Perfecting Your Pitch – Make ‘Em Slobber

July 26, 2012

I was at a writer’s conference last weekend, where we had tons of fun, talked to a lot of talented writers, and heard a lot of fabulous stories. One thing that stood out at me is varied approaches authors took for the one-on-one pitch sessions. Some were shaking so badly that I wanted to give them a big hug. The idea that I, or any of my colleagues, are worthy of a fit of the shakes is ludicrous. There are times when I should be feared, but this isn’t one of them.

Conferences are fabulous things that allow agents, editors, and authors to collide in cosmically-perfect deliciousness. We are there for the authors – on call 24-3 (most conferences are about 3 days long). Additionally, authors can pitch their ideas and books to us in a more formal setting. The downside is that they’re timed and range from 10 down to 3 minutes. THREE MINUTES. Gah.

So how do you cram your fabulosity into 3 steenkin’ minutes? Clarity and brevity are your best friends. Most conferences send out advice to those who are doing pitches, but I thought I’d pass along some of my observations that may enhance authors’ Slobbery Factor. And keep in mind, this doesn’t pertain strictly to conferences, but anywhere you find yourself talking/pitching your book.

Memorize

Rarely are authors trained actors, so it’s impossible to sound natural while reciting your pitch. Because you’re reciting, you’re not engaging with me, and I want to get a feel for you and your story. Instead, I can almost see your brain kicking into high gear in order not to miss a single point. Your focus is on not screwing up, not on engaging me.

Whether it’s at a writer’s conference, a bar, or hanging out in your backyard, the idea is to connect with the person you’re talking to, and memorizing your pitch creates a barrier that’s hard to penetrate. I found this when I stopped authors in mid-pitch to get clarification on a point. My interruption threw them off, and I felt terrible for causing them to stumble around while mentally trying to remember where they’d left off. It was all very unnatural.

Hook – That One-Sentence Piece of Loveliness

A little tool that may help you is relying on your hook to do the enticing. I found myself asking many times over the weekend, “What’s your hook?”…meaning, what is the main pulling feature to the story? Puzzled as to what I was asking, authors gave their full pitch, and neglected to include the compelling elements that would pull me into their story.

In the world of publishing, less is better. If you’re taking five, ten, fifteen minutes to explain your story (which happens a lot), then I’m searching my purse for a rope and checking out the ceiling rafters.The idea is to get people asking for more, not looking for a way to check out on a permanent basis.

If you keep your hook to one sentence, then you’re inviting people to lean and and ask for more.

Example of a miss:

Janie works in a science lab and sees firsthand how hilarious and poignant her experiences are when working with patients.

The problem is those hilarious and poignant stories are the hook, and that is what’s missing here. The author has reduced her character to a one-dimensional chess piece who is simply moving around those stories. Nothing compelling here. It’s a pass.

Example of a hit:

A reluctant romance publisher works overtime to protect the identity of her newest author, an internationally known legal thriller, from a nosy book reviewer desperate for a juicy story in order to save his own career.

It’s a very quick overview. If you spice it up with adjectives, then you have the building blocks for the other guy to ask for more.

  • What made the publisher reluctant?
  • Why does she have a famous legal thriller author as one of her romance writers? Ooo…a book reviewer is desperate to save his own job and is looking for a juicy story…yes, yes, tell me more.

My book is a movie just waiting to happen”

I winced when several authors said this before I had any inkling of what their story was about. All authors believe their books would make a great movie…tell me something I don’t know. This isn’t a selling point. Your story is, so focus on that. If at some point there is an offer for movie rights on your book, I’ll toast to your awesomeness and pray you remember us little people.

Character-driven stories – lead with that

Seconds before the dinger rang, I concluded an author’s story was character-driven instead of plot-driven. I suggested she lead with that because her characters are the hook. If she can convey the deliciousness of her characters, then I’ll likely follow her into the gates of hell.

Is your story character-driven? If so, think about focusing on the personal characteristics that will naturally draw us in.

Example

Twist McPherson’s public recommendation that her ex business partner go screw himself intersected nicely with her desire to enjoy her permanent hiatus from the rat race, free-flowing Harvey Wallbangers, and basking in the sun. Navigating the helm of Dirty Little Secrets Publishing while herding five saucy writers and one reluctant internationally famous legal thriller was never a part of the plan.

Keeping the focus on the main character keeps us engaged in her adventure. It keeps it personal. If the character is interesting, an agent or editor will do the logical thing and beg for more information.

Focus on your main plot – not subplots and twists

Many authors have a hard time keeping their focus on the main plot. Because they know their story inside and out, they get caught up in all the connected subplots and twists. As a result, the other guy is checking to see how sharp those butter knives are and whether they’d cut through jugular veins without too much resistance. In a word, it’s boring.

If you’re tempted to spend fifteen minutes explaining every nuance of your book, be prepared to see people’s eyes glaze over. These subplots and twists often lack context when describing them, so they make the story sound mushy and disorganized in a pitch. We don’t need all the ancillary stuff. Those are the sweet little gifts that enhance the plot…but it isn’t the plot. Remember, less is better.

Audience

I bleat about this all the time, but it still remains a tough issue for many writers. You need to understand who your intended audience is so we know how to promote and market your book. Obviously, genre writers have an easier time with this, but it never hurts to have a healthy respect on how to nab your readers. I use this example quite often, but my Two Surfer Dudes post illustrates the importance of knowing your intended audience and being able to promote to them.

Mr. Two Surfer Dudes’ initial audience was other surfers, so we suggested a promo plan that got him in front of that audience in such a way that it exploited his platform (being a well-known surfer at that particular beach) in order to sell a very strange book.

Too often, authors don’t consider their audience and tend to say, “My book is for everyone.” Cool; do you know how to find “everyone”? I sure don’t. Is there something you can pull from your book that will appeal to a specific audience? Nothing is worse than asking the question and hearing, “Um, I don’t really know.”
Promotion

“How do you plan on promoting your book?” is a common question that I ask every author. That question is cropping up more often in fiction as well. And it doesn’t matter how you plan on publishing your book, mainstream trade press or DIY, you will need to promote your book on some level. If you’ve given this some thought…and you should…then an editor will want to hear it. The better your plan, the easier it is to become excited about a new project.
Platform

Platform and Promotion go hand in hand. As a publisher of nonfiction, I’m pretty sassy about authors having a platform in order to propel their books. We’re looking for that “resident expert” that quantifies their fabulosity. Fiction is a bit tougher, but Mr. Two Surfer Dudes proves my point about how a platform can mean the difference between indifference and “hey, dude, gotta buy your book.” Just because you’re a novelist doesn’t mean you can’t develop a platform that will enhance your footprint and make your editor love you like I love the beagle’s margaritas.

As writers, we never stop pitching our books, so it’s important to know how to do this in a manner that will make ’em slobber. Go out and embrace your brilliance.


Winning over an editor – using comparisons to prove your book’s raison d’être

June 25, 2012

Queries can consist of two parts; the pitch and the raison d’être. I like to know what makes your book so fabulous and why readers will rush out to buy it. In order to get that point across, authors often compare their books to movies or other books. The most often-used type of comparison is the, “If readers/movie goers like this, then they’ll like my book,” which, to me, seems like wasted space.

Instead, I suggest using comparisons to elevate your pitch to new heights. Written carefully, they can help us understand which category and readership your book will fit into, and what makes it a “gotta have it.” That said, you need to logically connect the dots between your book and your comparison.

I’m talking about something like this:

Hollywood has a fascination with the developmentally disabled, as witnessed in blockbusters like Forest Gump, I am Sam, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and Rain Man. These box office successes indicate a body of interest in this subject and suggest that people want to know more about these individuals and what makes them tick.  My book  will address this topic by stripping away the glitz and glam of motion pictures to reveal what people in this population experience in reality.

So let me pull this apart and highlight why this didn’t pass my Reason To Be test.

“Hollywood has a fascination with the developmentally disabled.”

I haven’t seen that Hollywood and movie goers have a fascination with the developmentally disabled. They have a fascination with interesting characters and good plots( I can’t believe I just wrote that, given that Adam Sandler movies make gabajillions).

A mentally disabled character adds all kinds of layers to a plot, but I don’t see the marketplace developing a whole sub-genre with books and movies about disabled characters.

How could the author turn this around? What happens in Hollywood isn’t indicative of the reading population, so I would be careful about comparing a book to any movies – especially in this case where the author is trying to convince me that a few movies equates to public interest in disabled characters. Hollywood exists in its own little bubble and has questionable taste in what movies it decides to make.

It would be more advantageous if the author keeps most of the focus on the book; specifically, on the plot because that’s the meat of the book, and the characters are the vehicle that move the plot. The author could use a comparison to pinpoint more specific elements, such as, “The main character is trying to live in a world that sees him differently, which leads to his seclusion, in much the same vein as Character ABC did in Movie XYZ.”

Now I have a much clearer idea of the author’s book and how it specifically compares to the movies.

“These portrayals and their box office successes indicate a body of interest in this subject and suggest that people want to know more about these individuals and what makes them tick.” 

The author draws a conclusion that has no foundation. Readers want a good plot, and just because you inject a disabled character into your story isn’t a guarantee it’ll be any good.

If we saw the same kind of explosion as we have with Vampire Romance, then I’d agree with the author. But we aren’t, so this statement is a stretch.

How could the author turn this around? It could be more helpful to draw specific comparisons that go to the meat and potatoes of your book. “Much like Charlie in Flowers For Algernon, my character begins life unaware of his disabilities and, thanks to a medical breakthrough that’s only temporary, realizes his mental deficiencies separate him from his dreams for a better life.” 

This is far more useful because I have context with the comparison. People aren’t necessarily interested in the disabled, as a whole, but they can definitely wrap their heads around the complexities of a great plot that centers on a character who becomes aware of his disabilities, only to regress back into what he was.

“My book  will address this topic by stripping away the glitz and glam of motion pictures to reveal what people in this population experience in reality.”

This is a throwaway sentence. I understand authors want to convince an editor their book is a cut above everything else. But I wish they would avoid the temptation because it’s all Tell and no Show. Just because you tell me that your book all that doesn’t mean I’ll believe you. You need to Show me with your pitch (this blog is littered with posts on the subject).

It doesn’t matter what Hollywood is doing because this isn’t a screenplay; it’s a book. You can’t compare the visual components of movies to a book. It’s not a selling point. Hollywood pretty much screws up all books, so it’s not news. Best to stick to the proper comparisons…other books.

Your book’s raison d’être needs to convince editors of its unique qualities. Comparisons shouldn’t be undervalued. Oftentimes an author’s pitch can be a bit muddy, but a solidly written comparison of “This equates to that, and here’s why” can be just the ticket to the light bulb turning on above my head.

Have you had a hard time utilizing comparisons?


More New Year’s Helpful Hints – Does Your Pitch Make Sense?

January 4, 2011

Ok, so apparently I sounded much more acerbic in my previous post than I’d meant. I blame champagne poisoning. Despite my unintended brittle tone, I do hope the message got through. Today, I endeavor to sound like the warm, fuzzy, kind-hearted soul that I really am. No, really…ask Mom, she’ll vouch for me.

Today’s giftie is about helping your pitch make sense. Wha’? you ask? Yes, I realize I already did that in the previous post, but I want to dig deeper because there is a common problem in pitches that usually end up in a rejection. And your New Year’s Resolution is to avoid rejection by cranking out a brilliant pitch, right?

It’s logical to reject because a project doesn’t fit our lineup, but nothing is sadder than a rejection due to a poorly organized pitch. So here are some of the common problems I see that usually result in rejection:

Title Disparity

Titles are so important. Aside from your cover art, they’re the calling card to your book, so they should make sense. Sure, we’ve all seen plenty books with clever titles that capture the imagination and whet the appetite. But what do they impart? Fiction can get away with that to some degree, but nonfiction really needs to have a solid title that means something. If your title is elusive, then you should consider a subtitle. On its own, Anomaly means all kinds of things – none which give the reader insight to Chris Baughman’s content – which is utterly fascinating. However, you add a subtitle – One Detective’s Quest For Justice – and the clouds part and the angles sing.

So let’s say your title is Yes! We Are The Ladies Who Lunch! My pea-sized brain will manufacture some measure of expectation this is a story that surrounds ladies who lunch – a women’s story. But if your pitch talks about a man who robs liquor stores, I’m gonna do some serious blinking. A title misfire won’t result in a rejection, to be sure, but it certainly will strike me as odd because I’ll wonder if you simply thought up a clever title, or whether you focused on the wrong thing in your pitch.

Focusing On the Wrong Things

What do I mean by that? It’s where the author details the foundation of the book and not the guts:

Foundation: Shortly after the Twin Towers fell, the Grapper family to moves to Switzerland to take up sheep farming. Told from the perspective of Leslie, a frightened thirteen-year-old with a vivid imagination, her wild adventures in the countryside quickly unravel her family life because she’s unable to speak the language and is unfamiliar with the new culture.

Guts: Wrought with homesickness, Leslie finds salvation through a secret video, unexpected friendship, spying on a suspicious farmer, and a near-fanatical dedication to daydreaming for her survival.

The author spent too much time on the foundation and only one sentence on the guts of the story. The result is that I don’t have enough to decide whether this story will be of interest. What secret video? What friendship? What suspicious farmer? Why is she worried about her survival? I’m not sucked into the story because she offered zero details. And this will result in a rejection. Boo.

Theme Misfire

Normally a query letter opens up with a quick tag line – a one sentence hit of the story’s theme. It’s a nice set-up. However, I will expect the pitch to mirror your tag line. Examples of theme misfire:

  • Tag line: about unwitting immigrants and fundamentalist Christians / Pitch: loneliness of a young boy
  • Tag line: Based on a family who had a major hand in the exodus of the Vietnamese refugees in 1975. Pitch: Character’s desire to be a chef and being dragged into overseeing her father’s dynasty.

If your tag line and pitch is vastly different, I have no choice but wonder which it is – your tag line or your pitch. It’s confusing, which normally results in a rejection because I don’t have the time to guess.

Readership

I think a lot of authors would have more success if they gave serious thought about their readership. For whom did you write your book?

It’s easier to answer that with fiction, especially mainstream fiction, but writers should have awareness of their readership. Nonfiction is a whole other can of worms. I see many stories that are so personal or obscure that I can’t figure out the audience. For example, moving to Switzerland as a kid and having some wild adventures may be amusing to your friends and family, but how is this a “gotta have it” for the reading public at large? If you ask yourself this question, you’ll have all sorts of “ah ha” moments that will result in a clearer query letter.

I’m not saying you should tell me, “this will appeal to XYZ audience.” I’d much rather that you show me; tailor your pitch so that I instantly see your audience. If you can’t figure out your readership, then you might ask yourself whether you have a viable book. You can be sure I’ll be wondering.

Is there a message?

At the root of nearly all books – fiction and nonfiction – is the idea of entertainment and a message. The message may be apparent or more obscure – Eat, Pray, Love vs. anything written by Vince Flynn. We all pick up different messages with any given book. I’ve had feedback on my novel that offered impressions that I’d never even thought of while writing it. I’m sure you published authors have had the same experiences.

I’m not saying that you should bang me over the head with your message in your pitch by saying, “the message of this book is ABC…” because that’s telling. I’d rather you showed me because what you’re really doing is discussing the poignancy of your story, which I feel goes hand in hand.

Will the lack of showing a message result in rejection? Hard to say. Just this morning I rejected a query because the story didn’t hit the right high notes for me. The killing blow was the fact that it also offered no message. I need that element in our books. My point with this is that editors have differing litmus tests that result in interest, so it’s a good idea to have a solid understand of those you query. That’s why it’s so vital to look at the submission guidelines – editors normally are quite clear about what they’re looking for.

Looking for the message: Think about the books you’re drawn to and see if you can pull out some sort of message from them. Is it necessary that you detail your book’s message in your pitch? No. Always remember that pitches come in all flavors, and many I loved broke virtually all the rules. Take a look at this rule breaker on Query Shark’s blog. What it lacks in technical prowess it makes up for in whetting the appetite for all the reasons Janet Reid explains.

The ultimate idea is to make your pitch memorable to the point where we ask for pages. If you take some of these pointers into consideration, maybe you’ll experience an uptick in “please send me pages.” And this is what puts the tequila in the beagle’s margaritas.


Pitch for Fiction/Nonfiction – is it ambidextrous?

February 16, 2010

In a word: yes. I had a question from an author in one of the seminars I was giving over the weekend – “I’ve Written ‘The End’ – Pass Me the Maalox.” I was talking about query letters and the question came up whether the pitch in a query letter was the same for nonfiction as it is for fiction.

You bet your ever-lovin’ quill it is. All the elements are the same. As I talk about in my seminars – and in Tackle Box – your pitch consists of three elements:

The ABCs of pitchdom:

A) Intro the characters – most importantly what makes us empathize with him/her/them?

B) Intro dilemma – what does protagonist stand to lose (close to protag’s heart)

C) Present teasers or resolutions

Now of course it depends on the type of nonfiction you’ve written, but you still have “characters,” you still have a “dilemma” [which would be the driving force for why your nonfiction story is marketable], and you still have “teasers for resolution.”

Example:

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be the Amazon is a 75,000 word journey about how author, editor Lynn Price spent seventeen bug-filled days in the Peruvian Amazon with a medical team – all in the name of research for her next novel. After taking an “Amazon shower,” which consisted of spraying Deet from head to toe, and finding a giant spider in her Wellingtons, the confirmed city girl wrote this in her diary: Writing schmiting…what the hell was I thinking?

Despite the heat and humidity that made her lungs feel like a swimming pool, Lynn punched her way through the fear of being the main course at a piranha banquet, nonstop mosquitoes the size of small imports, and air conditioning that consisted of a non-existent breeze, to look deeply into the eyes of the villagers she’d come to help. It was their soft hola’s and grateful gracias that touched her heart as the medical team set up their clinics to give aid to a forgotten people. She may have come in search of a story, but she left with an experience of a lifetime.

I introduced the “character,” I introduced the “conflict,” and presented some “teasers to the resolution.” If those elements are missing from your nonfiction query, then it’s pretty hard for me to determine whether your literary boat will float. And Cosmic Muffin knows that thar be piranhas waiting at the bottom of the river if your boat sinks, so take care.

And yes, Mom, this story will wait until after I complete the book that took me to the damned Amazon in the first place.


Your pitch: missing the mark

July 22, 2009

Most of the queries I see miss the mark, and authors confuse the setup of their story for the plot. Because of this, all the vital information I need to understand the story’s basic elements are missing. That means I’m unable to figure out why the story is a “gotta have it,” or whether  I even want to read it. Sure, the setup usually gives me a bit to go on, but it’s only a weency part of the “whole.”

Here’s an example:

In 1916 Dr. Joe Axlerod accidentally killed a woman while performing an illegal abortion. He lost his license and went to prison, and now the once-prominent family are pariahs. At 30 and unmarried, Dr. Axlerod’s daughter, Gracie, is fearful of facing life as an “old maid.” She’d like a relationship but can’t move past the angry adolescent girl she was when her father went to jail.

The novel explores Gracie’s journey from rebellion to understanding her father’s actions. The novel also traces Melanie’s growing feminism, since female independence was an unknown quantity in the years before World War One.

Now, this is a pretty good start, and I can make deductions as to the socially relevant factors I’m looking for. But it’s a stretch because the author spent all her time on the setup (highlighted in red) and allowed only a single sentence on the plot (highlighted in blue), and wasted a sentence on description (highlighted in green).

Why such a bugaboo about the lack of detail in the blue part (the plot)? Because that detail can be cliche and trite, or heavy and reflective. It can knock my socks off or make me take a pass. Not giving the detail to your plot is like going into 31 Flavors and ordering ice cream. Well, what flavor do you want? How many scoops? Cake or sugar cone? Mr. 31 Flavors needs the details, and so do I.

What shape and form does this journey from rebellion to feminist understanding take? Are we talking about burning high-topped button shoes at the local DAR meeting? Swimming in a more revealing swimsuit? Screaming at her date for opening the door for her? What are the elements that influence and change the main character? What changes does she make because of those elements? What will happen to the main character if she makes the wrong or right decision?

The setup (the green part) scratched my literary itch. A little. It’s sitting on a teeter totter, and I’m looking for something in the query that makes it teeter or totter. Anything sitting in the middle means that the editor doesn’t have any real investment in the story, so these missing-the-mark queries usually earn a rejection instead of a “please send pages.” You never want to see an editor sitting in the middle with your query. You want to strike an immediate reaction, and that can only be done by a strong setup (which I believe she has) and backing that up with good detail on the plot.

Had I been busier rather than nodding off in between ordering the beagle to remain in her time-out corner, I may have sent a form rejection letter. Instead, I pointed out her mistake and offered to give her another shot at her pitch. She could have easily tottered the other way.

It is said that it’s better to be lucky than good, but, yanno, not from where I’m sitting. I need good. I need informative, clear, and pithy. Take a hard look at your pitch in your query letter. Is your setup the beans and weenies of your pitch? If so, go back and edit your letter so that the plot stands strong next to your setup. Missing the mark is frightfully easy to do if you aren’t asking yourself the right questions:

  • Short setup
  • Character intro
  • What happens that puts the character in a tough bind? This has to be something big, life altering.
  • What choices does the character have?
  • What is the potential problem/resolution based on the decisions the character makes?
  • How does the character change based on those choices?

This should take up no more than three short paragraphs – one page. We don’t need every little intimate detail, we just want the facts because we’re all looking for strong, solid, marketable plots.

As for you, beagle, put that cigarello down and get back in your corner.


Pitchmen

July 13, 2009

I saw this show for the first time, quite by accident. Pitchmen turned out to be a real eye opener, and I couldn’t help but make some comparisons to writing. I’m hard-wired that way. The idea behind the show is that Billy Mays (RIP, Billy) and his sidekick, Anthony “Sully” Sullivan, listen to people pitch their inventions in the hopes that they’ll find something worthy among the “slush pile” that they will take back to their offices, kick the idea around, and eventually pitch the product.

They sit for hours listening to pitches in the same way that we sit at pitch sessions at writer’s conferences. Their hard work finds them very few gems among the drek. I listened to one guy pitch his fart deoderizer. Pinky swear. I nearly coughed up a lung laughing at Billy and Sully’s expressions of disbelief. It reminded me of the time when an author pitched his story as “the next big thing in toilet humor.” Ah, yah, I’ll get back to you on that.

As I watched person after person pitch their inventions, I couldn’t help but feel how much authors would glean from watching this. Think about it; they’re pitching a product where no one knows what it is, so they need to explain it. Clearly. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end – just as a log line,  cover letter, and synopsis must have. If the person pitching can’t clearly get their message across, Billy and Sully aren’t going to waste time trying to pull it out of them because that’s not their job. they’ll just wear very confused looks on their faces. Sound familiar?

The show followed one possible gem in the bunch (called The Handystrip – a strappy thingy that makes it easier to lift heavy objects) as Billy and Sully took the product back to their offices for further review. This is much the same as we do when we see a good query letter and we ask to read the full. Billy and Sully tried out the product to make sure it delivered something they felt would be marketable and reasonably priced. They tried lifting various items, including people sitting on ladders – and the ladder itself. We are, in a literary sense, also kicking the tires when we read the full manuscript. We need to see if it delivers as well as the pitch said it would.

The product was eventually rejected after much discussion – much like what we do at submissions meetings. Their reasons were that they felt the retail price was too high in this rough economy. The inventor pleaded with them – as many authors do. He was willing to drop the retail price. Authors do the same thing by offering to do massive rewrites or yank out thousands of words of their bloated stories. Billy, Sully’s, and my answers were exactly the same; “if you’re willing to do that now, then why didn’t you do it in the first place?” Sage question worth thinking about.

The inventor had no answer for them, as authors rarely have an answer for me. But in both the inventor and authors’ cases, they all learned a valuable lesson from being “almost there.” They got to see a deeper layer of what goes into the decision making process. We always hope the experience won’t be squandered and that they’ll be that much smarter  the next time around.

Something that Billy Mays said really stuck with me because it’s so applicable to the writing world.  He said there five elements that go into his decision to pitch a product:

  1. The Wow Factor: does the product make us utter, “wow, we gotta have this”? Oh yeah, that’s a biggie for us. Does it make our mouth water to where we rush to the bookstore at 5 a.m. and pound on the door in order to buy that book?
  2. Mass Appeal: does the product have enough appeal to excite a huge audience? What am I always blathering on about in terms of knowing and defining your readership?
  3. Demonstrable: is the product easily demonstrated and explained? As an example, I watched one poor guy stumble all over himself because his invention was too complicated. Sounds like many of the stories I read. If you, the author, can’t explain it your query letter or your synopsis, how can I possibly sell it? Heck, chances are I don’t even know what it is.
  4. Solves a Problem: obviously a product has to solve a problem, whether it’s dusting dirty ceiling fans, cleaning dirty toilets, or digging garden holes or whacking weeds in hard soil, something has to be accomplished. Same goes for writing. Does your story have a hearty plot with a satisfying ending, or does it leave the reader feeling like the beagle forgot to add the tequila to the blender? Too many books that cross my desk are a jigger short of a full margarita, so this is a huge element.
  5. Instant Gratification: does the product instantly make the consumer happy? That means those dirty toilets are instantly bright and shiny, the ceiling fans are spic and span with a wink of an eye, and digging those garden holes and weed whacking is done with the flick of a button. We look for that in literature as well. If a reader closes the book and has to think whether they enjoyed it or not, they are less likely to recommend it to anyone else. Word of mouth in both industries is a powerful tool, so we look for books that scratch every literary itch. The breathless reader will blab within minutes of finshing a gratifying book. When I finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain while on vacation, I blubbered like a fool, then proceeded to tell five or six people around the pool to drop what they were reading and go buy this book.  Author Garth Stein’s words bathed me in OxiClean. And don’t worry, I’d already fed these people around the pool some of our margaritas – they were indebted.

It’s funny how we stumble upon something seemingly unrelated and yet we can draw upon the similarites to become better at what we do.  I recommend watching Pitchmen because its in-your-face platform is a great visual of how to pitch your story, how to think about the marketplace, and how to create like a winner.

Now, go out and write a bestseller!


“I’m unique!”

April 13, 2009

Ah, there are no sweeter words other than hearing the beagle has a fresh batch of margaritas in the blender and she’s done the dishes.

But, alas, I speak not of drinkies and dishes. I speak about understanding that you need a unique voice if you write in a crowded genre. Why? – you ask. Because if there are 500 books that cover the same material your book does, then why would I want it? It’s been thar, and done did that. Why recreate the wheel when the first 500 work quite nicely?

For instance, we are a dartboard for bipolar queries because of our fabulous title, Mommy I’m Still In Here. The problem with these queries is that bipolar is a hugely impacted category. If you peruse the bookstore shelves, you’ll see book after book that hits upon every aspect of biopolar disorder. II repeat; been thar, and done did that.

So why did we buy Mommy knowing this category was impacted? Kate McLaughlin’s pitch was one of the most professional and knowledgeable proposals I’ve seen. Kate knew her competition like the beagle knows tequila. She could outline no less than five or six current competitive titles and speak to her book’s unique qualities that the competition doesn’t address. I knew exactly what we were up against in terms of competition and felt Kate’s book would be an added bonus to this crowded category because she has information that the others lack. Yay.

This is how you pitch an impacted category. To do this, you have to understand that you write in an impacted category and state in your query what new content readers will find in your book over what is currently on the shelves. We need that information because that’s how we’d pitch the book to the genre buyers. If you don’t tell us in your query, we’ll more than likely reject it.

The gentleman I rejcted last week was unhappy that my rejection letter stated his was an overwritten category and I didn’t see any unique elements to his story. He wrote back to outline those unique qualities. Well, why on earth didn’t you say so in the first place?? It’s not my job to pull the answers out of your pie hole.

You don’t wait for an agent or editor to ask for pages because you won’t get that far. And please don’t expect that we’ll instantly understand your book’s unique qualities via osmosis. My osmosis broke in the last earthquake. Remember, it’s your job to sell, and making us aware that there isn’t anything else on the shelves quite like your book is a big selling feature. Lead with the strenghts.

If you’re not sure if you’re writing in an impacted category, walk through the bookstores, or go online to Amazon.com. If you see tons and tons of books, you know you could have some heavy competition.

On the other hand, if you don’t realize you’re writing in an impacted category, I’m fairly worried about your savvy about the industry and will probably avoid working with you.


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