**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.