Episode 1: Pitch Perfect

Time-Stamped Show Notes

[0:00] – ADVERTISEMENT: Visual Quill.

[0:41] – SEGMENT ONE: Doug Miller begins telling a story about his friend Chuck Dorsey’s unintentional pitch.

[4:27] – INTRO: This episode of From the Margins is about Making the Perfect Pitch.

  • [4:52] – In this first episode of From the Margins, we share pitches from you and stories from an agent, a publicist, and an author.
  • [5:04] – From the Margins intro starts.
  • [5:45] – Chuck’s “pitch” was great, but authors do not usually have multiple days to pitch their books.
  • [6:21] – “What’s your book about?”
  • [6:36] – “Enter the elevator pitch. This is that famed hypothetical scenario when you have that one crucial chance to impress some influential publishing bigwig.”

[7:00] – SEGMENT TWO: Girl Friday Productions asks people to pitch their book ideas at Seattle’s annual Bumbershoot Festival in 2015.

  • [8:26] – “So everyone’s got a book in them, right? Sometimes the difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is the published writer’s knack for pitching a book idea effectively.”

[8:39] – SEGMENT THREE: “In publishing, there’s a series of gatekeepers that you have to pitch to. Often, one of the first gatekeepers is a literary agent. And to catch an agent’s attention, you need to pique his interest in the opening lines of a query letter.”

  • [8:52] – Howard Yoon, a literary agent and principal of the Ross Yoon Agency, offers insight into approaching a literary agent.
  • [9:30] – The “slush pile” is for unsolicited submissions. Don’t send your manuscript unless the agent gives you permission to send it.
  • [10:03] – Customize your query letter! Do your homework. Think about it as though you’re applying for a job.
  • [10:30] – Avoid setting off an agent’s “crazy radar.”
  • [11:27] – “Give the agent or publisher the sense that you understand the business side of things.”
  • [12:02] – The first question an author should ask herself: “Can somebody make money off me?”
  • [12:44] – “You know you want to represent a book when, in the midst of reading it for the first time, whether it’s a proposal or a manuscript, you start thinking about all the editors in New York you would want to send it to.”
  • [13:13] – “An agent assesses the best qualities of your book, then reaches out to all the possible editors who value those qualities.”

[14:19] – SEGMENT FOUR: Pitching yourself through social media, book tours, and marketing and publicity strategies.

  • [14:40] – Andrea Dunlop offers insight into using social media to promote your book.
  • [15:42] – “There’s being a writer and that’s about the art . . . and then there’s the job of being an author, and that’s where all that marketing stuff comes in.”
  • [16:02] – “Do you need to get involved in social media to promote yourself?” It’s a big missed opportunity if you choose to ignore it.
  • [16:41] – You’ve used social media, but not as an author. Where should you start?
  • [17:21] – You should use social media to talk about more than just your book.
  • [18:04] – The marketing side of publishing can be scary. Pick and choose the social media tools that can be most effective for you. Choose the ones you have fun with.
  • [19:03] – “Being a writer involves a lot of self-care.”

[19:21] – SEGMENT FIVE: There’s the query letter, the pitching your agent does, the pitching you do on social media, and the pitching your book does all on its own.

[21:03] – ADVERTISEMENT: Visual Quill (custom book trailer).

[22:36] – SEGMENT SIX: The story of John Kennedy Toole’s path to publication.

  • [23:01] – This story is about an author who didn’t follow a traditional path to publication.
  • [23:17] – John Kennedy Toole and his mother, Thelma Toole, are introduced.
  • [23:29] – Cory MacLauchlin, author of Butterfly in the Typewriter, begins discussing the Tooles.
  • [23:56] – Toole wrote The Neon Bible in high school.
  • [24:22] – Toole began writing A Confederacy of Dunces while serving in the army.
  • [24:39] – Toole sent his manuscript to Robert Gottlieb at Simon & Schuster.
  • [25:01] – Gottlieb had discovered and edited Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
  • [29:28] – Clip from a 1981 TV interview featuring Thelma Toole.
  • [30:34] – Toole began suffering from paranoia and hallucinations.
  • [31:41] – Toole and his mom got into a huge fight. He withdrew all his money and went on a two-month road trip.
  • [32:08] – Toole committed suicide.
  • [32:29] – Thelma was depressed after her son’s death but found her son’s manuscript and sent it off to publishers.
  • [33:00] – Thelma sent over-the-top cover letters with the manuscript. She wasn’t the best at marketing.
  • [33:22] – When Thelma saw that Walker Percy was teaching a class at Loyola, she decided she would try to get him to publish Toole’s manuscript.
  • [33:33] – Archival clip of Thelma Toole.
  • [34:15] – Archival clip of Thelma Toole.
  • [35:09] – Walker Percy asked his wife to read the manuscript.
  • [35:44] – Brief summary of A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • [36:23] – Percy believed he could tell the merit of any work on the first page.
  • [36:49] – Archival clip of Thelma describing Percy’s response upon reading the book.
  • [37:30] – Problems of a dead author from a marketing standpoint: author can’t sign books, give talks, or take interviews. The book just has to float somehow on the merit of the work itself.
  • [37:52] – Percy found an interested publisher in Louisiana State University Press. Only three thousand copies were printed for the first edition. More than 3.5 million copies have sold. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981.
  • [38:29] – At Anagrama in Barcelona, Jorge Herralde asked for the manuscript and translation rights. He only put out five thousand copies.
  • [39:22] – Copies of the book sold out by word of mouth alone.
  • [40:09] – “What’s notable about Toole’s path to publication is that he didn’t use many of the typical pitching strategies that exist in today’s book market. He didn’t have an agent. He wasn’t around to help market his book after it was published. But what he did have was good writing.”
  • [40:41] – The type of pitch that matters the most is perhaps the writing itself.

[41:11] – FINAL SEGMENT: Devon checks in on Chuck Dorsey.

  • [42:01] – Dorsey got a lot of rejection letters when he was writing children’s stories. The stories lost something to him because he was so busy pitching them.
  • [42:23] – Being a writer is about craft and story and process. Being an author is about the pitch and the publicity and making your work vulnerable to the world.

[42:53] – CLOSING: This episode was Girl Friday’s pitch.

[43:27] – Closing credits.

Key Points

  • The main point of the pitch: to hook the listener/reader so they want to hear the end of the story.
  • Learn how to write a good query letter.
  • Be open to the social media options authors can use as marketing tools.
  • Study book titles and subtitles.
  • Remember that perhaps the most important pitch is the writing itself.

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