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« Lesson 23: Myths of Pitching Vs. A Real Strategy | Main | Lesson 21: Once Upon a Pitch… »
Tuesday
Jan252011

Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy)

**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.**

What a delight to introduce Laurel Marshfield, a generous, wise writing pro, whose unique insights offer our Pitch U writers exactly what they need to take an ordinary pitch and make it memorable and compelling.

Laurel is a professional writer, developmental editor (aka “Book Doctor”), and ghostwriter who helps authors shape, develop, and refine their book manuscripts for publication. She offers manuscript evaluation, developmental editing, co-writing, collaboration, ghostwriting, book coaching, and consultation for authors.

Her blogsite publishes inspiration and advice for the author’s journey: Blue Horizon Communications And her free eBook, available for newsletter signup (see the upper right-hand corner of her homepage) is titled: I Need to Be a Bestselling Author – Is That True? :: The Five-Destination Roadmap to Authorship. On Twitter, you can find her at: @BookEditorLM

~*~*~*~*~* 

Pitching an agent or editor is not all that different from writing a simple story with a beginning, middle, and end. Except.

Your “pitch story” isn’t about a handful of fictional characters. It’s about you -- a real person -- and how you came to write this book that you want an agent to rep, or an editor to buy.

No mention of the book hook, core conflict, or story arc?

They’re all a necessary given. But what agents and editors really want to know is whether or not You will be a good investment of their time, energy, and professional capital.

WHO Are YOU? (Said the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland)

Agents and editors want to know Who You Are. What makes you fascinating and unique (apart from being a talented writer). Even more importantly, they want to know whether you’re mature enough, responsible enough, even sane enough to behave reliably to the many demands of being published.

Can you step up? (Or will you go into meltdown during the first round of manuscript changes?)

Do you understand that publishing (as opposed to writing a marketable manuscript) is a team sport? And will you play well with all the others who are needed to get your book into the marketplace?

The Real Hurdles You Face

During a ten- or fifteen-minute pitch session at Book Expo America or some regional writers’ conference, agents and editors can’t always discern your publishing maturity.

You, however, can calm their worst fears. And you’d be wise to do so -- because these are the real hurdles you face (apart from having a book worth publishing and a strong author platform).

Here’s how you can give agents and editors more of what they’re really looking for. Tell them who you are -- in a compelling and engaging way – while at the same time describing the excitement and magnetic appeal of your book project (using five or six crystal-clear lines).

Can’t quite picture it? See if this hypothetical example helps.

The ER Physician Turned Author

Standing in line at a pitch-fest set up in Hawaii for first-time authors is an emergency room doctor who’s been working the night shift for over two decades.

There’s very little human behavior Dr. ER hasn’t heard about or witnessed. Stress or trauma, combined with the hour (usually two or three in the morning) encourages people to share what’s really troubling them with the reassuring doc who’s checking their vital signs.

Over time, all these intimate human encounters made a huge impression on Dr. ER. So much so, he gradually developed a theory about a core aspect of human behavior -- before combing the research, looking for corroboration.

After learning that his theory was, for the most part, correct, Dr. ER began writing in his spare time, eventually turning his theory, research, and patient stories into a book with broad appeal.

Now he’s waiting to pitch his book to an agent who handles subjects like his.

What Would You Do?

The critical question is, should Dr. ER focus (a) on stories about his patients, (b) on startling research findings, (c) on the problem his book can solve (since it goes against the cultural norm), or (d) on what led him to write it, in the first place?

What would you do?

What Dr. ER should do is cover all those things, but present them through the lens of who he is.

And who is he? He’s an ER physician (responsible -- entrusted with life and death decisions) who is creative enough to look at a core cultural norm in a new way (unique and controversial -- will elicit strong responses from reviewers and interviewers).

He’s also an author who can tell fascinating stories about a world or subculture that few will ever experience (will interest even a casual talk show audience – so there’s both popular and “highbrow” appeal).

Using this made-up example, do you see the difference between pitching your book and pitching yourself as the author of your book?

The latter gives agents and editors much more of what they want to know -- before they consider your project a viable one. And there’s a very good reason why this is so. Without a fascinating, unique (and responsible) author, a book manuscript is only a ream of used paper.

_____________________________________________________________ 

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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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    Lesson 22: Identity Pitching (Why Who You Are Is Your Best Pitch Strategy) - Pitch University - Learn to pitch from Agents and Editors
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Reader Comments (8)

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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 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterDiane

I love this article! And I'd love some thoughts on how this applies to novels. Thanks, Laurel!

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Laurel,

You make a wonderful point! When I practiced interior design, I wanted clients who had some knowledge of my field and were was stable enough to deal with adversity (for example: What if a container ship sunk with their handcrafted chest aboard?). It makes sense to represent 'my-author-self’ as the type of person I’d want as a client.

Susan Reynolds Smith

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Reynolds Smith

This was a terrific article and makes total sense! You're selling yourself as much as you are selling your book. I understand that point, but what I was wondering is when the pieces don't fit so nicely together- how do you choose the important bits to share. For example, my book is set mostly in the jungles of Malaysia and is a thriller about doctors trying to understand what killed the majority of an Orang Asli tribe. I grew up overseas and lived in Malaysia for 18 years, am a teacher and went back there to teach for a year. I think living there would be a good point, but what else do I include? Thanks for the help.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Purcell

Hi, Stacey -- What you most likely want to do is briefly tell the story of how you became interested in the core subject of your book. What about it spoke to you, given your experience in Malaysia? Why did you find this compelling enough to devote an entire book to, and, as a result, why would other people find it compelling as well? But hook that information to the fact of your living and working in a country that relatively few Americans are familiar with, and perhaps make a case for your own feeling of attachment to what perhaps feels like home to you, but what could seem like an exotic locale. Make yourself into an interesting "character," an author with a fascinating life and story to tell. Does that help?

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurel Marshfield

Hi, Susan -- I'm so glad you picked up one of the main points of this post and applied it so easily. A related point is the importance of learning all you can about writing and publishing before you start pitching agents and editors. I often get inquiries from people who have written a book that is their very first effort, ever (and they expect any editor they hire to "clean it up" for them, though they're sure it won't need much improvement -- all their friends love it). But what they're really inquiring about is this: They want to know "the secret to getting an agent." They're sure that such a secret exists, and if they just knew what it was, their book would be an instant bestseller. It's thrilling, really, to see how this works. In any other profession -- neurosurgery, say -- no one would expect to gain admittance with no knowledge of the field. But becoming an author is, truly, no different from entering any other profession. You need to spend time studying and learning and growing first. And, when you're ready, studying, learning, and growing into an ability to pitch agents and editors. :O)

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurel Marshfield

Hi, Diane -- For novelists, it's really no different: You need to tell the story of why you became interested in this particular subject matter or story. How does it relate to your own life? Or, what about your life made you especially responsive to this storyline? Somewhere, there's a connection, and once you find it, see if you can't use that interface to present yourself as an "expert" in this area. For instance, Anna Quindlen wrote a dark but finally "transcendent" novel about suburbia titled, I believe, Every Last One. And while she was already famous as a columnist for Newsweek, she does have experience as a suburban mother. So, she would want to tell the story of how this idea occurred to her, what about kids in today's world led her to feel that this particular story spoke to something larger, and perhaps, what she experienced directly that touched and moved her and led to the novel. Any novelist can do that. Does that clarify this a little more?

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurel Marshfield

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