Getting Author Talks: How to Pitch Your Book

In 2020 I was lucky enough to win a place on the Fremantle Press/Four Centres Emerging Writers Program which gave me a year-long pass into some incredible workshops and opportunities in the Perth writing community. One of those was being a fly-on-the-wall at the Fremantle Press Breakfast, an annual event where recently published (and upcoming) Fremantle Press authors gave their pitch to an assembled room of event planners, booksellers, school reps and librarians.

Last time I was wearing my writing hat.  This year when I attended, I was wearing my bookseller’s hat.

The article I wrote in 2020 covered some of the lessons I took away as a writer on how to pitch your book – and yourself – in a limited time. The authors were given only two minutes to create a compelling story about why they should be hired for author events. As I watched another cohort of authors present their novels, I took away some new lessons, and this is the updated article.

Given that the ASA recommends a rate of $300+ for a 60-minute school or public appearance, this fee can be the equivalent of selling 100 books. For picture book authors like myself, who share royalties with an illustrator, that can be the equivalent of selling over 170 books.

It’s clear why authors are keenly interested in author talks and school appearances.

These are some of the lessons I took away:

  1. Be funny.

There is no better way to get people on your side than to make them laugh. Not only does it tell people you’re comfortable in front of a crowd, it also tells potential bookings that you won’t bore them silly.

2. If you can’t be funny, be memorable

Sometimes the subject matter of your book means it’s not appropriate to tell gags, but you can still grab people in other ways. Tell highly emotive or personal stories about yourself and how your book came into being. Make them remember you, even if they can’t remember your specific book.

3. Be authentic

If you’re not a funny person, don’t try and tell jokes. If you’re not 12, don’t do cartwheels to get to the front of the room, if your natural style is to be serious and quiet, then be serious and quiet. It’s important to be authentic in your pitch – while you might be able to sustain a high-energy, joke-a-second style for a two-minute pitch, you will quickly be found out if you can’t replicate it for an hour-long talk.

4. Pitch yourself as well as your book

The most successful pitches were those where I learned more about the author than the book. It’s possible you will have another book next year, but you – the author – are still the same. It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is, if you haven’t sold yourself as an interesting speaker.

If you are bilingual, pitch in another language. If you are dual-heritage, make it known. If you have a disability, share it with the audience. Won a major award? Don’t be shy. What makes you unique? Why will people remember you?

5. Tell a story about your story

Personally, my favourite pitches were those that started with the story behind the story, where the author launched into a personal account of how the idea came about, how the book came to be. I was immediately captured. It’s one thing to say what your book is about, an entirely different thing to explain why it is the way it is.

6. Talk in themes

If you only have two minutes to grab someone’s attention, you don’t have time to explain the plot in detail. A number of authors took the approach of talking about the book’s themes rather than its plot – ‘it’s a story of love, it’s a story of societal expectation, it’s a story of challenging authority…’.

Trying to tell the audience your entire synopsis can easily backfire. A two-minute pitch is not the right place to go into the detailed backstory and relationships of a cast of thousands and can come across as boring, even if your book is the best thing to be published all year.

7. Be mysterious

Some presenters chose not to talk about the plot at all. Not a single hint of what the story might be about, just a plea to read the book and an invitation for the audience to make their own mind up. This only works in certain circumstances and when other information has been provided, but done authentically, it certainly piques the audience’s interest.

8. Go beyond the book

Some of the more established authors took the approach of mentioning the bigger topics they liked to discuss. These were not tied specifically to their latest book, but were topics they had been researching and involved with over their writing career and felt passionate about. These pitches seemed particularly aimed at festival directors who might engage authors to moderate or be involved in panel discussions.

9. Make your book relevant

Some of the best pitches did not just focus on the book as a finite product, but placed it into the larger context of current affairs such gender diversity, reconciliation, environmental concerns, disability, LGBTIQ issues and humanitarian matters. Broadening your book’s appeal by placing it into a larger context would automatically increase the range of events you might be asked to speak at.

10. Name Drop

This obviously won’t work for every writer or every book, but if your book is about someone famous, or they were involved in the writing, or they’re your second cousin’s next-door neighbour, drop their name and watch the heads start nodding in the audience.

11. Locate your book’s audience

One small thing I notice lacking from some pitches in 2020, was explaining exactly who the book’s audience was. I could see from the cover it was a children’s or YA book, but could not tell exactly what age group the book was for. For someone interested in booking a school talk, I imagine this piece of information would be very relevant.

The authors in 2023 nailed this element including being very direct and saying ‘this book would be excellent for Baby Rhyme Time’ which I thought was particularly clever.

12. Locate your book’s characters

As writers, we are often asked to say where our book would sit in a bookshop, but until this year, I hadn’t heard any of the pitching authors do this in their two minutes. Particularly useful for novels, referencing well-known literary figures is a great way for the audience to instantly locate your book and know what to expect.

13. Appeal to other writers

Some of the authors specifically pitched to writerly audiences, barely mentioning their books but instead talking about some of the topics they would be happy to discuss at workshops and writing events. Some of these might be researching specific topics, writing for particular audiences or writing in a distinctive style.

14. Fake it til you make it

Writers that stood up and looked calm (even if they were dying inside) and sounded unrehearsed (even if they’d been practicing for weeks) gave off a more confident air than those who read from notes. I can only assume that the people who book author events are looking for writers who don’t need to spend an hour staring at their notes. Practice practice practice. It doesn’t need to be word-perfect, just know the main messages you want to get across and then pretend you’re chatting to a friend.

15. Weddings, Parties, Anything

As obvious as it sounds, you need to make clear the range of events you are available to speak at. There’s more out there than just school and library talks. Some writers mentioned business and motivational events, book clubs, running writing or illustrator workshops, mentoring and more. Specifically mention writing festivals and panels if that’s what you want. Also be explicit about the things you don’t do, such as running workshops.

More and more, writers are using some of their pitch time to give an abbreviated CV, mentioning relevant jobs BW (before writing) such as if they had been a teacher, a journalist or had personal experience of the topics and themes of the book. If your job gives you experience with public speaking, definitely mention it. This all acts to reinforce and reassure event planners that you will be able to do a good job of teaching/informing/entertaining your audiences. Similarly, if you have experience talking at Writer’s Festivals and speaking on panels, mention this, as people will know you’re a good hire.

If you’re brand new to this with zero experience, see #14.

Many thanks to Fremantle Press and Dymocks Subiaco for inviting me to this event.

Published by Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a Perth-based writer and storyteller

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: