And here’s the pitch …Public Speaking 101

The Upper Peninsula Publishers & Authors Association (http://uppaa.org/) spring meeting at Marquette’s Peter White Library on May 17, 2014 offered multiple learning opportunities for current and aspiring authors. The session “Public Speaking 101” featured Frida Waara, who for me has been a role model dating back to my tenure at The Daily Mining Gazette when she was a much-loved and well-respected TV personality gathering her share of news and interview scoops. I would have signed up for Frida’s session just for the opportunity to verify that she’s as dynamic, warm and charismatic as ever. The cherry atop the Frida sundae was the chance to pitch my novel “More Than You Think You Know,” to Frida and fellow writers – none of whom I knew – picturing them as literary agents in that legendary elevator in which you’ve got a briefly captive audience and one minute to sell your story.

Urging session participants “have fun!” Frida gave us five minutes to pull a three-minute pitch together. Prompted by a brutal query critique I’d received earlier in May I already had two one-minute spiels written, so I spent the time compulsively re-reading the crucial sales tool. What many authors lament is all too true: Query, pitch and synopsis writing is almost more difficult to write than the book itself. I’d composed two versions; each timed to come in at 60 seconds. When the presentations began I stashed my cue cards, tuning in completely. Focusing on others by using active listening is my favorite way to dissolve nervous energy.

Many of the writers, already with one or several books on real and virtual shelves, used the opportunity to tell us about their finished work. I was drawn like the face of a sunflower toward the beaming Diana Oman, whose “My Heart Smiles,” with joyful illustrations by Colleen O’Hara (http://www.myheartsmiles.net) is an absolute delight of a picture book. Diane’s palpable force of vibrant energy and personality resonates in this alphabet of affirmations for all ages. And as Frida noted, body language; movement; eye contact; voice volume, pacing and variety; and enthusiasm are “part of the sunshine on your story.” Both Diana and Colleen, the latter of who has also written and illustrated another book, “The Butterfly Woman” literally shined in the light that filtered into the venerable setting of the Shiras Room overlooking Marquette Harbor.

Intuitive and artist Roslyn Elena McGrath shared her excitement on the recent publication of her most recent work, “Goddess Heart Rising” (http://goddessheartrising.com) with charm and conviction.

Laura Smyth of Copper City Press used her pitch time to promote a July 19th-20th summer writing workshop in Copper Harbor featuring workshops on “The Art of Poetry,” by Smyth, and “The Wandering Word: Travel & Life Writing” by Suzanne Van Dam. Meditation, yoga, music and nature activities are also part of the mix. More info is available on http://www.keweenawwritersworkshop.com

Here are a few of Frida’s top tips:
– Know your audience in advance so you can tailor your presentation to the age, occupation, likes and dislikes of the group you’re addressing, be it the Kiwanis Club or the local TV station.
– Craft a strong opening line – a hook that does its job. For example, Frida suggested Roslyn’s “Goddess” pitch open with “Have you ever needed to heal?” Finding the hook was made easier for some of us by watching audience reactions in the session. Observing what made them laugh, nod or tune out provided valuable insight. If you’re searching for the common thread or the glue that holds your presentation together, look for any images, words or phrases that are repeating themselves. If it resonates within you, it will likely reach your audience.
Another interesting and unexpected takeaway: If your first book isn’t selling, pay no mind. Just get started on the second, get it out there and incorporate the first into your rollout materials. In several instances that is working surprisingly well for authors in the room. Writing success centers on a body of work rather than a standalone.

And my pitch? Other than looking down at the cue cards too often and needing to pause longer to “give them time to laugh,” it went off without a hitch. A few writers kindly took the time to weigh in on which of the two they liked best (the first). Frida said she can also envision “More Than You Think You Know,” slated for publication in 2015 by Beating Windward Press, as a screenplay.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to give and receive valuable feedback. And I’m proud of myself for getting up in front of a crowd and telling them about my novel. It never really gets any easier, but practice does add polish and confidence.

What are your top dos or don’ts when it comes to pitching and selling your book? What’s the best pitch you ever made? What pitch totally missed the mark?

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