Tuesday, June 5, 2007

NY Times article on Pitch Slam

Tough Sell For Writers At NY Literary "Speed - Dating"

Published: June 1, 2007
Filed at 1:34 p.m. ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If you think speed-dating is tough, try selling your book to an editor in three minutes.

That's what hundreds of aspiring authors were doing this week at a New York trade fair, and the odds were against them.

Literary agent Peter Miller said there were as many as 15 million wannabe writers in the United States with books to sell.

"If you do the math, it's less than half of one percent of the people that want to get published actually get published," Miller said as he prepared himself for a barrage of pitches.

Among those he gave short shrift was Kathleen Dolan who was selling her self-help book of anecdotes and poems titled "I Need A Face-Lift! (Spiritually Speaking)."

"I make very quick decisions about whether I can make a whole lot of money for you and me," Miller told her, adding that he had a firm rule: "I don't represent porn or poetry."

Larry Tavlor, a retired family practice doctor and a Mormon who came from San Diego to attend the event at BookExpo, was promoting his book "Diminishing Love," which he said presented scientific proof that gay marriage is wrong.

"As lust increases, love diminishes and families are destroyed. And it's related to oxytocin," Tavlor said, referring to a hormone released during orgasm and childbirth.

"So you can't be lusty and loving at the same time?" Miller shot back. "That's what I want to be."

Miller spent the rest of the three minutes questioning Tavlor on the real estate market in San Diego.


Michael Murphy, a former publishing executive who now runs his own literary agency, was a little gentler, though apparently no more interested in Tavlor's book.

"This is a position book," he said. "With a book like this, who you are is as important as what you have to say."

Several dozen agents and editors were taking pitches at Wednesday's "pitch-slam" at the end of a one-day seminar that also included workshops on writing the perfect book proposal.

"Don't feel like you're a failure if you don't come out of here with a contract," Lauren Mosko, editor of writers' guide "Novel & Short Story Writer's Market," told her workshop.

Analyzing a pitch for a book of women's letters about lessons learned in adversity, she said: "It sounds like a really 'nice' book but there's nothing that really grabs me emotionally."

Among the other pitches were a memoir of raising kids in the "hotbed of commercial sex" that is Bangkok, a novel about Internet geeks, a memoir of police corruption, an expose of the adoption system and a parody of Fox cable show "The O'Reilly Factor."

Meg Leder, editor of nonfiction books at Penguin imprint Perigee, said by the end, "Everything's kind of a blur."

"A couple of things stand out that I may not hear about again, which is a bit like speed dating," she said.

One of those attracting most interest from the agents was a petite 15-year-old blond schoolgirl pitching what she called "a survival kit for kids turning into teenagers."

Kiki Freebery came along with her mother, a criminal defense attorney who was pitching her own legal thrillers.

Kiki hasn't written the book yet, or even a full-length proposal, but she said: "I met four people, all of them said they want to see my proposal."


Anonymous said...

Anecdotes and poems designed to improve our lives. Sigh. Seriously. I don't know how many of these yahoos I've met lately.

I wonder how many of these 15 million authors with books to sell fall under this category?

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious about one thing. Isn't this always how it's been? Everyone wants to write a book, become rich and famous and get on Oprah. I just landed a gig with a publisher in London who will pay me 200.00 for short stories that only contain 1500 words each (cake!). This is one of many jobs I've managed to snag over the years while waiting for the "big" book to sell.

But what I find interesting is that while all these people are pitching books, I still can't find anything good to read these days. You lose patience waiting every two years for Anne Tyler and John Irving to produce. I think there's a glitch somewhere in the publishing industry and someone is not understanding what the mainstream wants to read...Barry Diller, or someone like him, wouldn't have this problem.

Anonymous said...

"Diminishing Love" really is a groundbreaking work of literature. It's the only one that ever made me want to burn a book.

I'm sure there are others of that ilk and by that ilk, but I steer clear of bigots in general. I'm annoyed that his nasty screed was the book the Reuters writer chose to describe... but maybe the goal was to show the lack of quality at these things?