Author Jennie Nash Tells Writers What Agents Really Want to Know

Forget about beaches and bathing suits. Summer means one thing to many aspiring Los Angeles authors — writing conference season: time to sharpen the dreaded elevator pitch and transform one’s self from gifted story-teller into confident sales master.

The problem is, the introspective talent required to craft a story and the extroverted talent required to sell a product are not generally seen as one and the same.

Writers accustomed to 50,000+ words to fully reveal character, setting and plot choke up when faced with 150 words, or 30 seconds, to summarize and sell months or years of writing and revision. Even picture book writers, who envision an illustrated accompaniment to their 800–1,000 word tales have a difficult time shrinking the story any further.

But, ultimately, both the complete manuscript and the brief sales pitch boil down to two things: adequate preparation and the author’s ability to communicate a good story.

Here are three tips Author Jennie Nash shared with CBW–LA writers to make sure their book pitches and presentations are conference ready:
Jennie Nash, book coach, UCLA Writing Program Instructor and published author of seven books, stopped by the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles in June to share her proven tips to prepare for a summer of queries and conferences. Photo courtesy Nutschell Anne Windsor.

1. Test Your Title

Without revealing your book’s genre or story, tell someone (or even better, several people) the title. Invite him/her/them to guess who and what the story is about, plus its genre, the intended audience’s age and whether he/she/they would likely buy it.

If the feedback is similar to the book’s contents, you’re on the right track. The title is likely a good fit to sell your idea. However, if the comments are off, listen carefully to how potential readers might be confused, and determine whether a title change might be in order.

Keep in mind: traditionally published books will likely receive a new title before they hit book shelves. Your job is not to develop the final title that will appear on the shelf — though it’s great if that happens. Your job is to sell your idea to an agent, who will then sell it to a publisher, who will then sell it to the public (omitting about 2,000 steps in this simplified version of first draft to traditional publication).

2. Answer These Four Key Questions

What is your book about? Summarize your book in 150 words or less. Start with the hook — grab the agent’s attention. Move on to the meat of the story: briefly explain the five W’s (who? what? where? when? why?) and how. Include the book’s title, structure, genre and word count.

Who is your audience? Who will care about this story? Why will they care? Consider your audience beyond demographics — is there a certain value or tone inherent in your book that will appeal to a particular type of person?

What is the marketing plan and potential? Think beyond the blog tour and book store. What are you going to do to help your agent and publisher sell your book to the public? What makes your book timely? What makes it special? What need are you fulfilling with your book?

What 5–7 books on the market are similar? Consider authors and books that are similar to your style or your book, and compare and contrast them. What makes your book different? Why would current readers of those books want to pick up your book? Be sure to include several recognizable, but not iconic, books. If you do compare your book to a world-famous best-seller, be careful how you do it. Don’t say, “My book is the next Harry Potter.” Instead say, “My book delves into evolution of adolescent friendships as they develop at boarding school, such as the relationships between Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series.”

Nash combines these four elements with an author bio and contact information to create a one-page book pitch perfect to leave with a potential agent at a conference.

3. Boil it Down

Tell the story in one to two sentences. Hook the agent with a zinger of a sentence about your character, setting and conflict, then reel them in with its universal theme. Is it about love? Hope? War? Self-discovery? The triumph of the human spirit?

Once you know your book’s hook-and-theme sentence, memorize it. Slip it into everyday conversation. Practice in the mirror.
Because when an agent asks, “What’s your book about?” you don’t want to stumble and stutter. You want to sum it up in two killer sentences. Pique their interest, and then let them ask you for more.

The agent doesn’t need to know all of the plot twists and turns — that will come later. The most important first step is for the agent to fall in love with the concept enough to want to follow (and guide) the book along its journey.

About Jennie Nash

Jennie Nash offers feedback to author pitches during her June 2015 CBW–LA Workshop: How to Wow Agents and Editors at Your Next Conference..

Jennie Nash is a book coach who gets into writers’ heads, and using a potent mix of tough love, proven strategy, and book-seeing super powers, inspires them to write something that matters. Her clients have sold books to Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Hazeldon, Norton and Ten Speed.

Jennie is the author of four novels, including Perfect Red, The Threadbare Heart and The Last Beach Bungalow; three memoirs, including The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer; and The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat.

Jennie has been an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program for eight years and is the Chief Creative Officer and Founder of Author Accelerator, an online program to help writers get from inspiration to publication. Be sure to tell her you learned about Author Accelerator from CBW–LA!

Visit Jennie at jennienash.com.

About CBW–LA

The Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles is a 501(c)3 dedicated to the idea that writing matters “because we all have a voice.” We specialize in children’s book writing, but welcome all types of writers! Visit us online at cbw-la.org; like our Facebook page; chat with us on Twitter.

Even better?

If you’re in the L.A. area, join us for a workshop or critique session like the one you just read about! In this digital age, we still believe there’s nothing quite like connecting with a real person in real life.

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