Today more than ever authors are like small business owners, needing to pitch and sell their products. I can easily talk about someone else’s book, but it’s hard for me to talk about my own. I can share my good news with friends and family, but when it comes to selling my work to strangers, I feel uncomfortable and a little shy.
Mochi Queen and book 2 of the Jasmine Toguchi series will be coming out in May of next year. It kind of feels like it’s too early to start talking about my books, so I haven’t had much practice. A few months ago, at a friend’s book launch I was caught unprepared. The friend introduced me to a family member and told him that I had a children’s book coming out. The family member kindly asked me what my book was about. I froze. Then, I babbled incoherently. Epic fail.
For years I’ve kept a reading list, writing up every book I read with a short synopsis. When I read 75 – 100 books a year, it’s hard to remember what every single book is about, especially after a year or more has passed. I’ve had good practice summarizing a book into a paragraph, but not a lot of practice winnowing book summaries down to a succinct 1 – 2 sentence pitch. So, last year, I made myself write up 1 – 2 sentence pitches of every book I read and I posted them on my reading blog. A couple of examples:
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon – Housebound teen “bubble girl” falls in love with neighbor boy.
Princess Juniper of the Hourglass by Ammi-Joan Paquette – On her 13th nameday, Princess Juniper asks her father for her own (small) kingdom of kids to rule for practice.
This was very good practice. But writing a pitch, even my own, was not too difficult. I am a writer. Talking about my book is so much harder. Plus, just reciting my written pitch to someone felt rehearsed and stiff.
The next step was practicing talking about Mochi Queen to my friends and family. The more I practiced, the more comfortable I became. But, would I be able to talk about my book to a stranger?
The test came sooner than I expected.
A few weeks ago I was at an independent bookstore. A bookseller approached me and asked if she could help me with anything. I told her I was just checking out the new chapter books. She told me she wanted to expand the section and find new and exciting chapter books to add to the shelves. I hesitated. Normally, I would just smile and nod and say nothing. But, it was as if the Universe was giving me an opportunity.
I took a deep breath for courage and told her, somewhat hesitantly, that I had a chapter book series coming out next year. She asked me what it was about. And it rolled right off my tongue – “Mochi Queen is about a third grade Japanese-American girl named Jasmine who lives in Los Angeles. She wants to take part in a Japanese tradition of making mochi.” Pause. “Do you know what mochi is?” She shook her head. “It’s a sweet Japanese dessert. Jasmine not only wants to make mochi with her family, even though she’s too young, but she wants to do the boy job instead of the one reserved for the girls in her family. And there will be three more books about Jasmine.” Whew. Right, not exactly 1 – 2 sentences, but it felt natural, like I was having a conversation, rather than trying to “sell” my work.
The bookseller reacted with enthusiasm. She told me to have my publicist contact the store when the books were closer to coming out and they would love to have an author event and arrange school visits. She was excited about a new chapter book series and said she was on the look-out for more diversity. YAY!
The lesson here? It’s never too early to practice your pitch. Even if you don’t have a book coming out soon, an editor, an agent, a colleague might ask, “What’s your book about?” And won’t you be happy when you’re able to answer? You can do it! Practice makes “perfect”!
Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her dog, Trixie, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.
The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux in Spring 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books and an upcoming early reader chapter book series, Dorothy & Toto (Picture Window Books/Oct. 2016).