The coup de grace: a professional title page

Yes, I know: I was going to move on to writing about polishing up those first 50 pages of your submission. However, before I do, I want to spend a day talking about the very first thing an agent or editor will see in your submission: the title page.

And yes, Virginia, your submission needs one. Even if you are sending the second 50 pages, your manuscript is simply undressed if it goes out without a title page. Why? Because, contrary to popular belief amongst writers, it is not just a billboard for your book’s title and your chosen pen name. It’s both the proper place to announce how you may best be reached and a fairly sure indicator of how much experience you have dealing with the publishing industry.

(And no, for those of you who have been asking about it, Anne Mini is not a nom de plume, but the name on my birth certificate, believe it or not. My parents were so literarily-oriented that my father demanded to be led to a typewriter before they settled on a name, to see how each of the top contenders would look in print. The better to grace future dust jackets, my dear.)

Thought I was just going to leave that startling earlier statement hanging in the air, didn’t you? The title page of a manuscript tells agents and editors quite a bit about both the book itself and the experience level of the writer. Why? Well, there is information that should be on the title page, and information that shouldn’t; speaking with my professional editing hat on for a moment, virtually every manuscript I see has a non-standard title page, so it is literally the first thing I, or any editor, will correct in a manuscript.

I find this trend sad, because for every ms. I can correct before they are sent to agents and editors, there must be hundreds of thousands that make similar mistakes. Even sadder, the writers who make mistakes are their title pages are very seldom TOLD what those mistakes are. Their manuscripts are merely rejected on the grounds of unprofessionalism, usually without any comment at all. I do not consider this fair to aspiring writers — but once again, I do not, alas, run the universe, nor do I make the rules that I report to you. If I set up the industry’s norms, I would decree that every improperly-formatted title page would be greeted with a very kind letter, explaining what was done wrong, and saying that it just doesn’t count this time. Perhaps, in the worst cases, the letter could be sent along with a coupon for free ice cream.

But I digress.

The single most common mistake: the title page should be in the same font and point size as the rest of the manuscript — which, as I have pointed out before, should be in 12-point Times, Times New Roman, or Courier for a submission, since these are the standards for the industry. (The logic is complicated here, but in essence, it boils down to an affection for the bygone days of the typewriter: Times is the equivalent of the old elite typeface; Courier is pica.)

Therefore, your title page should be in 12-point Times, Times New Roman, or Courier. All of it, even the title. No exceptions. DEFINITELY do not make the title larger than the rest of the text. It may look cool to you, but to professional eyes – and I hate to tell you this — it looks rather like a child’s picture book.

Do I hear disgruntled voices out there? “Oh, come on,” I hear some of you saying, “the FONT matters that much? What about the content of the book? What about my platform? What about my brilliant writing? Surely, the typeface choice pales in comparison to these crucial elements?”

You’re right, of course — it does, PROVIDED you can get an agent or editor to sit down and read your entire submission. Unfortunately, though, this is a business of snap decisions, where impressions are often formed, well, within seconds. If the cosmetic elements of your manuscript imply a lack of knowledge of industry norms, your manuscript is entering its first professional once-over with one strike against it. It seem be silly — in fact, I would go so far as to say that it IS silly — but it’s true, nevertheless.

Even queries in the proper typefaces tend to be better received. If you are feeling adventurous, go ahead and experiment, sending out one set of queries in Times New Roman and one in Helvetica. As any agency screener will tell you after you have bought him a few drinks (hey, I try to leave no stone left unturned in my quest to find out what these people want to see in submissions), the Times New Roman queries are more likely to strike agents (and agents’ assistants, once they sober up again) as coming from a well-prepared writer, one who will not need to be walked through every nuance of the publication process to come.

That being said, as in so many aspects of the publishing industry, there is actually more than one way to structure a title page. Two formats are equally acceptable from an unagented writer. (After you sign with an agent, trust me, your agent will tell you which one she prefers.) The unfortunate technical restrictions of a blog render it impossible for me to show it to you exactly as it should be, but I shall a new page on this site as soon as I can figure out how to do it, to show you what a title page should look like. I shall describe them here, though, first:

I like to call Format #1 the Me First, because it renders it as easy as possible for an agent to contact you after falling in love with your work. In the upper left-hand corner, you list:
Your name
Your address
Your phone number
Your e-mail address.

In the upper right-hand corner, you list:
The book category (see how important it is to be up front about it? It’s the very top of the title page!)
Estimated word count.

Skip down 10 lines, then add, centered on the page:
Your title
(Skip a line)
By
(Skip a line)
Your name (or your nom de plume)

There should be NO other information on the title page in Format #1.

Why, you may be wondering, does the author’s name appear twice on the page? For two reasons: first, in case you are writing under a name other than your own, as many writers choose to do, and second, because the information in the top-left corner is the contact information that permits an agent or editor to acquire the book. Clean and easy.

As I have mentioned before, approximate word count appear more professional to agents and editors’ eyes than exact ones. This is one of the advantages of working in Times New Roman: in 12-point type, everyone estimates a double-spaced page with one-inch margins in the business at 250 words. If you use this as a guideline, you can’t possibly go wrong.

Do not, under any circumstances, include a quote on the title page. Many authors do this, because they have seen so many published authors use quotes at the openings of their books. If you want to use a quote at the opening of the book, center it on a separate page that follows the title page.

While the Me First format is perfectly fine, the other standard format, which I like to call the Ultra-professional, is more common in the industry these days. It most closely replicates what most agents want their authors’ ultimate manuscript title pages to look like. In the upper right corner:
Book category
Word count

(Skip down 12 lines, then add, centered:)
Your title
(Skip a line)
By
(Skip a line)
Your name (or your nom de plume)

(Skip down 12 lines, then add in the lower right corner:)
Your name
Line 1 of your address
Line 2 of your address
Your telephone number
Your e-mail address

Again, there should be NO other information, just lots and lots of pretty, pretty white space. After you sign with an agency, your agent’s contact information will appear where your contact information does.
That’s it, my friends – the only two options you have, if you want your title page to look like the bigwigs’ do. And believe me, you do. Try formatting yours accordingly, and see if your work is not treated with greater respect!

Keep up the good work!

Phew!

Hey — I’ve just finished re-posting my former PNWA blogs all the way back through the pieces I did on all of the agents and editors who were scheduled to come to the 2006 PNWA conference. So if you are looking for background information on these fine folks, before or after you query or submit to them, it is finally available again! Phew!

Waiting by the telephone

A faithful reader who, for reasons best known to himself, has requested anonymity, wrote in with a couple of questions that I think would be of interest to everybody. So I have changed the identifiable information to preserve the secret author and agent, and am reproducing the essential questions here:

“Agent Abraham Lincoln requested the full manuscript and I sent it. How long should I wait for him to make contact? Is it all right for me to call? I don’t want to pressure him, but I am desperate to move forward with the project. Oh, the anxiousness. Ah, the sleepless nights. I have never wanted anything more than to be a published author…I know there are no set timelines for responses and such, but roughly how long should I wait before moving on?”

Mystery Reader, there are short answers and long answers to these questions. The short: don’t even think about following up until after Labor Day, and when you do DON’T CALL; e-mail or write.

In the meantime, Mysterious One, you SHOULD move on: get back to your writing projects. You might even consider sending out a few more queries, just in case.

On to the long answer. Badgering an agent interested in your work will definitely not get it read faster, so it is not a good course to pursue. In fact, most agents will regard follow-up calls or too-soon e-mails as a sign that the prospective client does not understand how the business works – which, trust me, is not an impression you want to give an agent you would like to sign you.

Why? Well, it tends to translate, in their minds, into a client who is going to require more attention at every step of the process. While such clients are often rewarding on many levels, they are undoubtedly more expensive for the agency to handle, at least at first. Think about it: the agent makes his living by selling books to publishing houses. This means a whole lot of phone calls, meetings, and general badgering, all of which takes a lot of time, in order to make sales. So which is the more lucrative way to spend his time, hard-selling a current client’s terrific novel to a wavering editor or taking anxious phone calls from a writer he has not yet signed?

Trust me, agent Abraham Lincoln already knows that you want to be published more than anything else in the world; unfortunately, telling him so will not impress him more. How does he know? Because he deals with authors all the time — and this is such a tough business to break into that the vast majority of those who make it to the full-manuscript request are writers who want to be published more than anything else in the world.

All you can do is wait, at least for 6 weeks or so. The reason that there are no set timelines, except for ones that the agents may tell you themselves, is that a TREMENDOUS amount of paper passes through the average agency’s portals, and yours is probably not the only full manuscript requested by Mr. Lincoln within the last couple of months. Yours goes into the reading pile after the others that are already there — and if that feels a little unfair now, think about it again in a month, when a dozen more have come in after yours.

Most agents read entire manuscripts not at work, but in their off hours. In all probability, yours will not be the only ms. sitting next to his couch. Also, in a big agency like Lincoln’s, it’s entirely possible that before it gets to the couch stage, it will need to be read by one or even two preliminary readers. That takes time. Furthermore, the vast majority of the publishing industry goes on vacation from mid-August until after Labor Day, so there is always a big crunch around this time of year.

He may well read it on vacation, but actually, with an entire manuscript, I would be extremely surprised if you heard back in under a month. But if he didn’t give you a timeframe, 6 weeks is the industry norm to wait. In the meantime, though, you are under no obligation not to query or follow up with any other agent.

That is SO easy for an excited writer to forget: until you sign an agency contract, you are free to date other people, literarily speaking. Really. No matter how many magical sparks there were between the two of you at your pitch meeting, even if Mr. Lincoln venerable eyes were sparkling with book lust, it honestly is in your best interest to keep querying other agents until Mr. Lincoln antes up a firm offer. Until that ring is on your finger, keep playing the field.

And where does that leave you? Waiting by the phone or mooning by the mailbox, of course.

For those of you who have never been a heterosexual teenage girl, this may be a new problem, but for those who have, this probably feels very, very familiar. It’s hard to act cool when you want so much to make a connection. Yes, he SAID he would call after he’s read my manuscript, but will he? If it’s been a week, should I call him at the agency, or assume that he’s lost interest in my book? Has he met another book he likes better? Will I look like a publication-hungry slut if I send an e-mail after three weeks of terrifying silence?

Don’t sit by the phone; you are not completely helpless here. Get out there and date other agents, so that when that slow-reading Mr. Lincoln DOES call, you’ll have to check your dance card.

Of course, if another agent asks to see the manuscript, it is perfectly acceptable, even laudable, to drop Mr. Lincoln an e-mail or letter, letting him know that there are now other agents checking out your work. For the average agent, this news is only going to make your work seem all the more attractive.

Even after 6 weeks, you might want to e-mail, instead of calling. The last thing you want is to give the impression that you would be a client who would be calling three times per week. Calling is considered a bit pushy, and it almost certainly won’t get your work read any faster. If you haven’t heard back, it’s not because he’s thinking about it; it’s because he hasn’t read it yet, so most agents get a bit defensive if you call.

Like, if memory serves, teenage boys. Oh, how I wish we had all outgrown that awkward stage.

I know that this isn’t exactly the answer you wanted, Mystery Reader, but please, try to chill out for the next few weeks. Get working on your next book, because if this goes through, you will want to have it well in motion.

And be very, very proud of yourself for getting to the point in your writing that an agent as prestigious as Mr. Lincoln WANTS to read the whole manuscript. He doesn’t ask just anybody on a date, you know.

Try to be patient, and keep up the good work!

P.S.: if you have questions about your writing, querying, submission, etc. processes, please post them as comments here on the blog. That way, everyone can learn together!

The query checklist, part V: the mythical perfect query letter

Ah, a gorgeous Pacific Northwest summer day: the sun is out; the sky is blue, or rather, just starting to cloud over — and the writers of the Puget Sound are inside, away from it all, tapping away at their computers. All is right with the world.

Today will be the last installment in my series on polishing your query letter to a high gloss. I’m feeling a trifle rushed, since I know that many of you are in the throes of submitting your first 50 pages (or even, in some cases, the entire manuscript!) in the wake of recent conferences, so I want to get to first chapter revision as soon as possible. If any of you are going through synopsis trauma, leave a comment, and I shall do a post or two addressing your concerns.

All right, back to the querying checklist. Some of these questions may seem very basic — or even redundant, if you have constructed your query, as I advised a few days ago, from the constituent parts of your pitch. However, there is a LOT of advice on querying out there (almost all of it in that arrogant, you’re-an-idiot-if-you-don’t-listen-to-me tone that unfortunately seems to dominate the advice-to-unpublished-writers market), and a LOT of different versions of the so-called perfect query letter, so I want to make sure to hit the points that those cooking-mix perfect letters often miss.

For the record, I don’t believe that there IS such a thing as a universally perfect query letter, one that will wow every agent currently hawking books on the planet, still less a formula where you just add your book’s title and stir. It is logically impossible: agents represent different kinds of books, for one thing, so the moment you mention that your book is a Gothic romance, it is going to be rejected by any agent who does not represent Gothic romances. Simple as that.

More fundamentally, though, I do not accept the idea of a magical formula that works in every case. Yes, the format I gave you a few days ago tends to work well; it has a proven track record. However — and I hate to tell you this, because the arbitrary forces of chance are scary — even if it is precisely what your targeted agency’s screener has been told to seek amongst the haystack of queries flooding the mailroom, it might still end up in the reject pile if the screener or agent is having a bad day. If the agent has just broken up with her husband of 15 years that morning, it’s probably not the best time to query her with a heartwarming romance, for instance, even if that’s her specialty; if an agency screener has just blistered his tongue by biting too quickly on a microwaved knish, it’s highly unlikely that any query is going to wow him within the next ten minutes, even if it were penned by William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and William Shakespeare in an unprecedented show of time-traveling literary collaboration. No writer, however gifted, can win in such a situation.

My point is, there will always be aspects of querying success that you cannot control, and you will be a significantly happier writer in the long run if you accept that there is inevitably an element of luck involved.

Frankly, this took me quite a long time to accept myself. I once received a rejection from an agent who had hand-written, “This is literally the best query letter I have ever read — but I’ll have to pass” in the margins of my missive. I was flabbergasted. Had the agent just completed a conference call with every editor in the business, wherein they held a referendum about the marketability of my type of novel, voting it down by an overwhelming margin? Had she suddenly decided not to represent the kind of book I was presenting due to a mystical revelation from the god of her choice? Or had the agent just gotten her foot run over by a backhoe, or just learned that she was pregnant and couldn’t take on any more clients, due to imminent maternity leave, or decided to lay off half her staff due to budget problems?

Beats me; I’ll never know. But the fact is, whatever was going on at that agency, it was utterly beyond my control. Until I am promoted to minor deity, complete with smiting powers and telekinetic control of the mails, I just have to accept that I have no way of affecting when my query — or my manuscript, or my published book — is going to hit an agent, editor, reviewer, or reader’s desk.

My advice: concentrate on the aspects of the interaction you can control. On to the checklist.

(10) Have I mentioned the book category?
I discussed this last month, in connection with your verbal pitch, but it bears repeating here: like it or not, you do need to use some of your precious querying space to state outright what KIND of a book it is. You’d be surprised at how few query letters actually mention whether the work being pitched is fiction or nonfiction — and how many describe the book in only the most nebulous of terms. (Hint: this is not a context in which the phrase “sort of” should appear.)

This is a business run on categories, people: pick one. Tell the nice agent where your book will be sitting in a bookstore, and do it in the language that people in the publishing industry understand. Any agent will have to tell any editor what category your book falls into in order to sell it: it is really, really helpful if you are clear about it upfront.

Since I posted on this fairly recently (June 29 and 30, now available on this very site! I am transferring the archives as fast as I can.), I shall not run through the available categories again. If you’re in serious doubt about the proper term, dash to your nearest major bookstore, start pulling books similar to yours off the shelf in your chosen section, and look on the back cover: most publishers will list the book’s category either in the upper left-hand corner or in the box with the bar code.

Then replace the books tidily on the shelf, of course. (Had I mentioned that I’m a librarian’s daughter? I can prove it, too: Shhh!)

(11) Have I avoided using clichés?
You’d think that this one would be self-evident, wouldn’t you? However, there can be a fine line between a hip riff on the zeitgeist and a cliché. When in doubt, leave it out, as my alcoholic high school expository writing teacher used to hiccup in my cringing ear. (Long story.)

Why? Well, many people in the publishing industry have a hatred of clichés that borders on the pathological and, like any tigers you might happen to meet in the wild, it’s best not to provoke them. “I want to see THIS writer’s words,” some have been known to pout (agents, not tigers), “not somebody else’s.” Don’t tempt these people to pounce; this is not the place to try to be cute. Cut anything from your query and submission packets that has even the remotest chance of being mistaken for a cliché.

(12) Have I listed my credentials well? Do I come across as a competent, professional writer, regardless of my educational level or awards won?
Truthfully, unless you are writing a book that requires very specific expertise, most of your credentials will not actually be relevant to your book. But do say where you went to school, if you did, and any awards you have won, if you have. If you are a member of a regularly-meeting writers’ group, mention that, too: anything that makes you sound like a serious professional is appropriate to include.

If you have any background that aided you in writing this book, you need to make sure you mention it in your query letter. Period. Even your camp trophy for woodworking can be a selling point, in the proper context.

(13) Have I made any of the standard mistakes, the ones about which agents often complain?
Here is one of those reasons to attend writers’ conferences regularly: they are one of the best places on earth to collect lists of agents and editors’ pet peeves. Referring to your book as “a fiction novel” is invariably on the top of every agent’s list; in point of fact, all novels are fiction. Waffling about the book category is also a popular choice, as are queries longer than a single page. Any or all of these will generally result in the query being tossed aside, unread.

In seeking to stick to the single-page limit, however, do not fall into the opposite trap of margin-fudging or using an ultra-small typeface to make it so. As someone who spends her days reading thousands upon thousands of manuscript pages in 12-point type, I can tell you with absolute confidence: anyone who has screened queries for more than a week will be able to tell at a glance if you have shrunk the typeface or margins.

(14) Does my query letter read as though I have a personality?
I have found that this question almost invariably surprises writers who have done their homework, the ones who have studied guides and attended workshops on how to craft the perfect query letter. “Personality?” they cry, incredulous and sometimes even offended at the thought. “A query letter isn’t about personality; it’s about saying exactly what the agent wants to hear about my book.”

I beg to differ. The fact is, the various flavors of perfect query are pervasive enough that an relatively observant agency screener will be familiar with them all inside of a week. In the midst of all of that repetition, a textbook-perfect letter can come across as, well, unimaginative. In a situation where you are pitching your imagination and perceptiveness, this is not the best impression you could possibly make. A cookie-cutter query is like a man without a face: he may dress well, but you’re not going to be able to describe him five minutes after he walks out of the room.

Your query letter needs to sound like you at your very best. You need to sound professional, of course, but if you’re a funny person, the query should reflect that. If you are a person with quirky tastes, the query should reflect that, too. And, of course, if you spent your twenties and early thirties as an international spy and man of intrigue, that had better come across in your query. Because, you see, a query letter is not just a solicitation for an agent to pick up your book; it is a preliminary invitation to an individual to enter into a long-term relationship with you.

I firmly believe that there is no 100% foolproof formula, my friends, whatever the guides tell you. But if you avoid the classic mistakes, your chances of coming across as an interesting, complex person who has written a book worth reading goes up a thousandfold.

Keep up the good work!

The Building Blocks of the Pitch, Part IX: Finally, the pitch!

Hello, readers –

Understandably, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from nervous readers about my continuing series on the building blocks of the pitch. Several of you pointed out, for instance, that my elevator speech examples varied rather wildly in length — my PRIDE AND PREJUDICE example was 190 words (which I know not because I counted it myself, but because two different readers did), while the example that followed was 83. A differential, I must confess, due in large part to the fact that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is an actual book, one that I know well enough to quote at length, while the examples that followed were not. I mean, really –would YOU want to be the person who couldn’t pitch PRIDE AND PREJUDICE successfully?

While I must confess that I myself have seldom had enough free time to sit down and count all of the words in other people’s pitches, the implied question here is a good one: is briefer always better in an elevator speech or pitch?

In a word, NO.

So, please, those of you out there who are so attuned to following directions that you are freaking out about a few extra words in your elevator speech: take a deep breath. It needs to be short, but it is far better to take an extra ten seconds to tell your story well than to cut it so short that you tell it badly. No agent or editor in the world is going to be standing over you while you pitch, abacus in hand, ready to shout at you to stop once you reach 101 words. They may, however, begin to get restive if you go on too long — but in conversation, length is not measured in number of words. It is measured in the passage of time.

Let me repeat that, because I think some reader’s concerns on the subject are based in a misunderstanding born of the ubiquity of the three-sentence pitch: the purpose of keeping the elevator speech to 3-4 sentences is NOT because there is some special virtue in that number of periods, but to make sure that the elevator speech is SHORT, brief enough that you could conceivably blurt it out in 30-45 seconds.

Let me recast that in graphic terms: the elevator speech should be short enough to leave your lips comprehensibly between the time the elevator shuts on you and the agent of your dreams on the ground floor and when it opens again on the second floor. Get it?

Remember, too, that AN ELEVATOR SPEECH IS NOT A FORMAL PITCH, but a shortened version of it. As I mentioned yesterday, the elevator speech, hallway pitch, and pitch proper are primarily differentiated by the length of time required to say them, so if you feel the urge to be nit-picky, it actually makes far more sense to TIME your pitch than it does to count the words. Try to keep your elevator speech under 45 seconds, your hallway pitch (see yesterday’s post) to roughly 60 – 75 seconds max, and your pitch proper to 2 minutes or so.

While these may not seem like big differences, you can say a lot in 30 seconds.

Because I love you people, I went back and timed how long it would take me to say the elevator speech I wrote for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: one minute two seconds, counting gestures and vocal inflections that I would consider necessary for an effective performance. That’s perfectly fine, for either a hallway speech or pitch proper. Actually, for a pitch proper (and really, as soon as I finish addressing these issues, I am going to get around to defining it), I might add another sentence or two of glowing detail.

To be fair, though, it is a bit long for an elevator speech, if I intended to include any of the first hundred words as well. If I were planning to walk around the halls of PNWA, buttonholing agents for informal hallway pitches, I might try to shear off ten seconds or so, so I could add at the beginning that the book is mainstream fiction and the title. Oh, and to indicate that my parents loved me enough to give me a name.

But seriously, I would not lose any sleep over those extra ten seconds. Nor should you. As I was explaining yesterday, it’s really the proponents of the three-sentence pitch that have made many writers frightened of adding interesting or even necessary details to their pitches.

I consider this a mistake, because if you’re pitching a novel, you need to demonstrate two things: that this is a good story, and that you are a good storyteller. Similarly, if you are pitching a NF book, you need to show in your pitch that this is a compelling topic, and that you are the person to write about it.

As any good storyteller can tell you, compelling storytelling lies largely in the scintillating details. I have been listening to writers’ pitches for significantly longer than I have been giving them myself (I spent part of my wayward youth trailing a rather well-known writer around to SF conventions), so I can tell you from experience: far more of them fail due to being full of generalities than because they have an extra fifteen seconds’ worth of fascinating details.

So, to be as clear as possible: if you must add an extra second or two in order to bring in a particularly striking visual image, or to mention a plot point that in your opinion makes your book totally unlike anything else out there, go ahead and do it. Revel in this being the one and only time that any professional editor will EVER tell you this: try not to be too anal-retentive about adhering to pre-set guidelines. It will only make you tense.

Okay, all that being said, let’s move on to the pitch proper, the one you will make in a formal pitch meeting with an agent or editor. (And for those of you who missed yesterday’s post, I misspoke before: the PNWA meetings with agents will be 10 minutes, not 15.)

For the benefit of those of you who have never done it before, in an agent meeting, you will be led to a tiny cubicle, where you will be expected to sit across a perhaps foot-and-a-half table’s width away from a real, live agent. You will introduce yourself, and then spend approximately two minutes talking about your book. After that, the agent may ask you a few questions; you may feel free to ask a few as well. At the end of the meeting, the agent will tell you whether your book sounds like it would interest her as a business proposition. If so, the agent will hand you her card and ask you to send some portion of the manuscript — usually, the first chapter, the first 50 pages, or for NF, the book proposal. If she’s very, very enthused, she may ask you to mail the whole thing.

Note: this should not be construed as an invitation to HAND her the whole thing on the spot, even if you have a complete copy in the backpack at your feet. Manuscripts are heavy; agents almost universally prefer to have them mailed rather than to carry them onto a plane. At most, the agent may ask on the spot if you have a writing sample with you, in which case you should pull out 5 pages or so. (If you are unclear on why you should carry a 5-page writing sample with you at all times at a writers’ conference, please see my post for May 29th.) In the extremely unlikely event that the agent asks for more right away, murmur a few well-chosen words about cities being farther apart on the West Coast than on the East, and offer to pop anything she wants into the mail on Monday.

And that’s it. Politeness always counts in this industry, so do be nice, even if it turns out that the agent simply doesn’t represent your kind of book. (Trust me — if this is the case, the agent will tell you so right away.) If this happens, express regret BRIEFLY and ask for recommendations for other agents to approach with your work.

Those two minutes when you are describing your book, of course, are the pitch proper. It is absolutely vital that you prepare for those two minutes in advance, either timing yourself at home or by visiting the Pitch Practicing Palace at the conference, manned by yours truly and other valiant souls who have fought successfully in pitching wars past. Otherwise, it is very, very easy to start rambling once you are actually in your pitch meeting, and frankly, 10 minutes doesn’t allow any rambling time.

Sitting down in front of an agent or editor, looking her in the eye, and beginning to talk about your book is quite a different experience from giving a hallway pitch. In a hallway pitch, agents will often automatically tell you to submit the first chapter, in order to be able to keep on walking down the hall, finish loading salad onto their plates, or be able to move on to the next person in line after the agents’ forum. If the agent handles your type of work, the premise is interesting, and you are polite, they will usually hand you their business cards and say, “Send me the first 50 pages.”

Okay, pop quiz to see who has been paying attention to this series so far: after the agent says this, do you (a) regard this as an invitation to talk about your work at greater length, (b) say, “Gee, you’re a lot nicer than Agent X. He turned me down flat,” (c) launch into a ten-minute diatribe about the two years you’ve spent querying this particular project, or (d) thank her profusely and vanish in a puff of smoke?

If you said anything but (d), go back and reread the whole series again. In fact, go back to last August’s blogs and read the whole 1000+ pages I have posted here. You need to learn what’s considered polite in the industry, pronto.

In a face-to-face pitch in a formal meeting, agents tend to be more selective than in a hallway pitch. (I know; counterintuitive, isn’t it?) In a ten-minute meeting, there is actually time for them to consider what you are saying, to weigh the book’s merits — in short, enough time to save themselves time down the line by rejecting your book now. (If you send it to them at their request, someone in their office is ethically required to spend time reading it, right?) So in a perverse way, a formal pitch is significantly harder to give successfully than a hallway one.

Fear not, my friends: if you have been following this series and doing your homework, you already have almost all of the constituent parts of a formal pitch constructed.

And I’m going to let you in on a little trade secret that almost always seems to get lost in discussions of how to pitch: contrary to popular opinion, a formal pitch is NOT just a few sentences about the premise of a book: IT IS A MARKETING SPEECH, designed not only to show what your book is about, but also why it is MARKETABLE.

Once you understand that — and once you accept that in this context, your book is not merely your baby or a work of art, but a PRODUCT that you are asking people who SELL THINGS FOR A LIVING to MARKET for you — an agent or editor’s response to your pitch can be seen not as an all-or-nothing referendum on your worth as a writer or as a human being, but as a PROFESSIONAL SELLER OF WRITING’s response to a proposed premise.

What the formal pitch is, in fact, is a spoken query letter, and it should contain the same information.

This may seem obvious, but allow me to remind you: no one in the world can judge your writing without reading it. A flubbed pitch is actually NOT a reflection of your writing talent; logically, it cannot be, unless the agent or editor takes exception to how you construct your verbal sentences. I know, I know, it doesn’t feel that way at the time, and frankly, the language that agents and editors tend to use at moments like these (“No one is buying X anymore.”) often DOES make it sound like a review of your writing. But it isn’t; it can’t be.

Does that make you feel any better?

What a formal pitch can and should be is you taking the extraordinary opportunity of having an agent or editor’s undivided attention for ten minutes in order to discuss how best to market your work. For this discussion to be fruitful, it is very helpful if you can describe your work in the same terms the industry would, the terms in which I have been encouraging you to define it throughout this series: your book’s category (blogs of June 29 and 30), identifying your target market (July 1), coming up with several selling points (July 2), inventing a snappy keynote statement (July 3), pulling all of these elements together into the magic first 100 words (July 4), and giving an overview of the central conflict of the book (the elevator speech, July 5 and 6).

Really, you’re almost there. In fact, if it came right down to it, you could construct a quite professional pitch from these elements alone.

First, you would begin with the magic first hundred words: ”Hi, I’m (YOUR NAME), and I write (BOOK CATEGORY). My latest project, (TITLE), is geared toward (TARGET MARKET). See how it grabs you: (KEYNOTE).”

Then, with nary a pause for breath, you would launch into a brief overview of the book’s primary conflicts or focus, using vivid and memorable imagery. In other words, you would follow the first 100 words with your elevator speech.

Then, to tie it all together, you would tell the agent that you are excited about it because of its SELLING POINTS that will appeal to its TARGET MARKET.

Now, you could manage all that in two minutes, right? You could easily flesh out your elevator speech with interesting and memorable plot points, without going overlong. One great way to be memorable is to include a telling detail, something that the agent or editor is unlikely to hear from anybody else.

Think back to the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE example: do you think someone else at the conference is likely to pitch a story that includes a sister who lectures while pounding on the piano, or a mother who insists her daughter marry a cousin she has just met? Probably not.

Here is the icing to put on the cake, the element that you have not yet constructed that elevates your pitch from just a good story to a memorable one: take fifteen or twenty seconds to tell one scene in vivid, Technicolor-level detail. This is an unorthodox thing to do in a pitch, but it works all the better for that reason, if you can keep it brief. Do be specific, and don’t be afraid to introduce a cliffhanger – scenarios that leave the hearer wondering “how the heck is this author going to get her protagonist out of THAT situation?” work very, very well here.

Include as many sensual words as you can — not sexual ones, necessarily, but referring to the senses. Is there an indelible visual image in your book? Work it in. Are birds twittering throughout your tropical romance? Let the agent hear them. Is your axe murderer murdering pastry chefs? We’d better taste some frosting.

And so forth. The goal here is to include a single original scene in sufficient detail that the agent or editor will think, “Wow, I’ve never heard that before,” and long to read the book.

There is a terrific example of a pitch with this kind of detail in the Robert Altman film THE PLAYER, should you have time to check it out before the next time you enter a pitching situation. The protagonist is a film executive, and throughout the film, he hears many pitches. One unusually persistent director, played by Richard E. Grant, chases the executive all over the greater LA metro area, trying to get him to listen to his pitch. (You’re in exactly the right mental state to appreciate that now, right?) Eventually, the executive gives in, and tells the director to sell the film in 25 words.

Before launching into the plot of the film, however, the director does something interesting. He spends a good 30 seconds setting up the initial visual image of the film: a group of protestors holding a vigil outside a prison during a rainstorm, their candles causing the umbrellas under which they huddle to glow like Chinese lanterns.

”That’s nice,” the executive says, surprised. “I’ve never seen that before.”

If a strong, memorable detail of yours can elicit this kind of reaction from an agent or editor, you’re home free!

One last thing, then I shall let you run off to dig through your manuscript for the killer image or scene that will wow the agent: once you have gone through all of the steps above, given your two-minute speech, SHUT UP. Allow the agent to respond, to be enthusiastic. Most writers forget this important rule, rambling on and on, even after they have reached the end of their prepared material.

Don’t; it won’t help your case. If you’re going to hand your listener a cliffhanger worthy of the old Flash Gordon radio serials, it is only charitable to leave time for your listener to cry, “But what happened NEXT!” A good storyteller always leaves her audience wanting more.

And that, my friends, is how I like to give a pitch. Again, my method is a trifle unusual, a little offbeat structurally, but in my experience, it works. It sounds professional, while at the same time conveying both your enthusiasm for the project and a sense of how precisely the worldview of your book is unique.

Have a good weekend, everybody. Between now and the conference, I shall of course post a few more helpful tidbits, but I’m going to keep it light, so you can focus your energies on crafting your pitch. As always, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The Building Blocks of the Pitch, Part VIII: the ups and downs of the elevator speech

Hello, readers –

Welcome back to my ongoing series on the building blocks of a fabulous pitch — and to the 200th blog I have written for the PNWA! Not including today’s post, that’s 1,032 pages of irreverent advice, in standard manuscript format. I wish I had more time to linger on this major milestone, but with the conference a scant week away, I want to move through the rigors of pitching as quickly as possible.

News flash, though, everybody: sharp-eyed faithful reader Ron was kind enough to point out to me that the agent meetings this year are TEN minutes, not fifteen, presumably so more writers can see more agents. I have no idea why they should have changed (I couldn’t go to the conference last year, so it’s possible that this is a change from last year), but a shorter meeting requires slightly different advance planning. Many thanks, Ron, for alerting us to this.

Also, I notice that David Moldower is no longer going to be attending the conference, but agent Kate McKean and Michelle Nagler of Simon & Schuster will. I hope to have time to check out their respective sales and acquisitions records before the conference, but right now, my top priority to make sure to get through the basics of pitching.

Yesterday, I discussed the elevator speech, and gave you several examples of how to construct one for a fiction book. ”This is all very well for a novel,” I could hear your NF writers out there grumbling, “but how does all this apply to a MY book?” Today, I am going to deal with that very issue, and explain where and when an elevator speech can be more effective to use than a fully-fledged pitch.

In an elevator speech for a NF book, your goal is the same as for a novel: to intrigue your hearer into asking follow-up questions. Here, too, you do not want to tell so much about the book that the agent or editor to whom you are speaking feels that you have told the whole story; you want to leave enough of a question hanging in the air that your listener will say, “Gee, that sounds intriguing. Send me the first 50 pages.” However, for a NF book, you will need to achieve one other goal in both your elevator speech or pitch — to establish your platform as the best conceivable writer of the book.

Piece o’ proverbial cake, right?

To achieve these goals, you can use the same tools as for a novel, providing specific, vividly-drawn details to show what your book offers the reader. Demonstrate what the reader will learn from reading your book, or why the book is an important contribution to the literature on your subject. In other words, make it clear what your book is and why it will appeal to your target market. Here’s an example:

“Swirling planets, the Milky Way, and maybe even a wandering extraterrestrial or two — all of these await the urban stargazing enthusiast. For too long, however, books on astronomy have been geared at the narrow specialist market, those readers possessing expensive telescopes. ANGELS ON YOUR BACK PORCH opens the joys of stargazing to the rest of us. Utilizing a few simple tools and a colorful fold-out star map, University of Washington cosmologist Cindy Crawford takes you on a guided tour of the fascinating star formations visible right from your backyard.”

See? Strong visual imagery plus a clear statement of what the reader may expect to learn creates a compelling elevator speech for this NF book. And did you notice how Prof. Crawford’s credentials just naturally fit into the speech? By including some indication of your platform (or your book’s strongest selling point) in your elevator speech, you will forestall the automatic first question of any NF agent: “So, what’s your platform?”

Remember, your elevator speech should entertaining and memorable, but leave your hearer wanting to know more. Don’t wrap up the package so tightly that your listener doesn’t feel she needs to read the book. Questions are often useful in establishing WHY the book needs to be read:

”EVERYWOMAN’S GUIDE TO MENOPAUSE: “Tired of all of the conflicting information on the news these days about the change of life? Noted clinician Dr. Hal Holbrook simplifies it all for you with his easy-to-use color-coded guide to a happy menopausal existence. From beating searing hot flashes with cool visualizations of polar icecaps to rewarding yourself for meeting goals with fun-filled vacations to the tropics, this book will show you how to embrace the rest of your life with passion, armed with knowledge.”

Okay, here’s a pop quiz for those of you who have been following this series so far: what techniques did the NF pitcher above borrow from fiction writing?

Give yourself at least a B if you said that the writer incorporated vivid sensual details: the frigid polar icecaps, the twin heat sources of hot flashes and tropical destinations. And make that an A if you noticed that the savvy pitcher used a rhetorical question (filched from Dr. Holbrook’s keynote statement, no doubt) to pique the interest of the hearer — and double points if your sharp eye spotted the keywords agents love to hear: happy, passion. Extra credit with a cherry on top and walnut clusters if you cried out that this elevator speech sets up conflicts that the book will presumably resolve (amongst the information popularly available; the struggle between happiness and unhappiness; between simple guides and complicated ones). Dualities are tremendously effective at establishing conflict quickly.

And now congratulate yourselves, campers, because you have constructed all of the elements you need for a successful hallway pitch — or, indeed, an informal pitch in virtually any social situation. Did that one creep up on you? Because — brace yourself for this one, because it’s a biggie —

MAGIC FIRST 100 WORDS + ELEVATOR SPEECH = HALLWAY PITCH.

Ta da!

With advance preparation and practice, you should be able to say all of this comprehensibly within 30 – 45 seconds, certainly a short enough time that you need not feel guilty about turning to the agent next to you in the dinner line, or walking up to her after the agents’ forum, and asking if she can spare a minute to hear your pitch. (Always ask first if it’s okay.) Because that is literally what you will be taking up, less than a minute, you may feel professional, not intrusive, by giving your hallway pitch immediately after saying, “Please pass the rolls.”

You’re welcome.

The elevator speech has other uses, too, the most important being that it makes a stellar describe-your-book paragraph in your query letter. There, too, you will be incorporating the elements of the magic first hundred words — minus the “Hi, my name is” part, they make a terrific opening paragraph for a query. The elevator speech also gives you a concise, professional follow-up after someone you meet at a conference responds to your magic first hundred words with, “Wow. Tell me more.”

You see, I really am working hard here to keep you from feeling tongue-tied when dealing with the industry. Don’t be afraid to give your hallway speech to other writers at the conference — it’s great practice, and it is absolutely the best way imaginable to meet other people who write what you do. (Other than starting a blog, of course.)

You’ve noticed that there’s a situation I haven’t mentioned yet, haven’t you? ”But Anne,” I hear some of your murmur, “if the elevator speech is so effective at piquing interest, why SHOULDN’T I just use it as my pitch in my meetings with agents and editors?”

That’s an excellent question. The short answer is: you can, but what would you do with the other 14 1/2 — no, scratch that; make it 9 1/2 — minutes of your pitch meeting? And why would you trade an opportunity to say MORE about your book for a format that forces you to say LESS?

The longer answer is, a lot of people do use the 3-sentence elevator speech as a pitch; in fact, if you ask almost any writer who signed with her agent between 5 and 15 years ago, she will probably tell you bluntly that the 3-sentence pitch is industry standard. And so it was, at one time. To be fair, it still can work.

However, by emphasizing the 3-sentence pitch to the exclusion of all others, I think the standard sources of writerly advice have left first-time pitchers ill-prepared to address those other vital issues involved in a good pitch, such as where the book will sit in Barnes & Noble, who the author thinks will read it, why the target market will find it compelling…in short, all of the information contained in the magic first 100 words.

You’d be amazed (at least I hope you would) at how many first-time pitchers come dashing into their scheduled pitch appointments, so fixated on blurting those pre-ordained three sentences that they forget to (a) introduce themselves to the agent or editor, like civilized beings, (b) mention whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, (c) indicate whether the book has a title, or (d) all of the above. I find this sad: these are intelligent people, for the most part, but their advance preparation has left them as tongue-tied and awkward as wallflowers at a junior high school dance.

And don’t even get me started on the sweat-soaked silence that can ensue AFTER the 3-sentence pitcher has gasped it all out, incontinently, and has no more to say. In that dreadful lull, the agent sits there, blinking so slowly that the pitcher is tempted to take a surreptitious peek at his watch, to make sure that time actually is moving forward at a normal clip, or stick a pin in the agent, to double-check that she isn’t some sort of emotionless android with her battery pack on the fritz. “And?” the automaton says impatiently. “Well?”

”What do you mean?” I hear some of you gasp, aghast. “Doesn’t the agent or editor make a snap decision after hearing those three or four sentences, and immediately leap into chatting with me about her plans for marketing my book?”

Well, not usually, no, and in fact, in recent years, as the elevator speech has come to be regarded as the standard pitch, I have been noticing an increasingly disgruntled attitude amongst agents and editors at conferences. Whey walk out of pitch meetings complaining, “Why does everyone stop talking after a minute or so? I’m getting really tired of having to drag information out of these writers on a question-and-answer basis. What do they think this is, an interview? A quiz show?”

Call me unorthodox, but I don’t think this is a desirable outcome for you.

Nor is the other common situation, where writers talk on and on about their books in their pitch meetings so long that the agent or editor hasn’t time to ask follow-up questions. You really do want to keep your pitch to roughly two minutes (as opposed to your hallway pitch, which should be approximately 30 seconds), so that you can discuss your work with the well-connected, well-informed industry insider in front of you. Make sure you come prepared to talk about it — and in terms that will make sense to everyone in the industry.

And how are you going to do that, you ask? Tune in tomorrow, my friends, and I shall fill you in on the conclusion of all of this work we have been doing for the past week: pulling it all together into a persuasive face-to-face pitch.

In the meantime, keep up the good work, everybody! And happy 200th anniversary to the blog!

– Anne Mini

The Building Blocks of the Pitch, Part VII: Your Elevator Speech

Hello, readers –

Welcome back to my ongoing series on the constituent parts of an effective pitch. Since I’ve been at it for a while now, if you’re just tuning in, you may have to dip back into the archives to catch the earliest installments. And for those of you faithful weekday readers who took the holiday weekend off, and are wondering what is going on: yes, I don’t usually post on weekends and holidays, but with the conference so close, I wanted to plough ahead at top speed.

A quick personal aside before I return my hand to the plow, however: as some of you may have already noticed, Amazon is saying that my memoir, A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK, will be shipping on July 17th, less than two weeks from today. Since my publisher has not yet informed me of a firm release date — the author is always the last to know, alas — I can neither confirm nor deny this rumor. Not that it is a state secret or anything; for legal reasons, I’m not supposed to be talking about it with any specificity here. (For as much detail as I am allowed to give about what’s been going on with the book, please see my post for March 30th. Contrary to the claims on the Dick estate-owned fan forum, I have given a grand total of one published interview on the subject: http://www.toobeautiful.org/waywo_annemini.html ) All I can tell you at the moment is that while the book is still in presale mode, Amazon is offering it at a substantial discount.

I promise that I’ll tell you the release date proper the instant I know it myself.

All right, we’re cooking with gas now. So far in this series, I’ve discussed building blocks of a great pitch: your book’s category (blogs of June 29 and 30), identifying your target market (July 1), coming up with several selling points (July 2), inventing a snappy keynote statement (July 3), and pulling all of these elements together into the magic first 100 words (yesterday). Today, I am going to talk about what was considered the height of pitching elegance five or ten years ago, the 3-sentence elevator speech.

Simply put, an elevator speech is a 3 – 4 sentence description (a longish paragraph) of the protagonist and central conflict of your book. If the book is a novel, the elevator speech should be IN THE PRESENT TENSE. It is not a plot summary, but an introduction to the main character(s) BY NAME and an invitation to the listener to ask for more details.

How is the elevator speech different from the keynote, you ask? Well, it’s longer, for one thing, and although the purpose of both is to whet the literary appetite of the hearer, to get her to ask for more information about the book, the keynote can hit only one major theme. In the elevator speech, however, your job is to show that your book is about an interesting protagonist in a fascinating situation. You don’t have room here to tell how the plot’s major conflicts are resolved, just enough to identify them and raise interest in your hearer’s mind about how you will resolve them in the book.

I know it’s hard in such a short space, but try to steer clear of generalities — and definitely avoid clichés. Neither show off your creativity as a plot-deviser or your talent for unique phraseology, do they? Show your protagonist being as active as possible (you wouldn’t believe how many pitches portray characters who only have things happen TO them, rather than characters who DO things to deal with challenging situations), and enliven your account with concrete, juicy details that only you could invent. Include at least one MEMORABLE unique image.

What kind of images you ask? Since elevator speeches vary as much as books do, it’s a trifle hard to show what makes a good one without showing a few examples, so here is a pitch for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (note to those of you who took my pitching class: I am not going to post the pitch for my own novel, for exactly the reason that I advised you not to send your chapters out electronically, if you can help it: there is absolutely no way of knowing where anything posted on the web is going to end up.):

”19th-century 19-year-old Elizabeth Bennet has a whole host of problems: a socially inattentive father, an endlessly chattering mother, a sister who spouts aphorisms as she pounds deafeningly on the piano in front of company, two other sisters who swoon whenever an Army officer walks into the room, and her own quick tongue, any one of which might deprive Elizabeth or her lovely older sister Jane of the rich husband necessary to save them from being thrown out of their house when their father dies. When wealthy humanity-lover Mr. Bingley and disdainful Mr. Darcy rent a nearby manor house, Elizabeth’s mother goes crazy with matchmaking fever, jeopardizing Jane’s romance with Bingley and insisting that Elizabeth marry the first man who proposes to her, her unctuous cousin Mr. Collins, a clergyman who has known her for less than a week. After the family’s reputation is ruined by her youngest sister’s seduction by a dashing army officer, can Elizabeth make her way in the adult world, holding true to her principles and marrying the man she passionately loves, or will her family’s prejudices doom her and Jane to an impecunious and regretful spinsterhood?”

Tell me — would you read this book?

At the risk of tooting my own horn, why is this a good elevator speech? It establishes right away a few important things about the protagonist: she is facing internal conflicts (should she embrace her family’s prejudices, or reject them?); she is pursuing a definite goal (making a good marriage without latching herself for life to the first man who finds her attractive), and she faces an array of substantial barriers to achieving that goal (her family members and their many issues). It also hints that instead of riding the billows of the plot, letting things happen to her, Elizabeth is actively struggling to determine her own destiny.

Don’t underestimate the importance of establishing your protagonist as active: believe me, every agent and editor in the biz has heard thousands of pitches about protagonists who are buffeted about by fate, who are pushed almost unconsciously from event to event not by some interior drive or conflict, but because the plot demands it. (Long-time readers of this blog, chant with me now: “Because the plot requires it” is NEVER a sufficient answer to “Why did that character do that?”) The books being pitched may not actually have passive protagonists — but honestly, it’s very easy to get so involved in setting up the premise of the book in an elevator speech that the protagonist can come across as passive, merely caught in the jaws of the plot.

There are a few code words that will let an industry-savvy listener know that your protagonist is fully engaged and passionately pursing the goals assigned to her in the book. They are, in no particular order: love, passion, desire, dream, fate (kismet will do, in a pinch), struggle, loss, and happiness. Any form of these words will do; a gerund or two is fine.

The other reason that this is a good elevator speech is that it alerts the reader to the fact that, despite some pretty serious subject matter, this is a book with strong comic elements (the big give-aways: the absurdity of Mr. Collins’ proposing after only a week, her family members’ odd predilections). Do make sure that the tone of your elevator speech matches the tone of your book; it’s more compelling as a sales tool that way.

You’d be surprised at how often this basic, common-sense advice is overlooked by your garden-variety pitcher. Most elevator speeches and pitches come across as deadly serious — usually more a reflection of the tension of the pitching situation than the voice of the book. This undersells the book, frankly. If the book is a steamy romance, let the telling details you include be delightfully sensual; if it is a comic fantasy, show your elves doing something funny. Just make sure that what you give is an accurate taste of what a reader can expect the book as a whole to provide.

If you really find yourself stumped, there is a standard (if old-fashioned) formula that tends to work well. Borrowing a trick from the Hollywood Hook, you can compare your book to a VERY well-known book or movie:

“For readers who loved SCHINDLER’S LIST, here is a story about gutsy individuals triumphing against the Nazis. + (sentence about who the protagonist is, and what is oppressing her) + But how can she pursue her passion to (secondary goal), when every aspect of the world she has known is being swept away before her eyes?”

This works for an elevator speech (better than in a pitch proper), because citing another well-known story automatically conjures a backdrop for yours; you don’t need to fill in as many details. What you do need to do in this sort of elevator speech is establish your protagonist firmly as an individual in FRONT of that backdrop, in order to be memorable. To do that, you will need to pepper the elevator speech with specific ways in which YOUR protagonist is different from the one in the old warhorse. As in:

”In the tradition of GONE WITH THE WIND, DEVOURED BY THE BREEZE is a stirring epic of one woman’s struggle to keep her family together in a time of war. Woman-Who-Is-Not-Scarlett loves Man X, and he loves her, but when half of her family is killed in the battle of Nearby Field, she can no longer be the air-headed girl he’s known since childhood. But will starting her own business to save her family home alienate the only man she has ever loved?”

Tomorrow, I shall delve into how to construct an elevator speech for a NF book, as well as explaining when to give your elevator speech and when your pitch — because yes, Virginia, they are not the same thing, at least in my lexicon.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The Building Blocks of the Pitch, Part VI: The Magic First Hundred Words

Hello, readers –

Happy Independence Day, everyone! Remember, it’s very, very helpful for a writer to have all of her fingers in working order — try not to linger too close to lit fireworks.

Okay, if you’ve been following the blog for the past few days, you will have already constructed several significant building blocks of your pitch. By now, you should have determined your book’s category (blogs of June 29 and 30), identified your target market (July 1), come up with a few strong selling points (July 2), and developed a snappy keynote statement (yesterday).

Today, I’m going to show you how to pull all of these elements together into the first hundred words you will say to ANYONE you meet at a writer’s conference, be it an agent or editor to whom you are pitching, a writer who is sitting next to you in a class, or the person standing next to you while you are dunking your teabag in hot water, trying to wake up before the 8 a.m. agent and editor forum. With these first hundred words, even the shyest, most reclusive writer can launch into a professional-sounding discussion with anyone in the publishing industry.

Nifty trick, eh?

Once again, I must add a disclaimer: this strategy is an invention of my own, the fruit of watching hundreds and hundreds of stammering writers struggle to express themselves at conferences all over the country, because they had blindly followed the pervasive pitching advice and prepared only three sentences — no more, no less — about their books. Which left them with precisely nothing else to say about it, or at least nothing else that they had polished enough to roll smoothly off their tongues. Half the time, these poor souls forget even to introduce themselves prior to giving their official 3-line pitch; most of the time, they pitch without having told the agent what kind of book it is.

Frankly, I think it’s rather mean to put well-meaning people in this position. There is certainly a place in the publishing industry for the three-sentence pitch — quite a significant place, about which I will tell you tomorrow — but there is information about you and your book that should logically be mentioned BEFORE those three sentences, so the agent or editor to whom you are pitching knows what you are talking about. And in the many, many different social situations where a writer is expected to be able to speak coherently about her work, very few are conducive to coughing up three sentences completely out of context.

There are social graces to be observed.

My goal here is to give you a lead-in to any conversation that you will have at a writer’s conference, or indeed, anywhere within the profession. Equipped with these magic words, you can feel confident introducing yourself to anyone, no matter how important or intimidating, because you will know that you are talking about your work in a professional manner.

Ready to learn what they are? Here goes:

”Hi, I’m (YOUR NAME), and I write (BOOK CATEGORY). My latest project, (TITLE), is geared toward (TARGET MARKET). See how it grabs you: (KEYNOTE).”

Voilà! You are now equipped to start a conversation with anybody at any writing event in the English-speaking world.

More importantly, if you learn this little speech by heart, you can walk into any pitching situation — be it a formal, 15-minute meeting with the agent of your dreams or a chance meeting at the dessert bar when you and an editor are reaching for the same miniature éclair — with ease. These magic words — which, you will note, are not generic, but personalized for YOUR book — will introduce you and your work in the language used by the industry, establishing you right off the bat as someone to take seriously.

This is crucial, as agents and editors are (as I believe I have mentioned before) MAGNIFICENTLY busy people; they honestly do prefer to work with writers to whom they will not have to explain each and every nuance of the road to publication. (That’s my job.) By the time many first-time pitchers get around to mentioning their books, after they have shilly-shallied for a few minutes, the agent in front of them has usually already mentally stamped their foreheads with “TIME-CONSUMING” in bright red letters. By introducing yourself and your work in the lingua franca of the industry, however, you will immediately establish yourself as someone who has taken the time to learn the ropes. Believe me, they will appreciate it.

One caveat about using these words to introduce yourself to other writers at a conference: it is accepted conference etiquette to ask the other party what HE writes before you start going on at great length about your own work. If you find that you have been speaking for more than a couple of minutes to a fellow writer, without hearing anyone’s voice but your own, make sure to stop yourself and ask what the other writer writes. In this context, the very brevity of the first 100 words will ensure that you are being polite; if your new acquaintance is interested, he will ask for more details about your book.

I mention this, because it’s been my experience that writers, especially those attending their first conferences, tend to underestimate how much they will enjoy talking to another sympathetic soul about their work. We writers are, by definition, rather isolated creatures: we spend much of our time by ourselves, tapping away at a keyboard; it’s one of the few professions where a touch of agoraphobia is actually a professional advantage. And let’s face it, most of our non-writing friends’ curiosity about what we’re DOING for all that time we’re shut up in our studios is limited to the occasional, “So, finished the novel yet?” and the extortion of a vague promise to sign a copy for them when it eventually comes out. (Get out of the habit NOW of promising these people free copies of your future books, by the way: nowadays, authors get very few free copies, and you don’t want to end up paying for dozens of copies for your kith and kin, do you?)

So at a writers’ conference, or even at a pitch meeting, the euphoria of meeting another human being who actually WANTS to hear about what you are writing, who is THRILLED to discuss the significant difficulties involved in finding time to write when you have a couple of small children scurrying around the house, who says fabulously encouraging things like, “Gee, that’s a great title!”…well, it’s easy to get carried away. For the sake of the long-term friendships you can make at a conference, make sure you listen as much as you talk.

By all means, though, use your fellow conference attendees to practice your first hundred words — and your pitch, while you’re at it. It’s great practice, and it’s a good way to meet other writers in your area. Most writers are genuinely nice people – and wouldn’t it be great if, on the day your agent calls you to say she’s received a stellar offer for your first book, if you knew a dozen writers that you could call immediately, people who would UNDERSTAND what an achievement it was?

Practice, practice, practice those first hundred words, my friends. Tomorrow, I shall move on to the elevator speech (that’s those pesky three sentences), and after that, pulling it all together for the pitch! So fasten your seatbelts, everybody – the fireworks of the 4th aside, it’s going to be a bumpy week. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S.: if you’re just tuning in, and you are still considering whether or not to attend this summer’s PNWA conference, would it be helpful to know a bit about the professional likes and dislikes of the agents and editors who will be available there for pitching? Check out my archived blogs for the skinny on what they’ve been buying and selling lately: April 26 – May 17 for the agents and May 18 – 26 for the editors.

The Building Blocks of the Pitch, Part V: Hitting the Keynote

Hello, readers –

Welcome back to my ongoing series on building a persuasive pitch. Shout hallelujah, citizens, for today, we are finally ready to tackle reducing your book to a single quip of bon mot-iness that would make Oscar Wilde blush furiously with envy. (Did you know that when he gave public readings, he NEVER read the published versions of his own work? Ditto with Mark Twain. They always added extra laugh lines, so that even audience members very familiar with their writing would be surprised and delighted. Interesting, no?

Today, I am going to talk about coming up with your book’s KEYNOTE, also known colloquially as a BOOK CONCEPT. What is it, you ask? The keynote is the initial, wow-me-now concept statement that introduces your book to someone with the attention span of an unusually preoccupied three-year-old.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea of WANTING to discuss your marvelously complex book with someone whose attention span precludes sitting through even an average-length TV commercial, let me remind you: sometimes, you have only a minute or so to make a pitch. After a very popular class, for instance, or meeting your dream agent coming out of the bathroom (hey, this is a glamorous business). Since any reasonably polite hello will take up at least half of that time, wouldn’t you like to be ready to take advantage of the remaining 30 seconds?

Seriously, there are several reasons that you might want to come up with a keynote statement for your book (other than that I told you to, of course). A keynote will allow you to be able to sound out someone in a hallway about interest in your book, to give an agent or editor an instant, read-made hook to sell your work, and to be able to sound like a professional writer on a moment’s notice. None of these are abilities at which you should be sneezing, smarty-pants.

Let me pause for a moment and focus on the last benefit on the list. One of the biggest differences between a professional writer and one who is new to the biz is how she answers the ubiquitous question, “So, what do you write?” Almost invariably, those unused to the question will betray their inexperience by shilly-shallying, giving evasive answers. A professional, on the other hand, will promptly tell the questioner in a couple of brief sentences the book category in which she writes, along with a quick quip or two about her most recent project. Not a long-winded speech, or boasts about her own writing talent, just a snippet about the book itself, to see if her auditor is interested before moving into more detail.

Agents and editors really, really like to see unpublished writers exhibit the latter behavior. They are acutely, even exaggeratedly, aware of how busy they are. (To quote those immortal social philosophers, the Bee Gees, all we can do is “try to understand/New York time’s effect on man.”) In their native habitat, these are people who fly into a fury if the woman in front of them in the deli line hesitates for fifteen seconds between pastrami or roast beef on her sandwich; just because they are our guests in the more laid-back PNW for a few days doesn’t mean that they shed that Manhattanite resentment of people who waste entire nanoseconds of their precious time.

Some writers don’t like to be perceived as tooting their own horns, which is understandable. But to someone trying to get a quick impression of whether a writer’s work might be worth sampling, demurrals do not come across as charming self-deprecation, but as an annoying disregard of the industry’s unspoken limit to how long a writer gets to take up an agent or editor’s time. No matter what anyone tells you, if you are over the age of 10, it’s just not cute.

Let me give you a non-writing example to demonstrate how irritating such waffling can be. I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, something I do not tell people lightly, as they either take an instantaneous dislike to me, assuming that I must be a snob, or glom onto me, assuming that I have the private ears of kings and presidents alike, having gone to college with them. (The old university joke illustrates the third unappetizing possibility: How does a pretty woman get men to leave her alone in a bar? She starts a rumor that she went to Harvard.) For these reasons, many of us who do not habitually go around wearing our institutional affiliations on our chests in the form of sweatshirts choose not to share our educational backgrounds in social settings.

So when you ask many of my classmates where they went to school, they will respond evasively, “In the Boston area.” Now, to any Harvardian, that automatically declares that the speaker went to Harvard; people who went to MIT or Tufts tend to say so. But to anyone who doesn’t know the code, it sounds like an invitation to further questions, doesn’t it? So all too often, the subsequent conversation degenerates into a cutesy guessing game, with the Harvardian giving more and more evasive answers until the questioner loses all patience and shouts, “What — did you go to Harvard or something?”

This is precisely what it sounds like to people in the publishing industry when you equivocate about what you write. They don’t like guessing games, as a rule.

Okay, out comes my fairy godmother wand again: the next time you hear yourself start to equivocate about what you write, I decree that you will start hearing STAYING ALIVE playing in the back of your head on a continuous loop. Surely, any sane person will be willing to go to any length to avoid that dreadful fate…so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Okay, back to the keynote itself. What is its goal? To pique your listener’s interest as quickly as possible, so s/he will ask to hear more. How do you accomplish this? By providing a MEMORABLY INTRIGUING PREMISE in a BRIEF sentence or two.

And did I mention that it should be memorable and brief?

There are two schools of thought on how best to construct a keynote statement. The better-known is the Hollywood Hook, a single sentence utilizing pop culture symbolism to introduce the basic premise of the book. Logical contradiction provides the shock of a Hollywood Hook, the combination of two icons that one would not generally expect to be found together. For instance, a Hollywood Hook for a book that teaches children the essentials of the electoral college system might be: “Bill Clinton teaches Kermit the Frog how to vote!” A book on alternative medicine for seniors might be expressed as “Deepak Chopra takes on the Golden Girls as patients!” A novel about sexual harassment in a tap-dancing school could conceivably be pitched as “Anita Hill meets Fred Astaire!”

Didja notice how they all ended in exclamation points? There’s a certain breathlessness about the Hollywood Hook, a blithe disregard for propriety of example. There’s a reason for this: in order to be effective as an enticement to hear more, the icons cited should not go together logically.

Otherwise, where’s the surprise? The whole point of the exercise is to intrigue the listener, to make him ask to hear more. If someone pitched a book to you as “A private investigator chases a murderer!” wouldn’t you yawn? On the other hand, if someone told you her book was “Mickey Mouse goes on a killing spree!” wouldn’t you ask at least one follow-up question?

I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the Hollywood Hook method of keynoting. Yes, it can be attention-grabbing, but personally, I would rather use those few seconds talking about MY book, not pop culture. Not every storyline is compressible into iconic shorthand, whatever those screenwriting teachers who go around telling everyone who will listen that the only good plotline is a heroic journey. (Use the Force, Luke!)

I once asked a screenplay agent who favored pitch compression how he would pitch THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, a book light on plot but strong on character development. What would one say? A butler butles quietly? Hardly a grabber. Without missing a beat, the agent answered, “I would just pitch it as, ‘based on the bestselling book.’”

I love this answer, because it illustrates the point of the keynote so beautifully: the message itself is less important than the fact that you get your hearer’s eyebrows to shoot up.

Which brings me to the other school of thought on constructing a keynote statement — and my preferred method — the rhetorical teaser. The rhetorical teaser presents a thought-provoking question (ideally, posed in the second person, to engage the listener in the premise) that the book will answer.

For example, a friend of mine was prepping to pitch a narrative cookbook aimed at celiacs, people who cannot digest gluten. Now, there are a whole lot of celiacs out there, but she could not automatically assume that any agent or editor to whom she pitched the book would either be unable to eat wheat or know someone who couldn’t. (Remember that great rule of thumb from yesterday: you can’t assume that an agent or editor has ANY knowledge about your topic.) So she employed a rhetorical tease to grab interest: “What would you do if you suddenly found out you could NEVER eat pizza again?”

Rhetorical teasers are more versatile than Hollywood Hooks, as they can convey a broader array of moods. They can range from the ultra-serious (“What if you were two weeks away from finishing your master’s degree — and your university said it would throw you out if you wouldn’t testify against your best friend?”) to the super-frivolous (“Have you ever looked into your closet before a big date and wanted to shred everything in there because nothing matched your great new shoes?”).

The main point is to make it — say it with me now — MEMORABLE. Don’t be afraid to use strong imagery (as in, “The earth is about to be covered thirty feet deep in lichen in three days. What would you do?”) If you can provoke a laugh or a gasp, all the better. Remember, though, even if you pull off the best one-liner since Socrates was wowing ‘em at the Athenian agora, if your quip doesn’t make your BOOK memorable, rather than you being remembered as a funny or thought-provoking person, the keynote has not succeeded.

Whatever you do, please do not confuse good delivery with book memorability. I once went to a poetry reading at conference that shall remain nameless because it got flooded out last year. A fairly well-known poet, who may or may not come from a former Soviet bloc country closely associated in the public mind with vampire activity, stalked in and read, to everyone’s surprise, a prose piece. I don’t remember what it was about, except that part of the premise was that he and his girlfriend exchanged genitals for the weekend (and then, as I recall, didn’t do anything interesting with them). Now, this guy is a wonderful public reader. To make his (rather tame) sexual tale appear more salacious, every time he used an Anglo-Saxon word relating to a body part or physical act, he would lift his eyes from the page and stare hard at the nearest woman under 40. (I’ll spare you the list of words aimed at me, lest our webmaster wash my keyboard out with soap.) By the end of his piece, everyone was distinctly uncomfortable — and remembered his performance.

Notice what happened here — he made his PERFORMANCE memorable by good delivery, rather than his writing. Sure, I remember who he is, but did his flashy showmanship make me rush out and buy his books of poetry? No. Did it make me avoid him at future conferences like the proverbial plague? Yes.

This is a problem shared by a LOT of pitches, and even more Hollywood Hooks: they’re all about delivery, rather than promoting the book in question. Please don’t make this mistake; unlike other sales situations, it’s pretty difficult to sell a book concept on charm alone. Even if you’re the next Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, or strange Eastern European sex fiend/poet.

Tomorrow, I shall discuss how to USE your newly-constructed keynote to wow all and sundry at a writers’ conference. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S.: For those of you who have not yet signed up for pitching meetings at the conference, please check out my archived blogs of April 26 – May 17 for the agents and May 18 – 26 for the editors. There, you will find information on who is representing and buying what these days, to help you make your appointment rankings wisely.

The Building Blocks of the Pitch, Part IV: Sell! Sell!

Hello, readers –

Yes, yes, I know: I don’t usually post on weekends, so why the Saturday AND Sunday posts? Nor do I generally post on national holidays, as I may well do this week. What’s the excuse for my unwonted chattiness, you ask? Well, I know that there are some of my faithful readers out there who would very much have liked to have been able to attend my pitching class last week, but being neither Seattle-area denizens nor possessors of teleporters, had to miss it. I’m trying to cover as much of the class material as possible by the end of this week, to help these fine people — and anyone else good enough to read my blog regularly — prep their pitches before the upcoming PNWA conference and the rest of the summer’s many literary conferences. I shall continue to give advice on the subject in the final days leading up to the conference, too, but I wanted to get the bulk of my sterling insights out to you early enough to give you time to ask follow-up questions.

Amn’t I a peach?

So welcome back to my series on the building blocks of a stellar pitch. Today, I’m going to talk about a little invention of my own, a single-page, bullet-pointed list of selling points for the book in question. This handy little document has more uses than duct tape (which, I’m told, is not particularly good at mending ducts). You can have it by your side during a pitch; you can add it to a book proposal, to recap its most important elements; you can tuck it into a submission packet, as a door prize for the agency screener charged with the merry task of reading your entire book and figuring it out whether it is marketable; your agent can have it in her hot little hand when pitching your book on the phone to editors; an editor who wants to acquire your book can use the information on it both to fill out the publishing house’s Title Information Sheet and to present your book’s strengths in editorial meetings. You can even, if you so desire, use it to give a paper cut to that particularly persistent admirer who keeps trailing around after you at the conference.

”Yeah, right,” I hear the more cynical out there thinking. “What is it, a Ginzu knife? Can it rip apart a cardboard box, too, and still remain sharp enough to slice a mushy tomato?”

Scoff if you like, oh ye doubters, but a really well-prepared list of selling points is like a really, really tiny press agent that can travel everywhere your manuscript goes. In addition to its practical benefits, having one prepared before your first interaction with an agent or editor also sends a very strong unspoken message: you are an author who has taken the time to learn how the business side of publishing works, and are more than happy to do everything in your power to make your agent and editor’s jobs easier. My agent liked the one I included in my memoir proposal so much that she now has her other clients add them to their packets, too.

So what is in this magic document? Single-sentence summaries of attributes (the book’s or yours personally) that make the book the best thing since the proverbial sliced bread. I’m not talking about boasts about its utility to humanity in general (although if your book actually CAN achieve world peace, by all means mention it) or inflated claims that it will appeal to every literate person in America (a more common book proposal claim than one might imagine), but about concrete facts about you and your book.

Your list of selling points can include market information, trends, statistics, high points in your background — anything that will make it easier to market your book. Why are you the best person in the universe to tell this story, and why will people want to read it? Is your novel based upon your twenty years of experience in the coalmining industry? Mention it. Include any fact that will tend to boost confidence in your ability to write and market this book successfully — and that includes references to major bestsellers on similar topics, to show that there is already public interest in your subject matter.

If you are stuck, think back to your target market (see yesterday’s post). Why will your book appeal to that market better than other books? Why does the world NEED this book — other than, obviously, the great beauty of the writing? As I pointed out yesterday, even the most abstruse literary fiction is about something other than just the writing — so why will the subject matter appeal to readers? How large is the book’s target demographic? And if you were the publicity person assigned to promote the book, what would you tell the producer of an NPR show in order to convince him to book the author?

Remember, the function of this list is ease of use, both for you and for those who will deal with your book in future. Keep it brief, but do make sure that you make it clear why each point is important. Possible bullet points include (and please note, none of my examples are true; I feel a little silly pointing that out, but I don’t want to find these little tidbits being reported as scandalous factoids in the years to come):

(1) Experience that makes you an expert on the subject matter of your book. If you have spent years on activities relating to your topic, that is definitely a selling point. Some possible examples: Marcello Mastroianni has been a student of Zen Buddhism for thirty-seven years, and brings a wealth of meditative experience to this book; Clark Gable has been Atlanta’s leading florist for fifteen years, and is famous state-wide for his Scarlett O’Hara wedding bouquets; Tammy Faye Baker originally came to public attention by performing in a show featuring sock puppets, so she is well identified in the public mind with puppetry. (Actually, I think this last one is at least partially true.)

(2) Educational credentials. Even if your degrees do not relate directly to your topic, any degrees (earned or honorary), certificates, or years of study add to your credibility. Yes, even if you are a fiction writer. (I have a very, very dusty doctorate that only sees the light of day at times like these. And, of course, to annoy medical doctors I don’t like.) Some possible examples: Audrey Hepburn has a doctorate in particle physics from the University of Bonn, and thus is eminently qualified to write on atomic bombs; Charlton Heston holds an honorary degree in criminology from the University of Texas, in recognition of his important work in furthering gun usage; Jane Russell completed a certificate program in neurosurgery at Bellevue Community College, and thus is well equipped to field questions on the subject.

(3) Honors. If you have been recognized for your work (or volunteer efforts), this is the time to mention it. (Finalist in the PNWA contest, in this or any other year, anybody?) Some possible examples: Myrna Loy was named Teacher of the Year four years running by the schools of Peoria, Kansas; Keanu Reeves won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1990 for his research on THE MATRIX; Fatty Arbuckle was named Citizen of the Year of Fairbanks, Alaska. As a result, newspapers in Fairbanks are demonstrably eager to run articles on his work.

(4) Your former publications and public speaking experience. If you have any previous publication whatsoever, list it, EVEN IF IT IS OFF-TOPIC. If your last book in another genre sold well, or if you were affiliated somehow with a book that sold well, mention it. If you have ever done any public speaking, mention it, too: it makes you a better bet for book signings and interviews. If you have read your work at one of the PNWA’s TWIO events, definitely mention it, because very few first-time authors have any public reading experience at all. Some possible examples: Diana Ross writes a regular column on hair care for Sassy magazine; Twiggy has published over 120 articles on a variety of topics, ranging from deforestation to the rise of hemlines; Marcel Marceau has a wealth of public speaking experience. His lecture series, “Speak Up!” has drawn crowds for years on eight continents.

(5) Associations and affiliations. If you are writing on a topic that is of interest to some national organization, bring it up here. Also, if you are a member of a group willing to promote (or review) your work, mention it. Some possible examples: the Harpo Marx Fan Club has 120, 000 members in the U.S. alone, as well as a monthly newsletter, guaranteeing substantial speaking engagement interest; Angelina Jolie is a well-known graduate of Yale University, which guarantees a mention of her book on tulip cultivation in the alumni newsletter. Currently, the Yale News reaches over 28 million readers bimonthly.

(6) Trends and recent bestsellers. If there is a marketing, popular, or research trend that touches on the subject matter of your book, state it here. If there has been a resent upsurge in sales of books on your topic, or a television show devoted to it, mention it. Even if these trends support a secondary subject in your book, they are still worth including. If you can back your assertion with legitimate numbers (see yesterday’s blog on the joys of statistics), all the better.

Some possible examples: novels featuring divorced mothers of small children have enjoyed a considerable upswing in popularity in recent years. A July, 2006 search on Amazon.com revealed over 1,200 titles; ferret ownership has risen 28% in the last five years, according to the National Rodent-Handlers Association; last year’s major bestseller, THAT HORRIBLE GUMBY by Pokey, sold over 97 million copies. It is reasonable to expect that its readers will be anxious to read Gumby’s reply.

(7) Statistics. At risk of repeating myself from yesterday, if you are writing about a condition affecting human beings, there are almost certainly statistics available about how many people in the country are affected by it. By listing the real statistics here, you minimize the probability of the agent or editor’s guess being far too low. Get your information from the most credible sources possible, and cite them.

Some possible examples: 400,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with Inappropriate Giggling Syndrome, creating a large audience potentially eager for this book; according to a recent study in the TORONTO STAR, 90% of Canadians have receding hairlines — pointing to an immense potential Canadian market for this book.

(8) Recent press coverage. People in the publishing industry have a respect for the printed word that borders on the irrational. Thus, if you can find recent articles related to your topic, list them as evidence that the public is eager to learn more about it. Possible example: in 1997, the CHICAGO TRIBUNE ran 347 articles on mining accidents, pointing to a clear media interest in the safety of mine shafts.

(9) Your book’s relation to current events and future trends. I hesitate to mention this one. Current events are tricky, since it takes a long time for a book to move from proposal to bookstand. Ideally, your pitch to an agent should speak to the trends of at least two years from now, when the book will actually be published. (One year for you to revise it to your agent’s specifications and for the agent to market it — a conservative estimate, incidentally — and another year between signing the contract and the book’s actually hitting the shelves. If my memoir had been printed according to its original publication timeline, it would have been the fastest agent-signing to bookshelf progression of which anyone I know had ever heard: 16 months, a blistering pace.)

If you can make a plausible case for the future importance of your book, do it here. You can also project a current trend forward. Some examples: at its current rate of progress through the courts, Christopher Robin’s habeas corpus case will be heard by the Supreme Court in late 2007 – guaranteeing substantial press coverage for Pooh’s exposé, OUT OF THE TOY CLOSET; if tooth decay continues at its current rate, by 2012, no Americans will have any teeth at all. Thus, it follows that a book on denture care should be in ever-increasing demand.

(10) Particular strengths of the book. What is your book’s distinguishing characteristic? How is it different from other offerings? Some possible examples: BREATHING THROUGH YOUR KNEES is the first novel in publishing history to take on the heartbreak of kneecap displasia; while Jennifer Anniston’s current bestseller, EYESHADOW YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS, deals obliquely with the problem of eyelash loss, my EYELASH: THE KEY TO A HAPPY, HEALTHY FUTURE, provides much more detailed guidelines on eyelash care.

(11) Research. If you have done significant research or extensive interviews for the book, list it here. Some possible examples: Leonardo DiCaprio has spent the past eighteen years studying the problem of hair mousse failure, rendering him one of the world’s foremost authorities; Bruce Willis interviewed over 600 married women for his book, HOW TO KEEP THE PERFECT MARRIAGE.

(12) Promotion already in place. Having a website already established that lists an author’s bio, a synopsis of the upcoming book, and future speaking engagements carries a disproportionate weight in the publishing industry — because, frankly, by PNW standards, the average agent or editor is barely computer-literate. Most major agencies don’t even employ in-house IT support for heaven’s sake. Consider having your nephew (or some similarly computer-savvy person) put together a site for you.

Okay, I can hear some of you out there, particularly novelists, tapping your feet impatiently by this point. “Um, Anne?” some of you say, with a nervous glance at your calendars, “I can understand why this might be a useful document for querying by letter, or for sending along with my submission, but have you forgotten that we will be giving VERBAL pitches at a conference less than two weeks away? Is this really the best time to be spending hours coming up with my book’s selling points?”

My readers are so smart; you always ask the right questions at the right time. Before you pitch is PRECISELY when you should devote some serious thought to your book’s selling points; I went through so many potential categories in order that everyone would be able to recognize at least a couple of possibilities. Because, you see, if your book has market appeal over and above its writing style (and the vast majority of books do), YOU SHOULD MENTION IT IN YOUR PITCH. Not in a general, “well, I think a lot of readers will like it,” sort of way, but by citing specific, fact-based REASONS that they will clamor to read it. Preferably backed by verifiable statistics.

You will be glad to have a few of these reasons written down before you meet with the agent of your dreams. Trust me on this one. And remember me kindly when, down the line, your agent or editor raves about how prepared you were to market your work.

Tomorrow, I shall move on to those magic words that summarize your book. Be prepared to get pithy, everybody. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini