Authors today need a whole new attitude toward the all-important pitch.
Until now, the author pitch was defined as a hard-sell verbal punch to persuade agents and editors to take on their book. It was typically brief, high-concept, often hyperbolic and was designed to convince the agent standing there that the book was fabulous and so was the author.
But as with everything else in the book business, pitching too has changed, evolving with the times into something different and actually much more interesting.
Choosing the right pitch for the job
Like all good pitchers on the mound, authors today need a few tricks up their sleeves. They need to choose the right pitch for the job, taking aim directly at readers, retailers, social networks and media. Unlike the old arm-twisting approach, the new pitch doesn’t try to persuade these folks they’re going to love your book.
Instead you let them know what you’ve written in a way that makes them want to read it. Your goal is to hear back: “Sounds interesting. How do I get a copy?”
The new approach
The new pitch isn’t a hard sell or painful duty, but rather an extension of your creative process. This is a very different approach. It’s all about using the right words to represent your work. The oldest adage about good writing also applies here: Show, don’t tell. And by extension: Show, don’t sell.
Three new developments — the etiquette of the softer sell, online connectivity and independent self-publishing — have revolutionized pitching. These have opened up a whole new world of alternative ways to craft different types of pitches, depending on your specific book and what it needs. The new pitch may be delivered or written directly to potential readers, reviewers, book bloggers, feature writers, interviewers – and it may be in person or online.
In many cases, the author has no intention of seeking either an agent or a conventional publisher. For those writers seeking a traditional book deal, however, pitches may still be directed at an agent or acquisitions editor, either in writing or at face-to-face writers conferences with blind-date or ask-the-pro sessions.
The new author pitch in action
Pitching directly to readers
Feature a short description of your book on your website. In this case, I recommend a one-paragraph straightforward description. No excessive adjectives or adverbs. Just very well-crafted essential information about the book’s story and characters, whether it’s a novel, romance, mystery, YA, memoir or nonfiction how-to book.
You can also pitch on your blog, but in a different manner. The interactive features built into blogs provide the opportunity to discuss the process of your writing, offer sample chunks or chapters, and invite feedback. You can establish a dialogue with your readers to captivate their interest and increases the potential for ultimate sales.
In both cases the reader gets to know you without your having to deliver a rapid-fire biography, including credits, education, track record, and other forms of visibility, media and otherwise. That traditional platform pitch can appear elsewhere on your website under an “author” tab, and it can be as long as necessary.
Pitching to a social network
This kind of pitch involves reaching out to comment on other websites and blogs where you can be helpful and offer a contribution. It can include tweeting, with either links or referrals, or by distilling selections of your content into 140-character haikus.
Social networking is like entering a cafe or front-porch conversation, and adding your two cents about the topic under discussion. This is the most subtle form of pitching and requires a keen sense of online etiquette. Don’t begin by saying you’re an expert, and expect everyone to sit up and listen. Be altruistic, service- oriented, and keep yourself out of it on a personal level until you’ve established some ongoing connections.
A variation on this approach is a pitch to book bloggers who build powerful websites with dialogue that usually focuses on a particular genre. They discuss, review, interview and generally chat up a storm about a book or author they like. These days traditional publishers are courting book bloggers who have tremendous influence in a particular field. We’ve known for years, for example, that Mommy bloggers are well organized and have created many bestsellers in parenting and baby care categories. And the legendary self-publishing phenom Amanda Hocking reached her multimillion sales level only after going viral with book bloggers who specialized in YA vampire romances.
Pitching to retailers
It takes courage to walk into a bookstore and talk about your book. Reading or memorizing isn’t natural and can appear canned, so the best technique is old-fashioned sincerity. This means telling the truth – you’ve worked hard, you care about this book, you want them to read it and give it a chance on their shelves, or better yet on the front table if they will agree to a reading and author signing. It can help if it’s your neighborhood bookstore, where you browse and shop regularly. But ultimately the proof will be in the pudding: will the buyer believe in you enough to sample the content and will they like it. Bookstores will be especially interested if you can guarantee crowd of local friends who’ll fill seats and buy a stack of copies.
Pitching to the media
Local print and broadcast media are always looking for material about local authors and their work. They have space to fill with material to attract advertisers. Offering them a sample of your book or interview may be done with a carefully written press release, or, if their internal process is more informal and easily accessed, you can call them up or go into their offices. In either case, they’ll want to hear a short description of who you are, since there may be a strong local personality hook, and also what you’ve written, particularly if you’re known in the community or the content has a local angle.
Pitching to the virtual media takes less dressing up. There are many websites that feature book reviews, interviews, and samples of new books, usually self-published but occasionally from traditional houses. Here, as always, the drill is to be authentic, brief, and provide either content or service that fits their purpose.
The video pitch
In the YouTube era, your visually delivered pitch doesn’t have to be slick, heavily scripted, or shot with fancy cameras and lights. Put your digital camera on a tripod or ask a member of your family to shoot you at your desk or walking outside. Again, don’t read, just be yourself. Tell us the story, how and why you wrote the book, and why it’s important to you. Enough said. This variety of pitch can be directed at your readers, or as a link when approaching busy retailers, book bloggers, and media professionals.
What about you?
Have a few tricks up your sleeve? We look forward to hearing about your experiences in the age of the new author pitch.