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The Importance of Passion, Purpose and Authenticity in Your Pitch
What makes an agent or acquisitions editor walk away from a pitch session at a writers’ conference unable to stop thinking about that one particular book idea and that one specific writer? The pitch may not have been perfect. It may simply have brimmed with the aspiring author’s sense of purpose, passion and authenticity. Now all the other pitches fade in comparison.
The authentic combination of passion and purpose create writers who feel inspired and who produce inspired work. Inevitably, their writing leaves an impression on readers. For this reason, they produce manuscripts agents feel compelled to contract—and later readers feel they must buy. Their books become best sellers.
Almost two years ago heard Kathryn McHugh, former executive editor at Da Capo Press Lifelong Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, in New York City, talk about how purpose, passion and authenticity can turn into publishable products. McHugh took on a particular project, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker, and she did so in large part because she saw passion and purpose in Walker’s presentation—and in Walker herself. Walker was inspired, and after listening to her pitch at the 2008 Writing For Change Conference in San Francisco, McHugh got inspired as well.
I heard both of them speak at the 2010 conference about how they met and how the book was born. I was so taken by the story I asked McHugh to elaborate on how other authors might ignite an agent or acquisitions editor’s interest with their purpose, passion and authenticity.
McHugh met Walker at the 2008 Writing for Change conference in San Francisco. The last two hours of the conference featured one-on-one sessions with agents. Walker was McHugh’s last appointment on that last day of the conference. They were both tired, however, McHugh said, “I knew based on her pitch that I wanted to see material from her.” Not only that, McHugh left the conference and couldn’t stop thinking about Walker’s book, which she called 29 Gifts.
That’s what every aspiring author wants to happen when they pitch an acquisitions editor or agent. So, that begs a big question: What made this agent want this book from this author? Here’s how McHugh answered that and many more questions.
NA: What was it about Cami’s pitch that you found compelling?
KM: She had been able to get her pitch down very well. She was able to encapsulate her story in just a couple sentences. She was honest, too. She didn’t have a book proposal written; this was something she was thinking about. But she told me in a nutshell she wanted to write book called 29 Gifts, and it was about how she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and a healer friend had encouraged her to give away 29 gifts in 29 days and how she had stated a website and had develop a healing community. She was able to hit those points in her pitch. I was able to understand what the book was in just those sentences, and we then started a conversation.
NA: Even though she only had a couple of pages written and no proposal, you made it clear you were interested in seeing material. You even called her the next day to express interest. What was it about the project that made you pursue Cami without seeing any written work?
KM: I kept thinking about the idea of giving 29 gifts in 29 days. I wasn’t just interested in her project as a book. I was genuinely interested in what she was doing. I thought the idea of starting this kindness movement was intriguing. I found myself giving something away that day. The concept appealed to me. That’s important for writers—to have a hook, and that’s what she had.
NA: How often do you acquire a book in this manner?
KM: This was a unique scenario. Rarely would you be interested in buying something just off an idea, but sometimes it happens.
NA: Did Cami have an author’s platform?
KM: It depends upon what you mean by platform? From a publisher’s perspective we ask is this person reaching an audience and how big is that audience and is this something that the media might get on board with? That is overwhelmingly how books are promoted these days.
Cami had a website with a community of people, which wasn’t nearly as big as it is now two years later. She had clearly taken the initiative to do this. She had a background in Internet marketing, so she seemed like someone savvy enough to make this community work.
She had had a media interest; Cosmopolitan and PBS had contacted her. Those didn’t amount to anything at the time, but she had had inquiries from people who had stumbled upon her site and thought the idea was good. That was important.
You have the people who are guests on The Today Show on a regular basis or have been on Oprah, but platforms come in different shapes and sizes. What we are looking for is “What does this author have going on right now, and can we add value to that?” We look at everything on a case-by-case basis; there is no one-size-fits-all platform out there.
In Cami’s case, it was clear she hadn’t just created this website to do a book. This project existed independently of a book project; she was really focusing her efforts on it. She wasn’t just doing it to put it in her book proposal. This was a real initiative.
You can read part 2 of this interview on Wednesday, June 6, 1012, here.