Last Saturday, March 31st, I had the privilege of speaking with a number of editors and agents about My Stroke of Luck, the book!! YES!
So many of you have asked if I have or will have a book, or asked to read or buy the script, that when the San Francisco Chapter of the Women's National Book Association announced Pitch-O-Rama, a conference bringing 14 editors and book agents together with up to 60 writers and a panel "Secrets of Successful Book Marketing", I leapt at the opportunity.
With help from my published author friends, (special thanks to Linda Gonzalez, about whose memoir, The Cost of Our Lives, one agent said, "There's too much you in it." !!!! A helpful anectode to steel me for what might come) I crafted the obligatory one page non-fiction "summary", with 2 pages of notes for me of additional talking points, practiced a 3 minute pitch (each pitch was allotted 6 minutes, but I wanted to leave time for questions, dialogue, and improvising), brought my show fliers and business cards, swapped my Marin Mom comfy gear for a selection from my Interesting Creative, Yes, You Want to Know What I Have To Say gear, packed my jicama, nuts and green shake, and off I went.
Greeted at the door with smiles and handshakes, then into a huge room with chairs, folding tables and a huge continental breakfast spread including brownies, muffins, home backed rum and apple cakes, chia seed and coconut milk pudding, bagels with smears, fruit, and dozens of snack bars and candies, including Dove Easter Eggs and Rice Krispy Treats. (Women sure know how to take care of each other!). I was very glad I ate my steel cut oats with black cherries and pecans before I arrived, so wasn't even tempted.
After a welcome, the pre-pitch session began. Two author/editors moved to different parts of the room. As the group swarmed, I followed the author closest to me, Amanda Mctigue, a fellow Yalie and actor turned storyteller/ writer. "Forget the word PITCH," were her first words. "Think of it more like dating. You're here to start a conversation." She then invited volunteers to share their prepared openings with her. In many ways, it was like any other prep session. "Breathe". "Slow down." "Good to start with your name." "Look me in the eyes." "Put down your paper, look at me, connect, now speak." "Forget what you've memorized. In time you'll be able to be natural with it, but for now, just talk."
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, her framework was a little different from the one outlined on WNBA website, being more connection than information driven. For me, having had a hard time working all the talking points into one page, and knowing those way exceeded 5 minutes, her approach was a huge relief. I could see that for some, her suggestion was overwhelming, which Amanda immediately sensed: "Just one person's point of view. For today, go with what you brought. Think about all this for the next time."
To one author who started with, "I have written 4 unpublished novels," Amanda suggested pitching only one. "Four unpublished doesn't sound professional. Pitch one, and if they aren't interested, that's the time to pull another from your back pocket." To the author who started with, "I'm a Random House published author," she said, "That raises all kinds of questions- like why you haven't taken this book there. If you're shopping for a new agent, need to say that up front." To one whose pitch included, "My book follows 10 characters who win a lottery," she said, "Ten characters is a lot! How about, my book follows X who wins a huge lottery. Unfortunately, there are 9 other people."
It was so inspiring! Clearly an art requiring know how, practice and skill, but like many things, just takes putting in the time and effort to master. I can do that, YES, I can!! (But then again, how many 10,000 hours do I have left?)
Her essential take homes:
Connect. Connect. Connect.
Make eye contact, start with your name, shake hands.
State type of book: ie Young Adult Fiction, Memoir, Up Market Novel right up front.
Next, your memorable 1 line hook. Editors and agents hear thousands of pitches a month, you must stand out.
What's in it for the reader? What will it do? What's the takeaway?
Showcase your content with specific, emotional and strong words, especially opposites ie comedic/dramatic.
Use questions to explain your story; use an example that really illuminates your story.
Be prepared for questions: What separates you from the competition? (Yes, later, they all asked what was different from Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight, but geting ahead of myself)
How are you connected in the world? (Yes, social media again! Lecture circuit? etc meaning, how will you promote book)
Be prepared to ask questions, including, "Who else might be interested" if you get a "No thank you".
Then, time for each of the agents and editors to introduce themselves, sharing their current interests, interests of other agents at their firms and this pearl: "None of us know what we're looking for until we see it." A recap of the ground rules - "line up for the agent/editor of your choice, 6 minutes, leave immediately when the bell rings". (That's right, NO advance sign ups! That bothered me, as it seemed unfair to anyone with physical limitations, and could invite a stampede, however my advance email raising these issues went unanswered, and the event went smoothly enough.)
But this former New Yorker didn't wait for the "Time to get on line, " bell. I stood listening right in front of the agent whose statement in part read:
"she craves discovering new (mostly female) authors with real and gritty memoir or literary fiction about walking through the fires of life – exploring depths and darkness while maintaining a strong psychological base."
Sounds to me like My Stroke of Luck!
Anyway, we had a delightful, informative conversation, I went away jazzed, her business card in hand with an admonition to write her back. I left her with my card, show flier, one page book description and hopefully enough connection that she'll remember me! YES!!!
Over the 2 and a half hours, I was lucky enough to speak with 6 agents/editors, 4 of whom expressed some degree of interest!!! YES! And one of the two uninterested was full of helpful suggestions! Thank you! So, exciting!!! (Though I know, temper expectations!) Lucky for me, the agent who said, "Quirky in the book world isn't great." "The market is saturated with doctor stories." "You can't sell anything you've given away for free," was not one of the first I spoke with, though others did have first encounters (with different agents) that were very discouraging. (Amanda's 'like dating' came back to me!!! )
And yes, I was asked at least 3 times, how is your story different from Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight? I am a mother, I answer! My story is not only about the experience of stroke from both sides of the stethoscope, but what happens to the family - two teen sons of color - when the single parent becomes disabled. It's about maternal courage and grit!
But mainly, the morning was a crash course in pitching, listening, learning what the market wants, how buyers approach new material & work with prospective authors, marketing, etc.
Now, we come to you!
My concept had been to publish My Stroke of Luck script along with blog posts, and have that available at my shows and talks. But my take away from the conference suggests yes, good idea to have something to take away from performances and talks, so script and resource list might be good, but that a memoir, backed by performance and lecture tour is the way to go long term.
So, as I gather my info to submit formal book proposals, would like to hear from you. What would interest you most? What would you likely buy? What else would you like to see from me? Suggestions for blurbs? Tag lines? Alternate titles?
So looking forward to hearing your ideas! I will read every one, and respond, either individually, or in another newsletter.
Will leave you with an excerpt from one of your letters (thank you, thank you):
"I cried ... especially the parts about the impacts on your boys. As a single mother also, I ruefully understood why you drove back and forth across the state to get your son to camp before making time to take care of yourself...such a tough and painful story about when you nearly died and then couldn’t make sense to others when you tried to talk with them."
With gratitude, and gratitude in advance for your help.
Selection of S.F. Chapter of Women's National Book Association Author's works Raffle Table