It’s Shark Tank, Pitches

I once sat for a pitch during which an author arranged her self-pubbed book, a standing tri-fold marketing plan, related merch, and a sheet of sales points and irrelevant stats on the table in front of me. At minute nine of the ten-minute appointment, I interrupted her recitation: “You have a book, you have a tote bag, so what do you need me to do?” She said she wanted an investor who could help her market the book. I asked how many she’d sold on her own. She’d sold zero in ten months. Splat.

A well-defined pitch does not a successful product make.

I don’t only watch the Great British Bake Off. I also watch Shark Tank. It delights me to watch entrepreneurs, passionate about their ideas, hoping to find a partner to take their product to the next level. Every time a new person steps onto that rug and launches into their pitch, I think about queries.  (Of course, I’m the Shark in this scenario.)

Writers and queriers are generally very good at telling agents and editors what they have. Pitches are practiced and honed and sound pretty good. But without having a polished product and understanding the larger market, and where your product (book) fits into it, the pitch doesn’t do me much good. (Did you guys see the ST where the guy pitched the surgical Bluetooth implant? Great pitch, ridiculous product.)

Queries are for you to tell me what you’ve got, yes. It’s most easily digestible if I know you know there is a market for what you’re selling me. Your book is a product. If there are too many others like it, there’s little shelf space for another. If there is absolutely nothing like it, there might not be a market for it at all.

The people who get deals on Shark Tank are the ones who’ve done their due diligence. They’re not weekend inventors holding up a prototype made of toothpicks and peas. They don’t speak in hypotheticals. They’re not hobbyists. They know their market. They know their customer. They’ve made dozens of prototypes and tested and redesigned. (Is this analogy holding up?) And after all of that, they head in looking for investors.

This is why you owe it to yourself to do your research. If you’re writing picture books, read every new picture book on the shelves each week. If you want to sell me a YA novel (and I hope you do), it’s important that your frame of reference is wider than Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars. Much, much wider. I may not be as awesome as Barbara Corcoran (yet), but my hair is almost as good, and I expect as much from my partners as she does. (For the record, I don’t understand the appeal of Pipcorn.)




Welcome to the Party

Wow, there is just endless social media out there these days. Remember when it was just Friendster and no one really knew what that was? Now Facebook dominates along with Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Hyper, Bebo, Ello, This, and a million other new things cropping up daily.

How’s a writer supposed to keep up? There’s only one sane way, in my opinion, and that is to only use what you enjoy.

It’s true that writers need to do the majority of their own book marketing these days. So wouldn’t it make sense to have an author page on Facebook populated by tweets and Tumblr posts? Why not get that information out there in all the ways possible?

Put yourself on the other end of that. You have a writer friend. You’re plugged into four or five shared outlets. Suddenly, your interface is blowing up with all the same “mybookmybookmybook” information. Ugh. Is that what friendship is these days? It’s not, really. Is it? (Note to self: Stop this blog from pushing out to Tumblr because I don’t really use it enough.)

Social media is for a lot more than marketing and letting the world know we’ve got books to sell them. It’s a party, and it really works best when people engage with one another to build and support a community. Some parties are fundraisers, but no one wants to go to a fundraiser every day.

To roll with this analogy: Some people can go to all the parties alone and have a great time. Some people need a hand to hold at just one. This is why God invented @ and #. Those silly little symbols allow us to shout across the void and say “Hey @, I hear you and I think #.”

Self-promotion is good. Building relationships within a community is better. Figuring out which social media works for you doesn’t need to be hard. If you find yourself saying “Ugh, I guess I better join Twitter, gross,” then it’s probably not the platform for you. Anytime you find yourself forcing a post or a tweet or a #whatever, then that particular social media outlet isn’t working for you, and it becomes anti-social media. You’re the person at the party who was dragged by a friend who promptly ditched you in the corner, scowling.

If you’re not sure which social media you like best, it’s okay to make an account here and there and lurk and see how the party rolls. You gotta read the room so you’re not the lampshade guy in a room full of low-talking highbrows.

If you don’t know people at the party, start small. Make conversation. Listen. Respond. Speak directly and clearly. Invite others into your fold. Retweet.

And please, for the love of all of your new social media friends, post about things that are not your book. If all I read are excerpts of your WIP, or that you’ve changed your title again, or that the Kindle edition is now only $1.99 without finding out that you crashed your hoverboard or made meatballs or heard a great joke this weekend, the party will turn on you. Be a good guest. You don’t have to go to all the parties, but you should have fun at the parties you do go to.

And above all, fix me a cocktail.