understand the details of our publishing program and their book contract. It is a great deal of fun because with each step, I can see authors get closer to achieving their dreams of getting their book into print.

Many authors fail in this process to capture the attention of an editor or agent because they have no concept of how their pitch is received. Have they included all of the right elements in that pitch? Many of them have not. 

To help you, I've pulled together a short Book Proposal Checklist (follow this link). Download the checklist and also follow the different resources and links I have at the bottom of this page. 

Several days ago, I recorded a 30–minute interview about how to pitch a New York publisher (Morgan James Publishing). I encourage you to download this interview (right click and save as to get it on your computer so you can hear it whenever you want). 

I hope you will learn a great deal from it. I'm excited to hear new book ideas. I hope this helps you.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Wind Up Your Pitch to the Editor

Conference season is in full bloom. Writers are gathering and signing up for 15 minute sessions with editors. How do you make effective use of these sessions?

During recent years, I’ve been listening to person after person to pitch their magazine or book idea. You do not have much time.

Some writers want you to read a portion of your material which uses some of your precious time. In my view, it is an ineffective way to use that brief time with the editor. There is only silence as the editor tries to carefully read your material and on the fly come up with something profound to say to the writer.

Instead of bringing a piece of writing to the session, the writer can make much more effective use of the time through a practiced pitch. I recommend you write this elevator pitch into a concise, fascinating presentation which holds the editor’s attention, hits all the high points then allows for solid interaction and suggestions with the editor.

An effective elevator pitch is not easy but takes careful thought and consideration. First, the lead sentence is important. Begin with an interesting question or an unusual statistic or a story. Hold the editor’s attention, then what is the substance of your book or your article. Is it a how-to or a memoir or a novel? Why is it unique? What makes it stand out from the sea of other books and ideas? It is your responsibility as the author to show your passion and creativity in this process.

I suggest you write this pitch, then rewrite it and refine it until it shines. Then to make it not looked canned but totally passionate—rehearse your elevator speech several times. Do it in front of a mirror so you can see your own facial expressions. Are you smiling and looking enthused as you present the material? If you speak to the editor in a monotone—it will reflect your lack of passion for the project—and writers do this sort of boring presentation. I’ve been in their presence repeatedly and have to look fascinated—even when I am not.

Your polished pitch will pay off in the long-run because you will show your professionalism and your enthusiasm for the topic. This passion can be contagious and spread to the editor. When you pitch an article or a book idea at a conference, you are seeking to bond and form a relationship with that editor. You need this in-house champion for your work. Often that editor will have to return to their publishing house and convince others about the merit of your concept.

In the case of books, it has to translate into sales. Yes the idea is important and the writing is critical but at the end of the day. Who will purchase this book? Is there a large enough market for your book? Is the publisher equipped to reach this particular audience (some of them are and some of them are not).

Even with a practiced elevator pitch some of them will work and some of them will fall completely flat. After years in the business, it’s OK in my view if it falls flat. At the end of the day you are looking for a match and passion for your idea from the publisher. If it is not there, then move on to someone who cares. Believe in yourself. That place is out there. You may have to search hard for it but I believe you can find it.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It Makes No Sense To Me

Recently a fiction author sent an email query to my literary agency about his work. He had a Christian contemporary novel and expressed his frustration about the lack of response and attention from editors and agents. In fact, that attitude seemed to ooze out of his pitch letter (which should have been a bit of an indicator to me).

If you read these entries, you know that as an author, former book acquisitions editor and now a literary agent, I want to help writers understand the marketplace and become more successful with their pitches. Most writers have no understanding of the sheer volume of submissions which editors and agents receive. Dan Poynter in The Self-Publishing Manual estimates there are millions of proposals, manuscripts and queries which are circulating around the country. I have a small portion in my office so it doesn't take much for me to believe that number.

For this novelist, I told him that nonfiction out sells fiction and that there are more people trying to write fiction than nonfiction--but if he still wanted to send me his proposal and sample chapters, then I would have a look and get back to him.

Even with my caveats, this author sent me his material. Late one night recently I pulled his submission out of the envelop to have a quick look at it. His synopsis was OK then I flipped to his sample chapters--which started at Chapter Two then also threw in Chapter Eleven. Yes, the sample chapters were two and eleven!

I've read hundreds of these submissions and I still see authors select random chapters from a novel to send to the possible agent or editor. It makes no sense to me. When I pick up a printed book in a bookstore, I don't start reading in the middle. I turn to the opening pages and see if I like it. If I like the opening, then maybe the rest of the book is worth purchasing. The opening chapter lays the groundwork for the whole novel. It introduces the characters and the setting and the difficulty or problem for the entire book.

It's also true for a nonfiction book proposal and sample chapters. The first chapter is critical because like in the novel, it lays the groundwork for the subsequent chapters. It's almost impossible to evaluate a work from looking at the middle of it.

Let me close this entry with six steps to stand out in your submission:

1. Use my tips in Straight Talk From The Editor -- the free Ebook.

2. Send a complete proposal and the initial chapters of your writing and only send compelling writing.

3. How do you know if your novel or nonfiction is compelling? Check it out with a colleague. Join a critique group. Write and rewrite it and please don't fire it off without some serious thinking about how it will come across.

4. Check and double-check the name you are sending. Even this past week, a writer queried me at my submission email address for the agency which began, "Dear Ms. Wagner..." When I wrote the author asking about it, she apologized and her second attempt began, "Dear Mr. Whalen..." These exchanges happened rapid fire and within a 20 minute period. If you didn't notice, she misspelled my last name. I fired back with a form rejection. I don't need to work with such sloppy submissions. Yes she made an impression but not a good one.

5. Continue to learn what factors in a proposal or submission make an editor sit up, notice and get excited about it. One of the best tools that you can easily use is the session I did with eight different top editors and literary agents called Secrets About Proposals. Go over there and access this information, download the audio, listen to it. Then download the written study guide material, print it, read it and study it.

6. If you are looking for an agent, make sure you get my free list of agents and also that you look at this short two-minute clip from David Henry Sterry about the easily overlooked art of agent research which on the Media Bistro site. It's common sense but few writers actually take these wise steps.

These actions will dramatically increase your possibilities for having your idea seriously considered. It's all any writer can ask from an editor--that their idea be seriously considered. Like I've mentioned before in these entries, your search as an author (and my search as an agent for my clients) is to send the right idea at the right time to the right place to the right editor. Yes, I understand there are many "rights" in the previous sentence. You are looking for a match.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's All In The Pitch

The pitches for book ideas pour into my email box and mailbox. My decision is made in seconds. If you create a moving single page letter, then you've often created something which is much more challenging than it appears.

If you could sit on this side of the desk, you'd be surprised how many of these pitches contain simple flaws. They lack some element such as the word count--or they have an unrealistic word count. For example, the pitch that arrived this past week with a complete nonfiction proposal and manuscript which is about 130,000 words--way over the typical word-length. In some rare cases, I'm going to work with the person because they have a compelling idea or a compelling connection to the marketplace. These situations are the exceptions rather than the wave of submissions. The rest will receive a form rejection letter.

In the past, I've mentioned the Amazon Short program. I've got an Amazon Short called Straight Talk From The Editor, 18 Keys To A Rejection-Proof Submission. As you can see from the illustration with this post, some times this Amazon Short is in the list of their bestsellers (as on this past Sunday). While the bestselling listings change each hour, one title seems to be firmly in first place: How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman. I believe it's because Lukeman is giving it away for free--while the other Amazon Shorts are 49 cents. For a table of contents for this excellent 76-page document, check out this link. He recommends writers pour increased energy into crafting this query pitch. If you don't put forth the energy into it, you may never have the chance for an editor or literary agent to read your work--because you will be rejected repeatedly. Also Lukeman writes about how easily many writers give up then encourages the writer to create a solid and detailed plan of attack to get their idea into the marketplace. In today's crowded marketplace, such persistence is a necessity.

As I've mentioned recently my Amazon Short is available in an updated format without cost (free). Just follow this link and you can download it and learn from it. From looking at how Noah Lukeman set up his excellent Amazon Short, I can tell that he has little interest in selling his other books directly to the writing community. Why?

First, Amazon restricts the links inside of their Amazon Shorts. They are only "clickable" to other Amazon products and do not take you to other places online such as the author's website. When someone picks up the Amazon Short on the Amazon site, the author doesn't have any personal connection to the customer. Like most books in a bookstore, the author has little connection to their audience. With the volume of new books in the marketplace, I believe would-be authors are wise to develop electronic newsletters and other ways to connect to the audience.

Even with these slight drawbacks, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman--and study it, then apply it to your own writing life. If you want to get a book published with a traditional publisher or get a literary agent, reading this Ebook might be your tipping point between success and rejection.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Speed Editor Encounters

Throughout this week, I've been writing about some of my experiences in New York City for the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings. If you have never been to one of these sessions, I highly recommend that you do it at least once. There are many benefits for being a part of this organization. The Friday sessions are just for ASJA members. Unlike many other writers organizations, to get into the ASJA, you have to qualify for membership which raises the level of professional for the group as well as the meaning of membership within the publishing community. Over the years, I have consistently cherished my friendships within this organization and learned so much from different members.

For the last several years, one of the benefits of the Members Only meeting is a session called Personal Pitch. A large number of magazine editors, book editors and literary agents come to these sessions which are Speed Pitch Sessions lasting about nine minutes. Because the conference is based in New York City, many major publications have editors who are a short distance from the hotel. They can easily attend these pitch sessions for a few hours and hopefully receive some great new professional connections. While some editors come year after year, there are often many different editors at each one of these sessions. Members can sign up ahead of time for their pitch sessions and they are run very regimented.

You can feel the tension outside the room as writers line up and are mentally rehearsing their pitches and looking over their notes. Nine minutes is not much time so the key will be to ask some pointed questions, swap business cards and get right to it. In years past, they have had these sessions in smaller rooms within the Grand Hyatt.

This year the pitch sessions were inside the Empire State Ballroom with lots of room. The numbered the tables and spread the editors around the room with space between them. It allowed you to talk quietly to the editor and not feel as if you were too close to another session. I met with four book editors and a magazine editor. I made some great new connections and I'm excited about the future potential with these relationships.

As any pitch session--even the longer ones at other conferences--the key will be in the follow-up. With the follow-up proposal or query letter, the editor can make a solid decision in their office or run it past any colleagues for input. I would not have formed these new relationships if I had not been in these sessions at this particular conference. There are many great conferences in different areas. What are you doing to invest in your own writing career? I hope you have plans to attend one of these conferences. Whether it is something you learn from another participant or one of the faculty members, it could take your writing life in a completely different direction.

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