Perfect Pitch

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I just returned from ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) in Orlando where I had the opportunity to pitch several of my clients’ projects in person. This is one of my favorite parts of agenting. Instant feedback. As I prepare the presentations for each editor or editorial team I always try to choose the projects I think will be a good fit. But as I begin to talk about the author and the book, there’s nothing like seeing an editor lean forward, start making notes on the margin of the presentation sheet and then pepper me with questions. Fun! When they dream up different ways to slant the book, or come up with stronger titles, or brainstorm how it can be marketed , I can’t help but grin.

This year I had a number of projects that seemed to spark that kind of reaction. One of those is Kim Van Brunt’s book, Telling the Truth About Adoption: How Honesty Can Heal. With Kim’s permission, let me use her as an example of why a book sparks interest across the board.

Unique Angle— Most books on adoption tell about the joys, the moral imperative, the process or the happily-ever-after. Kim’s book is about what happens between excited adoption blog posts. It’s an honest, vulnerable look at the difficult emotions and painful realities in adoption while exploring how God redeems our brokenness with His beauty. A distinctive take on a familiar subject is always a plus.

The Right Writer— Publishers no longer want the jack-of-all-trades writer, the generalist. Nothing has as big a draw as a book written by a potential go-to person for that category. Using my example, Kim is an adoptive parent and has invested years in the adoption community. She’s known and respected there. She’ll be able to help her publisher reach her key demographic. Bingo!

An Innovative Partner— These days publishers are looking hard at platform for nonfiction authors. I know we hate to hear this but it’s reality. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a mega-platform but having a savvy sense of how to use social media is a huge plus. Kim not only uses social media to connect with her potential audience but she created some innovative tools for her eventual publisher. She’s written a practical self-help adoption guide to be issued as an ebook “short” and offered it to the publisher to be used as a promotional tool. Brilliant! And she also created a video blog post (vlog), talking about the book. Her publisher can use this with the sales team or even the pub committee. It allows the team to see how she communicates– an important aspect of being a go-to person. Here’s her vlog:

A Compelling Proposal— I pitched this book confident that the proposal answers all the publisher’s questions. Next week I’m going to blog about the importance of the proposal, but for now, let me just say that a carefully constructed proposal sells a book to a publisher in the same way that a professional business plan sells a business to the banker.

Great Writing— We always say, “This goes without saying,” but we need to say it. Over and over. As I sent out Kim’s proposal and sample chapters, I was confident that her decade as a professional journalist shows.Great writing.

The perfect pitch grows out the perfect package. With Kim’s project I had a unique offering, written by the right author– one who had invested years in her subject and audience. Her knowledge of social media and how to effectively use it gave us a leg up. Her proposal was polished and engaging, showcasing her writing skills. We were able to create a QR Code to drop into the proposal, taking the editor or team member right to Kim’s video and website with one click of a smartphone. What’s not to love?

I used Kim as an example. (Thanks, Kim for volunteering as our guinea pig.) These ideas and approaches worked perfectly for her subject and audience. But each author has to come up with his own distinctive way of showcasing his proposed project. Remember, we’re talking about a nonfiction project here. Platform is entirely different for a novelist.

My questions for you: Did deconstructing this pitch/ proposal/project give you ideas for your own? How is it different for fiction? Are you spending pre-published time connecting with your potential audience? (Or are you spending the majority of your time connecting within the writing community?) Do you see why saying, “I hate writing proposals,” or “I hate thinking about marketing” just won’t cut it in today’s publishing world?

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36 Comments

  • Thanks so much, Wendy! I’m honored to be used as an example. It was interesting to read how you break it down from an agent/publisher perspective, even though I know the project well. :) Thank you for helping me put all the pieces together!

  • Wendy and Kim, that was so helpful. If the book hasn’t sold already, I hope it does quickly!

    Wendy, I’m guessing Kim came to you with a strong proposal. If a book captures your attention, how much effort will an agent put into a proposal to bring it up to this level? Not to say that the agent needs to do all that, but I’m sure you can look at each client you take on and point out something they can include to make the proposal even stronger.

    Fiction and non-fiction proposals are always different, but this really gave me some good ideas. I’m adding this post to my proposal file for future reference. Thanks for sharing, ladies.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Sally, this proposal did come to me fully fleshed out but agents often put a lot of time into helping shape the proposal. At Books & Such, we have a certain format we use so proposals often have to be reworked into that format.
      I’m going to talk about those not-ready-for-prime-time proposals next week but I’m beginning to see a correlation between how a well-thought-out book and a complete proposal. I’m also seeing that a sloppy proposal is often a sign of a book that still hasn’t found itself.

  • Thanks for this information, Wendy. It affirms my belief that social media and an online presence is important to publishers. I’m doing all I can right now–within reason–to connect online. When I first started my blog, I wrote about writing, but I soon realized that meant I was really only reaching fellow writers. So I began to blog about other issues that were pivotal in my novels, like faith and sometimes more difficult issues. I also post about life in general and have questions that anyone can answer. I mostly get writers comment on the blog, but I think some others who aren’t writers read it.

    I know a fiction proposal is different, and would love to see a similar breakdown of a fiction client you’ve pitched. :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Lindsay, you nailed it. It is fun to hang with writers but an agent and a publisher hope to see you hanging with your intended audience. It’s part of that building process.

    • Hey Lindsay!
      I really like your point about issues that are pivotal in the novel. When I get home, there are going to be some posts about justice, mercy and most importantly, about how Christ must be the centre of healing.
      I’d also like to see a fiction client’s pitch broken down in a similar manner.

  • Jeanne T says:

    Such great insight, Wendy. I love how you broke down this process using a “real” proposal to show how I can make mine better. I’m soon to take the leap and prepare my first-ever proposal for fiction. I’m nervous, but your practical suggestions and insights will help me.

    I am still working toward beginning a blog to reach my potential audience. My biggest challenge is finding the time to begin and to post three times a week. Thanks for this post, Wendy!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Don’t forget that while a blog might be the best use of social media for a nonfiction writer, Facebook, twitter or even interest may be a great option for a fiction writer. There’s no one size fits all with social media.

      • Amanda Dykes says:

        Wendy, I love this point. It’s interesting to me to see the mix-and-match type combos that different writers settle into in the social media world: some play the Facebook arena more than Twitter, others vice-versa, and others mainly through their blogs.

        I, like Jeanne, have had to put some real thought/effort into how in the world to reach a fiction audience through the blog of an pre-published writer. I just now have taken my weekly devotional-type post and added another weekly feature to it– “Better Than Fiction: Real Historical Romance Tales”. I’m hoping it strikes a chord with historical romance readers, since that’s my genre in fiction. I guess it’s a grand experiment, as most things are until each writer gets their perfect social-media mix dialed in… and even then, that “perfect mix” is always growing and changing with the ebb and flow of social media and trends.

      • Amanda Dykes says:

        Oh! And, I’ve found that another great way to connect with potential fiction readers is by sharing their love of reading over other authors’ work. It helps support fellow authors, builds an organic and genuine relationship with readers, and is just plain fun. I do this by co-hosting an online book club, mostly through our Facebook page.

      • Jeanne T says:

        You’re right, Wendy. Do you have any tips for effectively utilizing facebook and Twitter to reach potential readers? I’m still trying to figure that out. :)

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        Jeanne, as far as tips to reach out to potential readers, I just watch what others are doing. There’s so much creativity out there. You will be unique because you will combine great ideas with your distinctives.

        Don’t forget that it does take time to get to know your audience. With each book you’ll discover more and more about them. Consider yourself a sleuth– using every piece of information to build a picture.

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        Amanda, I love your “Better than Fiction.” What a great feature. We can’t get enough love stories.

      • Miranda says:

        Hi Jeanne,
        In answer to your question, for twitter, I suggest you get busy with hashtags like #reading, #amreading, #readers, #booktweets, #bookreviews, #reviews, #amazonlikes, #amazon, and any others that you may discover. Tweet about books in your genre that you’ve read and you could highly recommend as a good read. Insert links to web pages that have information on these books, and your tweets will get some attention. Over time, your followers will come to trust your judgement and retweet your tweets, and recommend you to their followers.

        As for facebook, insert links to your posts that lead to web pages with the book information for reader friends; you could also create an open readership group, like an online book club where you and your reader friends discuss your favorite books – pick a book you could discuss all week; and then another for the next week. Encourage them to spread the news- it’s an open group. If you have a blog, announce this group there. You could also share your goodreads shelf in your posts, and with the group.
        Encourage them to like other authors and their books on facebook. In turn, these authors could also help you reach a larger audience when you are ready to publish. Some readers only hear of a new author when their favorite author announces them; and they take their recommendations very seriously too.

        Well, for now, these are the ideas I can
        come up with. I hope it works for you. Just remember, that helping to build other authors, could also be helpful to you. Keep in mind that it is important to enjoy helping out, not just because of the end benefit.

        Have fun!

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        Great tips, Miranda.

        Speaking of helping other authors out. . .

  • Way to go, Kim!

    Thank you, Wendy, for your insight! Social media has opened wonderful doors for writers. While it doesn’t mean we need to embrace each and every thing necessarily, I believe we should find a few things that we’re comfortable with and stick with them. I like blogging and FB, and I especially love Twitter. I enjoy connecting with folks not simply as another “number,” but as a way to meet new friends and share like-minded interests.

    As you noted, great writing is a must, and “marketing” is the creative avenue we use to share our message. Together, they create a winning combination. Love it!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I love your attitude, Cynthia. You’ll be successful at social media just because you see it as an opportunity.

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    Like Lindsay, I started blogging for other writers, then realized I wasn’t building audience (though I made some wonderful connections that I treasure!). One of my most successful ways to reach potential, future readers (or, as we say in the South, people who might could buy my book one day) is to post poetry. I’ve gotten great responses to my poems, some of which have been published. It gives me some credibiity with the world at large as a “writer” and pulls folks in. I posted the first poem because I’d forgotten to write an entry for that day and boom! off and running. Who knew?

  • Wendy, this has been quite helpful. I’d happily offer to let you use my novel to do a fiction pitch. I know, right? How kind and unselfish of me.

    ;)

    But I do confess to being surrounded by chocolate bar wrappers and IV’s of Earl Grey whenever I even think about writing my pitch. But since I’m on the road, I’ll just wait til I can do it for real.

    Unless of course, you’re bored…

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      You are so selfless to offer, Jennifer. :-)

      When I’m referring to pitch here, you can tell I’m talking about a whole lot more than just a pitch paragraph. Pitches come at many stages of your book marketing from tentatively putting that first idea out there to a full proposal and later, helping marketing develop sales material to support your book.

      If you can somehow come to love this part of the process you’ll be able to leave some chocolate on the shelf for other shoppers. And you’ll be an even better partner to your agent and publisher.

      I often think that if only I had time, I’d learn to create websites, do video and master apps and all the new technologies. What tools we have at our fingertips these days!

  • Amanda Dykes says:

    p.s. “Perfect Pitch”– clever title!

  • I like the unique angle this book takes. Thanks for showing us these steps, Wendy (and Kim)!

    And, like others have commented, thank you for pointing out that we need to connect with potential readers, not just fellow writers. It seems to be “easier” (I say that knowing it’s not at all easy) to build community among other writers (who are also readers) since most of us love to look for community among each other!

  • Tanya Marlow says:

    Thanks – this was really helpful. Great to have such concrete things to work on.

  • Julie Garmon says:

    Thank you for the love, honesty, and tears it took to write this book. Such a warm interview, too–you seem so friendly!

    May the Lord bless your effort~

  • Megan Sayer says:

    Wendy I LOVED your comment about “not a mega-platform, but a savvy sense of social media”.That’s so freeing! I don’t have the former yet, but I definitely have the latter. One question though…although it’s easy to talk numbers that may or may not mean anything to an agent (eg I have XXX number blog followers and attract XXX hits per day on average), how do you quantify understanding and those small inroads you’re making regularly into building a platform?
    Thanks.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Megan, I know a lot of people talk about quantifying your social media presence but I think that’s too simplistic. It’s like the old adage, quality, not quantity.

      Due diligence is an important part of researching a potential author. When I start checking up on someone who interests me I can quickly get a sense for how they connect, how appropriate they are in interactions (a biggie for me) and whether they are building or just going through the motions because someone said they need to do social media.

      Building the kind of platform that matters takes time, just like any trust-building exercise.

  • Tianna Clore says:

    Rather than echo what everyone else said regarding how interesting of a point it is to use social media as a marketing tool (which I completely agree with), what touched me the most was your obvious enthusiasm for your client. Ms. Van Brunt is incredibly lucky to have an agent who is so excited about her project. I pray that, one day, I will be as lucky! Wishing Ms. Van Brunt the very best of luck!

  • Ann Bracken says:

    As an adoptive parent I’m very interested in Kim’s book! I love comparing notes.

    This was very helpful. It’s true that I’ve spent more time connecting with the writing community than I have with readers. I appreciate Miranda’s comment on how this is done. Those of us who are technotards have difficulty with this concept.

    I’m really looking forward to your post on proposals!

  • Oh wow! I popped over to catch up on the blog here and this post is a timely encouragement. My book announcement video just went up this morning:

    http://www.preschoolersandpeace.com/pandpblog/2012/8/1/why-it-will-be-quieter-around-preschoolers-and-peace-for-a-m.html

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