Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to pitch a book

Over the weekend, I attended my second San Francisco Writers Conference. It was exhausting. All the networking, pitching and self-promoting wore me down. For an introvert like me, it was like being at a high school reunion for 36 hours. Sober. With a cold sore.

But I persevered. Despite the grueling schedule and social awkwardness, the conference was a huge success for me. I pitched my book DOUBLE-BLIND to seven literary agents and one editor, and all of them were interested. They all requested sample pages. One agent requested the entire manuscript!

I have a few words of advice for anyone who’s going to pitch a book in two minutes or less:

  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it ridiculously short.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Speak loudly.
  • Make eye contact (this means don’t read off a piece of paper).
  • Know what genre your book belongs to.
  • Only mention your point-of-view characters.
  • Repeat your key message at least once.
  • Now cut some words and make it even shorter.

Remember that each agent will get pitched at least 100 times over the weekend. If you try to go into the subplot about the nephew’s drug problem and the gardener’s affair, eyes will glaze over. With a shorter pitch, you leave the agents a chance to ask questions. And once they start asking questions, it’s no longer a pitch; it’s a dialogue. They’re just looking for a glimpse, a feeling.
Something they could turn around and pitch to a publishing house – and sell.

I’m no expert, of course, but I followed these rules and my pitch worked every single time – last year and this year.

I’m ecstatic that there was so much interest in my novel. But I’m also trying to temper my expectations. I got the feeling these agents requested a lot of stuff from a lot of people. And no one has seen my writing yet. Still, it’s got to be an advantage over querying them cold. When I send my pages, I can write REQUESTED MATERIAL; or, WE MET AT THE SF WRITERS CONFERENCE; or, I WAS THE GUY WHO SPILLED MY DRINK ON YOUR LAPTOP. Okay, that last part didn’t happen, but if it did, at least I’d be remembered.

Speaking of being remembered, here’s another tip for conference-goers. I put my picture on my business card. Cheesy, yes, but it turned out to be a fantastic move. Looking at the dozen cards I collected over the weekend, I’m wishing every one of them had a picture. I’m already having trouble remembering who’s who, and I talked to some of these people for hours. The agents probably got a hundred cards --and they only spoke to me for a few minutes.

The cards were a good idea, but I’m thinking I should’ve taken it a step further. Next year, maybe I’ll wear a ridiculous hat, or shave my head into a Mohawk. Then I’d have an even better chance of being remembered. (To the guy at the conference who actually had a Mohawk: I’m not making fun of you -- you’re a freaking genius).


  1. You should do next years in your chicken costume.

  2. Great job Peep! Even w/o a memorable business card or appearance, your talent would speak for itself.

  3. Why not ride around on a unicycle juggling chain saws? It sounds like the whole process was a circus anyway, just add carnies and games you'll never be able to win no matter how hard you try to recreate them at your house and practice all summer long.

  4. Sounds like a positive weekend for you and your book. Your blog fans look forward to more future good news updates.

  5. Ryan - good idea!
    Leaf Blower readers, he's referring to the time when we built one of those swiveling rope ladders in my backyard... so we could practice and win a stuffed animal at the county fair. We grew up in Fresno. There wasn't a whole lot to do.

  6. B-Craw: "Introvert"?

    Does anyone have the YouTube clip of a guy running around in a chicken outfit, through the streets of PB, after a torrential downpour, behind a reporter doing a live news break?

    Anyway, congrats on finishing the book!

  7. Okay, so I'm an extrovert when I'm wearing a chicken suit. One more reason to wear it next year!

  8. Don't you have a 70's afro wig?? Maybe you should try wearing that next year? I'm just saying.... :)

  9. Wow! You had a better track record than me. This is Annie btw, one of those crazy conference goers that you spilled your drink on ^_^. Haha, ok, maybe that wasnt true either... but I do understand about the introvert reaction- that whole experience was a little intimidating! But I got pretty used to it and it turned out really fun. Keep me updated with what happens with your manuscript.

  10. what's up Brian,

    I dropped by your blog to see how your writing has been going, and I was excited to see that you've finished your book and are out promoting it to agents! Best of luck to you, and I look forward to seeing it on the shelves.

    P.S. If you had arrived at the Writers Conference wearing that chicken suit, I'm sure the guy with the mohawk would have smacked his head and said, "why didn't I think of that!"

  11. Hi Other Brian Crawford - thanks for checking in. One day, our books will be next to each other on the shelf - or the e-book catalogue.

  12. the robin hood outfit was fairly...uh...memorable...

  13. I'm so excited for you! Can't wait to hear that you have a publisher!!

  14. You might show up as naked guy. In San Francisco people might not think that was out of the ordinary though...hmmm....