Pitching

Know Your Genre When Making a Pitch

Awhile ago I received a call that illustrates a common error a writer can make when making their pitch…The problem of not knowing the genre in which they are writing. The call went something like this:

Writer: I’m calling to see if your agency handles Westerns.

Agent: That is a tough genre to sell in the current market but a lot would depend on how well you can write it.

Writer: Some places I’ve called have been rather rude when I ask that question.

Agent: I’m sorry to hear that. But an agency can only earn its keep if they can sell a project and a Western would be a long shot.

Writer: I’m frustrated because it takes place in the future and I think it is unique…

Agent: Wait. What? It takes place in the future? Not in the late 1800s?

Writer: That’s right. It takes place in a future time where someone recreates the Old West by buying up millions of square miles of land and bans technology and sets up a new “throwback” society.

Agent: That’s not a Western, that is Science Fiction. That changes your entire pitch! Sounds a little like the old Yul Brynner movie Westworld.

Writer: ???

And so the conversation carried on from there. Whether or not this was a viable book idea isn’t the point of this anecdote, instead it shows how an author can be summarily rejected because they start their pitch in the wrong place/genre.

Last year at a writers conference a similar thing happened. The writer sat down for their pitch session and began with “I’m writing a Fantasy.” Within a minute I knew they were on the wrong track. Their book was a thriller set in the U.S. in the near future with some sort of attack on American soil. The author thought because they were setting it in the future and making up the names of the President and other key people that it was a Fantasy.

You might roll your eyes and say to yourself, “I’d never make that mistake.” But don’t be too hasty. It can happen to the best.

Why is this important?

I’ll use a metaphor of sorts to explain. Readers buy their books that are inside specific boxes. Boxes labeled “romance” or “horror” or “thriller” or “self-help” or “theology” or “finance.” We readers reach into that box because we like that category or genre or want to gain something new from a book in that category or genre.

If your book is “mis-labeled” then the reader is confused. For example, pitching your book as YA when it really isn’t YA. Or a mystery when it is more of a suspense. Or a memoir when it is more of a self-help book. Or don’t pitch book on “Cancer Prevention” as something to be “shelved” in the Reference section (depending on the book it probably belongs in the health section).

But you shout “online stores don’t have shelves! Join the 21st century Steve!” Sorry to disappoint, but they do have “shelves.” But instead of physical shelves, the online stores have virtual shelves called BISAC categories. BISAC stands for “Book Industry Standard and Communication.” A publisher chooses which BISAC category to define the content of a particular book. (Those of you who independently publish know that Amazon will only let you use two categories.) A complete list of the categories can be found at this link (BISAC Categories). If you look at the list and click one of the major headings you will see that each is divided into a group of subheadings. For example, the fiction category is further broken down into 142 different types of fiction (that is not a typo, one-hundred-forty-two). The importance of these categories can be found in the online algorithms that say “If you bought that you might like this!” The computer looks at the metadata and makes its suggestion about similar books.

I jumped from simple examples to complicated metadata facts in the above paragraph while trying to explain why getting the genre right in your pitch is important. I’ll go back to a practical answer…I might not be able to sell a Western but I might be more interested in science fiction. I might not be interested in a memoir but I might be interested in a book about dealing with Cancer that is inspirational…they are not necessarily the same thing in the eye of the reader.

If you are unsure? Join a writers group and ask their opinion. Or better yet, go to your local bookseller and ask “what section of the store would my book be shelved?” And know that they can only put the book in one spot in the store. Your novel cannot be positioned a science-fiction romantic literary suspense thriller.

Meanwhile I’m working on writing my own romantic theological finance thriller called The New Beatitude: Blessed are the Purposeful.

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Do You Have Perfect Pitch?

Thanks so much for all the ideas for my mini-conferences. I’ll put those together soon.

Speaking of conferences, while I was at a writer’s retreat awhile back, I was struck, as I always am when in the company of writers, by the power of the right word used in the right way. On the first day of the conference, I had group meetings with the writers. This is where a group of writers come in, sit at a table together, and each takes a turn pitching his/her book to me to see if I would be interested in representing the author. I had six groups, each lasting a half hour, made up of anywhere from 5-7 people each. So folks had a total of 3-5 minutes to engage me in their project.

It’s the writer’s conference version of speed dating!

The cool thing is, a good number of those who came had such a strong understanding of their project and of the market that they were able to hook me in the first few words. Now that’s doing your homework! For example, one woman told me right off the bat her book was romantic suspense, what the main story line was (in a sentence), and what the conflict and spiritual takeaway were. That took about 45 seconds of her 4 minutes, so from there I asked questions about the story and focus and she was able to relax and just talk. I ended up asking her to send me the proposal. Don’t know if we’ll pursue it–the writing is what tips the scales, of course. But I was impressed with her well chosen descriptions. And if I’m considering two manuscripts and all things are basically equal, I’ll always go with an author who is, first and foremost, teachable, and then able to communicate the heart and soul of her story quickly and effectively.

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Charmed, I’m Sure

Dear Editor:

You really should meet this author! He knows all the best places to dine. I couldn’t believe the fabulous meal we were served at a hole-in-the-wall place I’d never heard of until I made his acquaintance. He has also been quite generous and charming to my family. My husband and my kids have nothing but great things to say about this wonderful author!

In our meetings both in person and on the telephone, he has convinced me that his book will sell millions! And because of his extroverted manner and considerable verve, I believe it really doesn’t matter if his book is any good or not. His platform isn’t anything great yet, but it will be — as soon as he gets paid your hefty advance so he can travel the country, taking meetings. In fact, he wants to meet with you at your early convenience. Can you fly out to meet him in Charlotte on Tuesday morning? 

Cheers,

Tamela

Of course I would never send this letter like it to any editor, but on more than one occasion, I have found that this is how authors seem to think marketing to editors works.

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