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What is the best way to pitch your book to an agent or publisher? What's the best way to write a sales description that pitches your book to a potential reader if you're independent? How can you use the pitch technique to write a book that stands a better chance of selling? All this and more in today's interview with Kate Harrison, author of Pitch Power.
In the intro, I mention the new FindawayVoices promotional pricing tool and BookBub's audiobook ads.
Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Kate Harrison is the bestselling author of 13 novels and seven nonfiction books, which have sold over a million copies and been translated into 25 languages. She was formerly a TV producer at the BBC, and her latest book is Pitch Power: Discover what Makes Your Book Irresistible & how to Sell It.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- Why learning how to pitch a book is relevant even if you’re independent
- Why the emotional tone of your book is a key thing to understand
- How every step we take writing a book contributes to how we’ll pitch it in the end
- The difference between hooks and tag lines
- ‘Reverse engineering’ a book’s hook once it’s written
- Tips for keeping book descriptions fresh across a series
- Tips for how to pitch your book to an agent if you want to get published
- How to finding comparison (comp) titles and authors to help with pitching your book
- The balance between starting fresh with a new pen name or continuing with an established platform
You can find Kate Harrison at kate-harrison.com and on Twitter @KateWritesBooks
Transcript of Interview with Kate Harrison
Joanna: Kate Harrison is the bestselling author of 13 novels and seven nonfiction books, which have sold over a million copies and been translated into 25 languages. She was formerly a TV producer at the BBC, and her latest book is Pitch Power: Discover what Makes Your Book Irresistible & how to Sell It. Welcome to the show, Kate.
Kate: Thank you, Joanna. I am so excited to be here because I listen to the podcast every week. It's going to be quite freaky being here as a guest.
Joanna: I'm glad to have you on the show because, of course, you are incredibly well-published in many ways. But we're not going to talk about publishing today. We're talking about this book on pitching, which is fantastic.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing in the first place.
Kate: I absolutely loved writing as a kid, but being an author wasn't a real job, not the kind of thing anyone I knew did. So, I became a journalist, and then a TV reporter, and producer.
And then I finally entered what I call my beanbag days, which were developing new ideas for programs at the BBC. So, sitting around doing the ideas, shows, the whole caboodle. But the writing bug definitely didn't leave. And I wrote in my spare time.
My first novel was conventionally published back in 2003 that was a comedy about a nasty school reunion. And then I've written across the genres ever since. I'm really hard to define. I've done a YA trilogy thriller, women's fiction. I indie published the 5-2 diet book on Kindle in 2012, helped by your podcast, and some other authors that I knew were doing it.
That gave me a whole different career as an accidental diet guru. So, now, I'm a bit of a hybrid. I do what interests me at the time and I work out on a project by project basis, whether I'm going to go with conventional publishing as I did for a book that's going to come out in a couple of years just sold that or I've done with Pitch Power, which is to sell it so I can keep that creative control.
Joanna: I'm going to ask you about this then because that's really interesting. You talked about developing new ideas for TV. And, of course, each of those ideas would have had a different route to market. And the way you're talking about books is the same thing.
How do you decide this book would be good traditionally published?
Kate: It's a mixture of factors depending on where I see the market going and what my expectations are for the book. So, in the case of the first book that… I did the diet book that had nothing to do with making a choice. It was just my existing publisher said, ‘No, we don't think you're in authority on this. We don't think we can sell the book.'
Having planned it already, I thought, ‘Well, Kindle was coming up. I knew friends who had done it.' I'd listened to you and I thought, ‘Well, I'll give it a go.' It went on to sell all over the place, more than my novels, did incredibly well.
After that, I just saw that freedom of opportunity. Partly it's to do with a niche. So, a book about pitching for authors is not going to have a huge potential audience, but it's hopefully going to have a really engaged one.
Whereas the book that I sold over the summer that's coming out in two years, that's sold in America, it's sold in the UK to conventional publishers all over the world because I guess it's got a little bit more mainstream appeal. And because it's a novel that I would really like to see in the bookshops is much easier for them to do mass-market distribution. And I'm really excited about both ways. I love doing it both ways.
Joanna: I think that's a great way of looking at it. And obviously you've been building your career for a long time, so you've put yourself into the place where you have those choices as well. And I think that's really important.
Let's get into the pitch book. For people listening, a lot of Indie authors:
Why is it important to know how to pitch your book even if you decide to go the indie route?
Kate: Because the pitch isn't just relevant to pitching publishers and agents. It is actually the key to knowing how to reach your ideal readers. And when people hear about pitch, they think, ‘Oh, it's the hard sell.' It's the total opposite as far as I'm concerned.
It's about really getting to understand your book's DNA, what it offers, and then working out how to express it in the most enticing way possible. And then you can make those decisions I was talking about, about how to publish it and at every stage.
The process of coming up with a pitch means understanding things like genre. If you're writing a novel, it's pinpointing that central story question that people will like. If it's nonfiction, it's the need that you're meeting.
But where I differ, I think from perhaps some very hard sell versions of pitching is looking into the emotional benefits. How does your reader really feel when they're reading the book and how do they feel after they've finished? And once you've worked that out, it can influence everything, your book descriptions, but also all your other decisions.
Things like title, cover, the categories you put things into. And this benefit thing, it's something that came from my work in TV. We really wanted to understand what the viewer was experiencing and why they might choose one channel at one time of day and what kind of program.
And you can see that that is starting to come into publishing. So, I don't know if you've noticed, but on UK, Amazon you get a lot more subtitles now, which are telling us things like the most suspenseful un-put-down-able thriller in 2020.
There is a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, One Day in December that was called the heartwarming and uplifting bestseller that everyone's falling in love with. These are not in the title, but they are telling the reader what they want to expect.
I think for so long publishers assumed that there are a group of pure thriller readers over here and there's a group of pure romance readers over there. Well, that might be true. I think there's loads in the middle. You have different moods and different needs at different times and they want a signal from you as an Indie author or from a publisher that they're going to get what they want at that time if they invest their time and their money in the book.
And there's one final point actually, which is that if you get it wrong, if you haven't sussed out the pitch, we all know that there is no reader so angry as a reader scorned, that they've been mis-sold a book. It's the waste of time, more than money. And they will go on the review sites and they will really go to town on your book. Whereas if you get it right, you've got a lifelong fan.
Joanna: Wow. There's so much in there. I do want to comment on these subtitles because, of course, that is against the Amazon terms of service and something indies get very upset about because they don't seem to police it for traditional publishers.
But it is a rule on Amazon, if the words are not actually in the official subtitle, they can't be used on that field.
Kate: I did know that and I have no idea how they get away with it, but it seems to work for them. And I wonder if there's a way that they will develop that.
Joanna: There's definitely been a crackdown for indies. But just apart from that, I think there are pros and cons.
I've also seen backlash against ‘the twist you will never see coming,' which everyone sees coming and then it gets terrible reviews. I'm not sure about the putting the words on it, but I really like the idea of this emotional benefit.
Also because the Google SEO change in search engine and voice search and things is all about search intent. So, that really feeds into what you're saying, which is, for example, when things are miserable in the news, people might want that uplifting book. Although, personally, I reach for horror.
Kate: It's whatever floats your boat where escapism is concerned. You can still get that emotional benefit across and things like endorsements.
It's quite hard to say off your own book, this is the most heartwarming book you've ever read. But if you have another author saying, so that's another way to get intent and get that SEO to pick up on that.
Maybe the subtitles won't last, but working out what the benefits are, that is something that can really shape your author career, I think.
Joanna: I think you're so right and it is very difficult. I had sent you some questions but I'm just going to jump around because this brings up to me the biggest problem, which is if you're a discovery writer or a pantser, which I am, I tend not to know what's happening in the book.
I tend not to know what the emotional promise or the emotional benefit might be, until much later in the process. So, if people listening are like, ‘Yeah, I feel that way too.'
What can we do before we get into writing that will help us at that later stage?
Kate: I think that as soon as you start with an idea, you are beginning to make decisions and writing a pitch right at the beginning, which is how I always do it.
That doesn't mean that you're locked into those decisions. But what it does is it starts you as an author getting in touch with the emotional possibilities and the story possibilities. So, first of all, you always want that hook or that story question.
The big thing that you're going to get across to your readers or if you're pitching for a conventional deal to agents and publishers, the thing that is going to entice them in and think, ‘Oh, the only way I can answer that story question is to read your book.'
So, that is the first thing that you want to start with, it might be an amazing setting or it might be a protagonist that you're putting in a really horrible situation. We love to do that.
Once you've got that in place, then I find that writing a short paragraph or a couple of paragraphs begins to bring up those questions in your head. You start to think, ‘Well, what kind of story is this? Where might I see it in a bookshop or what kind of feelings might I have around this character?'
Pretty soon I find that when I'm working with authors as well, they, they start to say, ‘Well, it's this and it's not that.' And you don't have to then be discovering all the twists and turns of the plot.
Even though I'm a bit more of a planner than a pantser, I find things change. So, I will go back to my pictures. I go through it and think, ‘Okay. What's the difference between what I'm writing and what I thought I was setting out to write? And which one feels more true to me.' It's a touchstone.
The other thing it really does for me, writing, having a title and a little thing that is only starting to make that promise to readers is also telling me that I can do it because even 20 plus books on, the thought of setting out on an 80,000, 100,000-word journey is pretty intense, for me. It's a marathon. It's hard going.
Being able to imagine that this is on the back of a book or on a book description in Amazon, somehow it just gives me the motivation to keep going.
Joanna: Is it the same as a logline for a movie because I find these very, very difficult.
Give us an example of a story question then.
Kate: They're all quite different. The hooks and the story questions depend very much on genres.
I spoke to a lot of different writers, preparing the book, because I have one way of working and different people have different approaches.
You've interviewed Simon Toyne, yourself, brilliantly on the podcast. In the past, he wrote the Sanctus trilogy. Like me, he worked in tele, and he put it really well to me. He said that the hook is the question and then the story and the plot is the answer.
He was writing the novel and he talks about it in the book, The Solomon Creed, which is his fourth book. And his hook there, and his story question that relates to it is how do you save someone who is already dead? So, that's a nice open, intriguing question.
When you then start getting down into loglines, a logline is much more specific than that. It gives you a sense of who the main character is, what the setting is, and hopefully, it includes the hook within there.
But when you're looking then at pitching to TV studios or to the movies and similar, a kind of a feelings question, which is what that one Solomon Creed has got there. How do you save someone who's already dead? They want a bit more. And the good thing is you can do these by genre.
So, rather than me say, here's hundreds and we could talk about them for hours, search by genre, find books or movies or TV that are in your genre and see how they do it. There's lots on ‘The Hollywood Reporter,' the ‘BBC,' ‘Writers Room' website.
I did think you might ask this. So, I've got a couple off of ones which were commissioned from ‘The Hollywood Reporter' reporting on them last year.
Here's a classic logline. I think it's called Tammy, it'll be coming to our screen soon. “When a former high ranking NYPD officer becomes the first female chief of police for LA, she uses her unflinching honesty and hardball tactics to navigate the social, political, and national security issues that converge with enforcing the law.”
Joanna: There's no question there.
Kate: There is a question. There's a question that's kind of got an undercurrent there, in terms of what kind of issues are going to come about. What is she going to have to navigate? And especially, where are her unflinching honesty and hardball tactics going to come into conflict with national security issues, and the social, and political stuff that she's also going into, moving from NY to LA?
The logline is a bit more straight, I guess. Whereas the story questions will, if you turn that round it might be what is she going to do when X, Y, Z thing happens that totally flies in the face of her unflinching honesty and hopeful tactics?
Joanna: So, the story question is more giving the promise or as you say that the book will answer the question but the logline is more about the character, the world, the setting.
I've had people on talking about log lines before. I just wanted to separate out that question to the kind of logline detail.
Kate: It could be anything, really. If you look at it, it could be the title. If you have a really fantastic title, then that is the first hook. And I actually see this as part of your seduction of either your reader or your agent.
If you're pitching to an agent, you're starting with the title in the subject line of your email that you send or it's the first thing people see when they search and they're searching for romantic novels. They see the titles. They'd never heard of you. But the title begins to hook them in.
And then the next line is the next stage of the hook. And it might be this extraordinary setting or it might be one line. The classic one that I heard over the last year is for the book 13, “The serial killer isn't on trial. He's on the jury.”
So, immediately that's a hook. You're coming into that and you really want to know, ‘Oh, how is that possible?' And that gets you reading the book.
Joanna: And that, to me, that is a much better subtitle. It is like a hook and a subtitle because 13 could be anything. But the subtitle there, gives it a much better… And obviously it's a crime novel. So, that really does give all the signals that you mentioned.
And then, of course, the cover. The cover indicates crime as well.
One of the questions that's coming up, and I know we're talking a lot about fiction. For nonfiction people, I feel this is so much easier. Your book Pitch Power, is “discover what makes your book irresistible and how to sell it”. It's a clear need, and a promise, and you get that.
I thought I'd tell you, you sent me an e-copy, I've actually bought the print copy because I think it's so good. So, to everyone listening definitely put it on your shelf because I'm sure listeners know and you've heard me talk about this, I still struggle with this. And this would be the biggest problem.
It takes someone like me and I'm looking at some of my books and I'm going, ‘These get good reviews, but not enough people are finding them. How do I reverse engineer?'
If people listening, want to relaunch a book or redo a series, or redo a tagline, or something like that, how can we reverse engineer this into books that are already written?
Kate: I think there are two separate things here. You're looking at the book itself that you've produced and then you're looking at the market. So, understanding what your book is is one of the hardest things.
It's really difficult for people after immersing themselves in a book for however long it's taken to write it and edit it, 120,000 words, however long it is to then step back and say, ‘Well, what actually is this?'
If you've already published the book, actually you've got lots of things to go on, in terms of looking at your Amazon reviews, picking out some of the words that come out, both the positive words and maybe some of the critical ones to see where maybe if the book's not doing as well as you'd like it to be doing. People are being mis-sold.
What I was talking about earlier, whether they're getting the wrong signals somehow, and making sure that the good bits that people highlight are definitely coming out in things like your title in your first line of your pitch.
Every level of the book description is really leading them on that journey towards, ‘Buy now. Read now.' That's the first stage and that's really about being able to look at your own work.
And then the other side of it is to look within the industry. It might be that the authors who are similar to you are picking a different kind of title. They are looking at a different cover. The emotional benefit that they are giving across is being signaled in a more powerful way.
You won't be looking at your book descriptions. The brilliant thing about being Indie is, of course, that you can tweak whenever you want to. A lot of conventional mainstream publishers will put up the blurb and they will not touch it from year to year.
Of course, as an author, if you're in that contract, you have to ask them to change it for you. Having that ability to do it yourself means you can fiddle around with it. You can say, ‘Right. Okay. If I'm trying to make a connection to an existing author, have I got an endorsement? Can I use words that are similar to the words that they use in their blurbs? Do I switch it around? Is it actually the setting that might pull people in where I've been talking more about the protagonist?'
You're questioning each of those individual things, but you're looking at it from the point of view of your reader rather than you.
Joanna: What about keeping things fresh across a series? Because it would seem like your emotional promise, once you've decided this is a small-town romance, for example, how do you keep that fresh for every book apart from this as another couple. Or within genre fiction, which is great selling.
How do we do keep it fresh?
Kate: When you're writing it or in the selling or both?
Joanna: Both. We're talking here about indie authors writing book descriptions in terms of that type of pitch. How do we write it, apart from this is the next one in the series?
Kate: I guess that's when I actually come back to why I write a pitch and why I often encourage people to do that at the beginning of the writing process. Because then if you are in a series and I've written series, you can start to look at what you are retaining from that first one, in terms of that emotional promise.
And that connection, and what those characters are delivering to the existing readers, and potential new ones, and where you might be pushing it in a different direction. So, I do talk a bit about all the different possible definitions of what we call stories.
Is it seven basic story types? Is it a hundred? Is it two? But I think those archetype stories, which you can read about and you can find them everywhere, the hero's journey was what kicked it all off. They give you ideas for what you might be able to do with your characters.
If you're writing a romance series, and I've done this, women's fiction series. And at the end of book one, I had a character who had found her true love and we liked her true love. Well then, when it came to writing a second book because the first book had been so popular, well, what on earth do you do with her?
And that's when you go back to the archetypes and you go back to the pitch, and you think, ‘Well, what might I be doing to this person that is still painful, it still puts them into conflict with the world around them, but retains the sense of emotional satisfaction that a romance reader got at the end of book one where they find Mr. Right.'
Although you are writing perhaps a series, each story structure doesn't have to be identical. The benefits have to be offering a similar thing because you're hoping to take the readers with you. But it doesn't have to be exactly the same story.
Joanna: That's great. And I was just thinking there of a book, Bridget Jones's Baby, no spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the book or seen the movie, but very, very different.
They decided they wanted to give the same emotional thing for the movie, but the book was completely not that at all. And it didn't resonate so much with the audience.
It is really interesting how once readers love what they love, you can't just switch it up.
Kate: It's tone. Tone is so vital. It's the Maya Angelou quote, ‘People will not remember what you said, but they'll remember how you made them feel.' And I think that's the case with books.
I will look at a book cover, even if I can't remember the plot, I'll think, ‘Oh yes, I remember how it felt to finish that book or I have a real sense of the jeopardy, or the roller coaster ride it took me on.'
Joanna: You're right.
If people do want to pitch an agent or a publisher with their book, are there any things that you would do differently at that stage than what we've already talked about, in terms of an Indie author writing a book description, for example?
Kate: You are pushing forward a business proposal. Really, I was thinking an email. You are both selling your idea, but you're also selling the concept that you might be fun and profitable to work with.
Your query email, if you are getting in touch with an agent is doing those two things. It is seducing them from that subject line. But it is also saying that you are a professional and you want to enter into a professional, and mutually lucrative relationship.
The story is the first thing. If you are a brilliant person and you are incredibly professional, but your story is hackneyed or it is not interesting or it doesn't have a hook. None of those things matter. But making sure that you have your book described in a really sharp and the most desirable way possible is key.
And making sure that you've edited that and read it out loud, and printed it off so that there isn't a single error because agents are very pernickety about these things. That's the first thing.
But I think it's also much more important when you're pitching an agent. Once you've got this brilliant story idea across to them to make them see where you think you fit in the market.
Because you might not be 100% right about that. But just starting to do that by offering things like comp titles, comparator titles, those are the authors or the books that you think you have similarities to. Those are really important for an agent and a publisher because they want to know where they might be able to sell in the market, that there is an audience or readership out there for your book.
That applies really for fiction. For nonfiction, yes, the concept, again, not so much the story question, but the problem that you're solving or the new material that you're bringing to a familiar subject are important.
Alongside that for nonfiction, an agent's dream is to find out that you have some kind of a platform as well. You've got followers, that you have already done some TV appearances or whatever it is.
Of course, the irony of that one as nonfiction is that if you have that platform already, it's quite an interesting decision as to whether you want to work with an agent or whether you are better off using that platform directly as an Indie.
Joanna: Again, lots I want to come back on. Which one to start with? Let's go with the comp thing.
The comp titles that you mentioned. What are some tips here? Because I have seen a lot of authors who've gone, ‘Oh, my books are like Jane Austen…' For fans of Jane Austen. Or Dickens or something and dead famous authors or even Umberto Eco or something.
How famous should one go and how dead or even dead? And also, I guess there's a lot of our ego here.
Can it be for fans of particular films, for example, as well as books?
Kate: It's all about being savvy. And I also think having comps that are appropriate but also maybe a little bit surprising.
And that's where you run into problem with dead authors because often they've been overused. The next Agatha Christie, the next Umberto Eco, whatever it might be.
Also, the publishing world has changed so much and we have no idea whether Agatha Christie, if she were to be published today, would be a best seller. So, that's why more recent titles are a much better bet.
The really successful comp titles become clichés in their own rights. If you say to an agent, ‘Oh, my book is the next Gone Girl or the next Girl on the Train,' it tells us nothing because you've heard it so many times before.
Another writer that I spoke to about the book was Will Dean, who wrote Dark Pines, which has been really successful, a Nordic noir, I think. And when he was pitching agents, he did choose famous authors, but more unusual titles. So, to pitch his, he came up with Stephen King's, Needful Things, meets Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects. Immediately that is a lot more compelling than say Misery meets Gone Girl.
Joanna: Sharp Objects was fantastic. Far superior in my opinion.
Kate: Well, many people have said that. Exactly. So, you are piquing an agent's interest because you're not going for the obvious. You're showing the knowledge of the market and genre, so that shows that you're professional, but you're still using the mega sellers to suggest your book could sell really well.
On the movie and the TV side, I find that generally, putting one or two in there in amongst quite a lot of books can work. Publishers are naturally a bit suspicious of that. They're a bit wary because they think that it is a different world, but you can do it.
I've done it, especially where I think maybe publishing hasn't cottoned on to a potential subject matter yet. So, I am the world's biggest fan of medical drama. They are my guilty pleasure. I watched Grey's Anatomy … I only discovered it about two years ago. Watched all 13 series. Love it.
I also love the reality stuff, the 24 hours in A&E. And so, I've written this book that's going to be conventionally published about… It's set in a medical world and I included Grey's Anatomy and 24 hours in A&E, alongside some epic love storybooks in my pitch.
I don't think there is much fiction for people out there who love those shows. Now, I won't know until 2021 until I'm right. But I took a little bit of a pump there, alongside the more conventional titles that I knew editors would recognize.
Joanna: I've watched the whole lot of Grey's Anatomy twice.
Kate: Oh, okay. You're an even bigger super fan than me.
Joanna: I am a super fan. Also, it made me think there of, and this is more thriller, but Robin Cook's medical thrillers. I've pretty much read all of those. I love that sub-niche as well.
Kate: But where is the novel? Where are the Grey's Anatomy novels? There is medical Milton Boone romance novel.
Joanna: I was gonna say, ‘Yeah, there's a lot of romance about it' but…
Kate: But mainstream fiction, not so much. I'm looking for a word, you know, a sort of, like, if I had chick lit and sick lit, maybe it's not sick lit. Like, I don't know. Red socks lit. Med lit.
Joanna: I think that's fantastic.
Do you have a title for that? Do you want to mention it or no?
Kate: It's going to be called How to Save a Life.
Joanna: Oh no, brilliant. That's from the song. It's from the song.
Kate: Yeah, it's a song. But it's also literally how to save a life. So, it has actually got the full steps in the… That is my bookend. The four steps of the chain of survival, which can increase the survival rate from under 10% to 75% from cardiac arrest.
Joanna: See, that's very clever. And well, you are very clever. I know this.
But what's fascinating here, okay, this is a great example because I said immediately, I know that as part of the…it's in the song. But, of course, we can use song titles as titles. We can't use lyrics. That is a lyric in the song, but also it's well known enough that it couldn't be copyrighted.
Kate: Yes, exactly. And it is literally a thing that you can do.
Joanna: Yes, you can. But in my head as a Grey's Anatomy fan, I get it. So very clever.
Kate: You're immediately singing, ‘It is the year where I'm now.'
Joanna: Although it can't overtake the Witcher earworm, which is totally in my head. Do you know that one?
Kate: No, not yet.
Joanna: Oh, with that now, you have to go look at it. Just Google Witcher earworm and it will be stuck in your head.
Anyway, back onto the things. So, we've done comps. The other thing is that you have mentioned a little bit about saying about your platform. Now, this is also interesting about you because you write under how many names and, I mean, lots of names per genre.
I've also considered pitching for traditional publishing under another name because my name has become synonymous with indie.
Where is the balance between starting again with another pen name as you have multiple times or using the platforms we already have?
Kate: It's a really difficult decision. And I don't actually know if I've done the right thing.
The new love story is going to have a completely different name. My thrillers have retained my first name, but a different surname. I think that a lot of my decision and a publisher's decision around this new one was to do with algorithms in that if you put in Kate Harrison to Amazon, you're going to get my diet books first.
Although my previous women's fiction was under that name, that that is almost more my nonfiction name now. And you can still though, if you decide that it's too complicated and it may be that I live to regret having all these different names, I'm not sure, you can just tweak your bio for different things.
I do do this and we can all do that. When you're looking at a bio, people think, ‘Oh, I'm going to have to expose everything about myself.' But actually it's about picking and choosing the things that resonate with readers who are going to like the particular genre of book that they're looking at. They want to feel a kind of a connection with you as an author.
Not all of them do, some of them just want the book. But increasingly, living our lives online and so on, it helps for them to feel that there's a reason why you wrote that book and no one else could have.
So, I don't know if you're writing a comic mummy lit book, it really helps them to know that you are a mother of five under 10s. And if you are writing dark thriller, which I do some of the time, then I totally upped the side of my career, which was in courtroom reporting and writing a TV script about a serial killer. You can pick and choose.
We've all got really interesting lives and we can pick the bits, and also write them tonally so that they match the tone of the book. And it doesn't have to be a career thing.
It's quite relevant because I mentioned How to Save a Life. When we were pitching that book in the bio, we did mention the fact that this whole book was inspired by having to give CPR to a family member and it working. That's what I had to do a few years ago. And I wrote the novel off the back of that. It took me ages to do it.
I think because of that, we're going to mention that in the bio because it's very powerful. It explains why I'm doing it. It explains why it matters to me. And when we heard people's responses after we sent the book out with that bio, almost all of them, when they came back, said, ‘You know what? The first thing I wanted to do after closing the book after putting down the tissues was to find a first aid course near me.'
So, if you can find different ways, even within fiction of making it connected to your real life or the readers real life, it has an impact.
Joanna: That's fantastic. I think that book's going to do super well. I'm going to read it. And then, well, there's lots we could talk about.
One last question, which is, I did a great course at the Screenwriter's School in London. And one thing they talked about with pitching is there's the pitcher and there's the catcher. And if we just concentrate on the pitcher, which is us, we will miss because we also have to think about the catcher, the person on the other side.
Whether that's the reader, or whether that is an agent, or a particular publisher that we have in mind or something like that.
You've done so well with everything you've done because you have pitched things to the right people. So, how do we work that out?
If people do want to pitch, whether it be for an audible original or an agent, how do we look for the right kind of people to catch our pitch?
Kate: It is so much easier than it used to be when I started out, when hardly any agents were online, when I was pitching my book back in 2002, you still sent queries through the mail and agents looked at the internet, and I'm giving any interviews or even having much direct contact with would-be authors as being really scary and stupid thing to do.
Now, they're out there. There's so much information that you can find. You can listen to podcasts. You can research specific shows. Once you've got your comp titles or your comp shows, find out who represents those, which editors have edited those.
If you're looking for a conventional publishing deal, you can really use the information that's out there to start to target that and to build a dialogue, in some cases.
You won't always be able to do that because if you're pitching an idea, an agent may only come back to you if you are of interest, if that particular project is of interest.
But if you are doing things like going to conferences or participating in online pitch competitions on Twitter or other social media, you can start to get a sense that the things I mentioned before, like, looking at ‘Hollywood Reporter,' looking at the bookseller online, you do require subscriptions after a certain level. But if you're doing it on a regular basis, you can still get access to so much of that information for free.
And then you can start just writing those lists down. Keep a list of a book that has sold recently that you think actually there's something about that that's similar to mine without it then becoming a direct competitor title, because an agent or a publisher is not going to publish a book that is so similar or sell a book that is so similar that it puts them in competition with another client.
Looking for that information. And when it comes to readers, one of the really interesting people that I interviewed in the book and I've known her for ages, is Susie Quinn who has written across loads of genres. And she is the queen at this, understanding what readers want by going to them, engaging with them on Twitter, on Facebook.
Her first book was actually inspired by going into Amazon and typing in erotica, and waiting to see what it suggested. And this is way back in 2012, around the time 50 Shades was doing well and just finding out what people wanted to read about erotica-wise.
That was a really early adopter of kind of audience insight. And now, she just engages with them all the time and even changes her book, even changes her titles, the writing itself based on what the Amazon reviews say.
Joanna: Wow. So, much to think about, and absolutely recommend your book Pitch Power.
Where can people find you, and all your pen names, and everything you do online?
Kate: All my pen names. Who knows whether there'll even be a new one by this time next year?
My website is kate-harrison.com. You can find everything about me. I've got a cheat sheet on titles to download and all about my pen names. But you can also find me at Twitter and Instagram at Katewritesbooks.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Kate. That was great.
Kate: Thank you. It's been a real pleasure.
I normally save the podcast to the weekend but having a day off midweek I went for a walk in the morning sunshine with this podcast.
The subject got my mind thinking of the text for the back cover of my next novel and it was well timed.
I’ve started listening to the podcast at 1.5 times the speed and I’m getting loads out of it cos I can absorb the info faster.
Thanks for another great episode.
Got back from my walk and placed my pre-order for my copy of “Audio For Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, And Voice Technologies (Books for Writers Book 11)”
Thank you so much Joanna and Kate! I showed this podcast to my college Creative Writing Club as part of our mutual desire to educate ourselves and get into the writing world. Thank you for helping us on that journey 🙂
Delece Ford says
Excellent info Joanna and Kate!