Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to Make the Perfect Pitch

Andy Ross is a literary agent with offices in Oakland, California. Before becoming and agent, he was the owner of Cody's Books in Berkeley. You can read more on Andy's blog, Ask the Agent.

Recently I was invited to be a judge at the Pitchapaloosa event at Book Passage organized by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry to promote their new book, The Essential Guide to getting Your Book Published. (By the way, this is by far the best book for a writer seeking a publisher.) We listened to about 20 people putting themselves out there in front of an audience with only one minute to pitch their book. The writers all deserve medals for courage.

I thought it might be a nice thing to post this blog with some tips about how to make the perfect pitch. Writers, listen up!

Weak: I am willing to go on an 8 city tour (they probably won't send you, and this indicates that you might have unrealistic expectations. They used to let you travel first class and stay at the Ritz Carlton. They're hard up now, so expect to go by Greyhound.)

Strong: I am willing to schedule an 8 city tour at my expense ( Any other ideas that include: "at my expense" are always popular with publishers)

Weak: This would be a great story on Oprah (uh-huh. It's also the oldest story in the book. Similarly unrealistic)

Strong: I am sleeping with Oprah's hairdresser. ( If you are going to pitch media connections, they should be concrete and have reasonable expectations of results. But don't oversell yourself. They are experienced bull shit detectors.)

Weak: I am willing to go to book signings at my local bookstore (They know that anyway. And this won't sell books).

Strong: I have arranged presentations with the staff at Google. Steve Jobs loves my book and has agreed to purchase 5000 copies to give to the key Apple employees at Christmas time. They are also interested in purchasing non-verbatim electronic multi-media rights as an app for the I-pod. (This is too good to be true, so you better get Steve to write a letter to that effect. Publishers love sales outside of bookstores. It is like free money.)

Weak: I will reluctantly agree to be on Fresh Air, schedule permitting. (If you don't have fire in your belly to aggressively flog your product, you will not be well received. )

Weak: This will make a great movie (see Oprah above).

Even weaker: Excuse me. I have to get off the phone. Stephen Spielberg is on the other line. (see above reference to bull shit detectors.)

Strong: Film rights for this product have been optioned to Stephen Spielberg (But don't forget – an option is a long way from a movie)

Very Strong: Film Rights have been sold to Stephen Spielberg. Brad and Angie are signed up. Currently being filmed on location in Montana. (This pitch doesn't happen very often).

Strong: I am the extremely charismatic and controversial governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate. (Don't worry that she is inarticulate, has nothing to say, and can't write. Hey, it's all about celebrity).

Strong: I am the extremely charismatic and controversial former governor of Alaska who has quit in ridicule. (Hey, it's all about celebrity).

Weak: My neighbor will host a publication party. (See book signing above)

Strong: My neighbor is Barak Obama, and he will give a publication party at the White House (nuff said)

Weak: My friends loved this book. (Your friends won't tell you the truth).

Strong: My friend, Bill O'Reilly (Rachel Maddow) loved this book. (Connections, connections, connections).

Weak: My mother and spouse loved this book. (Oh, come on!)

Strong: My mother is the former governor of Alaska and she loved this book. My former boyfriend hated this book and will go public and tell tawdry and salacious tales about me. (In this business, there is no such thing as bad publicity.)

Weak: I'll set up a blog and a website (whoopee!)

Very Weak: I have a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day and will promote my new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My blog is called

Strong: I have a blog that gets 50,000 hits a day and will promote my new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My blog is called (All blogs are not equal. All successful blogs are not equal).

Weak: Your readers are going to love this book. It is like Petrarch meets Robespierre. (Although publishers are infatuated with pitch lines premised on dubious and glib equivalencies, the pitch must be based on subjects that are readily recognized – usually in the Safeway checkout line).

Strong: Your readers are going to love this book. It is like the Bronte sisters meet the Olson Twins. (Now that's a pitch!)

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