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« Lesson 13: Pitchy Behavior | Main | Lesson 11: Pitch University Ultimate Challenge (“Prepare to Die!”) »

Lesson 12: How to Impress an Agent, Editor, or Reader - The Five Spheres of Greatness 

**This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.”  Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.** 

Michael Larsen is a literary agent and consultant to nonfiction writers.  He and his wife, Elizabeth Pomada, will be our guest agents for the Pitch U Pitchfest week beginning February 27, 2010.

He and Elizabeth are co-directors of the San Francisco Writers Conference (free downloads here), February 18–20, 2011,  and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference.

[Pitch U Note:  If you only get to one conference this year, make it the San Francisco Writers Conference.  Keynote Speakers: David Morrell and Dorothy Allison, plus 80 agents, editors, and authors.  Literary Agent Katharine Sands will be giving a special workshop on pitching.  She's here at Pitch U January 30th.]

Michael Larsen is also the author of the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal (due out in April, link is to the 3rd edition), the third edition of  How to Get a Literary Agent, and coauthor of the second edition of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work. 

How to Impress an Agent, Editor, or Reader - The Five Spheres of Greatness

The Mythical Writer

Back in December, literary agent Michael Larsen, posted a tongue-in-cheek letter to Santa (A Mythical Agent’s Christmas Wish).

"Dear Santa," he wrote, "I know I only deserve coal this year, but is there any way you could send me a perfect author for Christmas?"  (Can't you just see him sitting on Santa's lap?  I'm pretty sure this has reality show written all over it.)

He then he listed all the possible traits, features, attitudes, and savvy this mythical writer would have.  In real life, one or two of these traits would make us writers stand out head-and-shoulders above the pack.

But what I noticed is that these wishes fell into five categories, and if you understand what attributes you bring to the table, you can use this to boost your pitches and wow agents, editors, and even plain old readers.

Sphere 1: Hey, I like you!

From Michael's wishlist:
■is attractive, passionate, has a sense of humor, and is a pleasure to be with.
■has a charismatic presence in person and in the media that imbues listeners with contagious passion.
■promotes with grace and relentlessness.
■is impeccably professional.
■under-promises and over-delivers.
■inspires the best efforts in an agent, editor, and publisher, and is faithful to them.
■expresses gratitude so generously that people are always eager to help.

Be the person you'd like to meet and work with.

Show up looking and acting the part of a professional writer and CEO of her/his own company. Treat those around you with respect and as a partner. Display sincere interest in the person you're is talking to and always operate out of core of values that stress, integrity, generosity, quality, and deep passion for the publishing, entertainment, and topic-related industries.

Allow the best, most authentic parts of your personality to shine through (humor, intellect, kindness, whatever makes you, YOU).

How this influences pitching:

What if instead of coming to a pitch session as a writer desperate to sell a book and get a yes, you showed up ready to build a relationship that you'll enjoy, and that will benefit you both year after year?

Sphere 2: Expert Smarts

From Michael's wishlist:
■is an expert on books by all significant authors of related books.
■stays up to date on books, publishing, promotion, and technology.
■has great connections to the events, authors, organizations, opinion-makers in the field and the world of writing.
■obtains quotes from people who don’t give them.
■uses technology for promotion, getting feedback, sharing, and learning.
■provides a promotion plan that assures success.

Spend your lifetime learning and participating in the success of your career so that your expertise in what you do and how you do it makes you (and your "writer as sole-proprietorship" business) a true hallmark of success.  Be seen and interact as an expert.

How this influences pitching:
What if instead of coming to a pitch session as a writer who is small and needs help, you showed up feeling qualified and confident in your knowledge of what you have to offer (which is, at the very least, an excellent book that can be enjoyed by a certain segment of the readership... and interests you to the point of being the focus of your writing business)?

Yes, even if you're nervous about pitching.

Sphere 3: Creative Light is On

From Michael's wishlist:
■comes up with irresistible ideas and titles.
■regularly turns out word-of-mouth and -mouse bestsellers, each better and more profitable than the previous one.
■writes books that are sold in other forms, media, and countries.
■anticipates shifts in readers’ tastes and interests, and satisfies them.
■always wonders how to do anything more creatively.

Become a creative entrepreneur, where your main asset is not just your creativity, but also how you bring it to life and give it form in a way that's fresh and meaningful.

How this influences pitching:
What if instead of coming to a pitch session as a writer full of vague hopes, you showed up as someone taking specific, zesty actions...including the action of pitching your book?

Sphere 4:  Passion in Action

From Michael's wishlist:
■writes out of love for craft and readers, and sees income as validating the books’ value.
■has a network of readers to provide feedback.
■serves a huge, ever-growing community of fans and helpful professionals.
            * writing and promotion
            * time spent online and off
            * personal and professional obligations.


Enjoy all the aspects of what you do, let it show, act on it and inter-act with others because of it every day.  Be the person who fearlessly follows passion in the most delightful and practical ways.  

How this influences pitching:
What if instead of coming to a pitch session uncertain if a specific book or novel will be "good enough," you showed in love with this and all the things you do for and through this project, and the next, and the next?

Sphere 5: Advanced Skill Level

From Michael's wishlist:
■writes the last draft first in a distinctive, addictive voice.
■is dedicated to becoming a more effective author and finding new ways to serve readers better.
■accepts the inevitability of problems and solves them.
■is such a paragron of virtue that Lady Luck bestows her blessings.
■sells so well booksellers always have stock and never return it.

Go on a quest to become great at everything you do, build skills until skills turn into wisdom and savvy.  Recognize luck and how to make it.  Recognize quality and when you've achieved it.  Be awesome.

How this influences pitching:
What if instead of coming to a pitch session with the idea that this is the end result of writing, you showed up ready learn and improve your ability to connect with an agent, editor, or reader.  It's that simple.


So those are the 5 Spheres of Greatness.  So, am I saying that you need to mention these in your pitch?  (I can hear you laughing.)  No, not at all.

I'm saying live and thrive in these 5 spheres.  Aspects of these will show up in your body language, how your respond to questions, and how you engage the person you're with.

As you practice your pitching here at Pitch U during Pitchfest Weeks, you'll realize that once you're past being nervous, once you're confident about how you tell someone else what you're book's about, you have the chance to get to know another human being who is also working on his/her own Spheres of Greatness.


Diane Holmes is the Founder and Chief Alchemist behind Pitch University.

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Reader Comments (2)

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Free of Snark, Finger Pointing, and Personal Attack

This is a professional environment. Be professional. No one is fooled by the phrase, "I'm just being honest."

Agents and Editors will be viewing your comments. If you can't be kind toward your own fellow-writers, the thought is you'd make a pretty miserable client.

Don't be* that* writer.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

I enjoyed this post and Michael's take on pitching. Turning it around so that we see it more from the other side of the table/desk/monitor helps make the whole process more a personal exchange than a make or break audition. Not that it isn't an audition, but at least it's a friendly audience. Thank you.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise Golinowski

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