EP. 31: How To Pitch Your Book Idea To An Agent
Several months ago I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC and had a wonderful experience, and meet some fabulous people during that weekend.
Most of the people I connected with opted to pitch to the 50 agents that were in attendance. If you’re not familiar with pitching, it’s when you sum up your book in less than two minutes and “sell” it to an agent in the hopes that they’ll want to work with you and hopefully get you a book deal.
We all arrived on that Friday in the late afternoon knowing we had signed up for the pitch segment of the conference, but not exactly sure what we were in store for.
The moderators did a fantastic job of prepping everyone and allowed for Q & A as well. I met a woman in the first workshop that day and we decided to practice our pitches as we waited for the next session to start. I had prepared my pitch the week leading up to the conference and had typed and printed it out. Riding on the train to NYC, I practiced my pitch in my head about 30 times. However, when I read it out loud to my new friend Claire, I stumbled midway through and stopped, realizing that I needed more practice.
My first recommendation is to practice your pitch out loud with someone that you don’t know. You will most likely practice it with family or friends the week leading up to when you’re pitching, but I would also suggest running through it with a few strangers if you can muster up the nerve.
In preparing for my pitch, I followed the guidelines that Writer’s Digest had sent out via email the weeks leading up to the conference. I started out with two pages and by the time I got to NYC and had sat through their workshop on preparing to pitch, I had it down to about 10-12 sentences.
I thought about what my book was about and what I was trying to convey to the reader.
I was feeling a bit apprehensive because I had to tell the agents that my book was about men’s personal and sexual experiences with women. I somehow had to quickly share that I had interviewed over 400 men and asked them about their experiences with women and relationships. I wanted them to know that I had information about married, single and divorced men between the ages of 21-79 from all different races and backgrounds. I had information about men’s feelings, desires, needs and fears to share with them including my own learning’s from all the interviews.
I felt it was important for the agents to know that I had first asked over 100 women what they wanted to know or understand about men in order to generate the 52 questions that made up the interviews for men. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get all this information across to the agents in less than 90 seconds (the time allowed to pitch to each agent).
The exercise of narrowing down your pitch is extremely valuable because it forces you to clearly define your vision for your book.
According to some of the moderators at the Writer’s Digest Conference, your pitch is essentially your query letter that you will be sending out to agents.
On the Friday evening of the conference, I went back to my hotel room and rewrote the pitch several times over and over again. I typed it up and printed it out in the business center and read it out loud to myself about 15 times that evening. For me, rewriting and speaking out loud are the best ways for me to learn and I do my best when I memorize something, so that’s what I did. They recommended that we don’t read from a script when talking to an agent, but I decided to memorize it and knew that I would be better able to discuss my book and hit all the highlights if I did it that way.
The experience of pitching reminded me very much of my training in Pharmaceutical sales. You are given an amount of information that you must learn and memorize and then demonstrate your knowledge in front of a group of people while being videotaped. It’s rather terrifying at first, but once you do it a few times it becomes second nature and you know your only choice is to learn the information as well as you can in the time that you have. That is how I handled it. Having that background helped tremendously and I was not nearly as nervous as I would have been otherwise.
My experience of pitching was very fun and I enjoyed it very much. I approached the experience as a way to learn more about the industry and I realized that it’s not everyday that you get the chance to speak live with so many agents, so I took it very seriously.
My best advice would be to take the preparing of your pitch very seriously, but make the time you speak to the agents fun and don’t be afraid to be yourself. They are people too and don’t want to be read to in a monotone voice. Express to them as much as you can, your excitement for your book and allow your true personality to come through.
Success of any kind is usually about connecting and creating relationships with people. Use your time wisely to get your point across, but don’t be afraid to ask them a few questions about themselves if time allows. People do business with people they like and feel a connection with, so don’t be afraid to be yourself.
I learned a great deal from pitching my book and feel as though I have a much better handle on what I’m trying to convey to the reader and the direction I want to go in with my book.
Regardless of the stage that you’re in with publishing, I would highly recommend pitching in any setting if you have the opportunity. Not only will it help you be more concise about your idea, it can help bring your book to life!
Good luck, have fun, and pitch away!