A few years ago, I first met the indomitable force of nature known as Diane Holmes. Diane’s not only a writer, she’s an amazing resource-builder for all writers, and during the time I’ve known her, I’ve seen her pour countless hours into a writing group’s annual contest, single-handedly organize retreats with publishing and creativity professionals from all over the country, and most recently launch a brand-new absolutely FREE project known as Pitch University, where writers can not only learn about the art of pitching, but can also create video pitches viewed by acquiring agents. Wowza! Wish that had been around when I was looking for my first agent!
Thank you, Diane, for stopping by Boxing the Octopus to answer a few questions.
DH: It’s nice to be part of the jolly crew! Thanks for inviting me.
BtO: Writers are often called upon to put together brief descriptions in order to sell projects, something that might be done in an e-mail or query letter. What made you feel the need to focus on the art of verbal pitching?
DH: Well, the number one reason is that I suck at it, which has always frustrated me! After all, my Dad was in sales, and I grew up immersed in it. Plus I have a degree in Marketing, for Pete sake. And, no, the problem is not public speaking, because I founded two writers groups and have given lectures, workshops, and writing retreats.
But when it comes to pitching… the problem is me pitching my own book. It matters too much, if you know what I mean. And I have no perspective!
The second reason is that while there are a number of quality e-resources focusing on writing query letters, there wasn’t any long-term resource focusing on hands-on learning (your book, your mouth!) for verbal pitching. And now, there is!
I found myself in the unique position of understanding that pitching is a type of sales career for many people, and we could learn how to pitch our books from these experts who make their living at it. And I understand why, as a writer, it’s so very, very hard.
BtO: What are some of the things you’ve noticed that can go wrong with authors’ verbal pitches?
DH: There’re really only two things that go wrong in a pitch: presentation or content. You may laugh at that, because it sounds so rudimentary, but pitching feels so overwhelming it helps to simplify the experience. Most writers experience stress over both areas, intensified by the perceived high stakes (a.k.a. “my career is over unless I get a yes.”)
The presentation piece is easy to “get.” Of course it’s difficult. We’re writers (behind the scenes) vs. actors (out on stage). And it doesn’t matter if we’re extraverted or introverted writers. Our strength is the written word and things that happen inside our own heads. Suddenly, none of that expertise matters. And we tend to realize this right about the time we’re sitting down at an agent appointment
The content piece is murkier. Agents and editors truly believe no one knows our books better than we do. (And that somehow this knowledge will translate into being able to generate a good pitch.) But, in a way, that’s like saying the makers of Listerine know their product better than anyone else. Who needs an advertising department? We’ll have the chemists do the advertising.
So, we authors know our stories, but we don’t necessarily know how to sell them. And to make matters worse, what sounds good to us may not be effective.
These are the types of topics we’ll be exploring at Pitch University. Our focus is on becoming effective and developing real skills that work.
BtO: Tomorrow, I'll be posting the second half of Diane's interview, where Diane gives some great tips on improving the focus of your pitch's content!
View From the Hotel Window, 8/30/14: Decatur, GA - The window overlooks an inner courtyard. The people you see in it are probably authors, here for the Decatur Book Festival. It’s very festive! My event is ...
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