Apr 26, 2007

The Arizona Book Festival and I

by Anna Arnett

I can’t believe it! Last week I kept checking the blogsite and wondered why nobody posted on Saturday the 14th. It took me a week to discover—I was supposed to post.

So this is an extra—out of turn. My regular turn comes up in a couple more days. Please forgive.

Nevertheless, Saturday, April 14 did turn out to be a wonderful day. With confidence and ease, I took my son David by the arm and convinced him, with only a mild twist, that he should accompany me to the Arizona Book Festival held on the grounds of the Carnegie Center (Library) in downtown Phoenix. I must have already commented about my current health status, because my dear husband, who walks, stands, bends, etc. with even more difficulty than I, told me he would go with me rather than let me drive alone. I knew how much Charles didn’t want to go, so that's what gave me the twisting power with our son.

David and I only stayed for a couple of consecutive sessions—the ones I especially wanted--luckily in the same spot. As often happens, I forgot to put my hearing aids back in my ears after I showered, so I needed good acoustics. We sat on the front row. From there, even I could hear beautifully.

Jerry Simmons, former Vice President, Director of Sales for Time Warner (I'm quoting from the program, even the punctuation) spoke about "What Writers Need to Know About Publishing." I listened so intently that I forgot to take good notes. Even David learned a lot. Obviously, publishers are in business for only one reason--to make a profit, so editors pick books on sale-ability, and writers are expected to help sell. Therefore, the pitch put in the submission cover letter does not need to stress how great a story is, tell its whole plot or enumerate how it will enrich the reader, etc., but stress why and how well it will sell, and to what degree you, the writer, are willing to help.

He also dispelled a few myths: For instance, self-publishing will not preclude finding a publisher, should you want one, but can be gobbled up if you can show that your book sold well, even if only within a small test area. Also, agents are not a necessity (except for a few publishers who deal only with agents). You still have to come up with a good cover story (pitch) and help with publicity.

When an editor accepts your book, it's a good idea to ask to be introduced to everybody in the publishing office who will have anything at all to do with your book. Develop a personal relationship with them, and in small ways it pays off.

Don't hesitate to ask questions, like where do your books go? If the majority go to book jobbers, remember that's just another term for warehouses. They may sit there forever.

Another thing that fascinated me: publishers announce the size of a printing, but that is not necessarily how many they plan to really print, which is usually much less. Why do they announce a big printing? To compete for shelf space in the big chain bookstores. Every display, every bit of shelf space, is bought and paid for by the publishers. Amazing. That's why free-lance publishers go for independent bookstores, whose display space is up for grabs.

Jerry Simmons also sat in the panel of three for the ‘pitchapalooza’ hour and a half that followed. A writer and his agent wife joined him. Here, those who had signed up had a minute or less to pitch their great idea for a book.

True to form, I had somehow missed the where and when to sign up, and as I sat and listened, I turned to David and whispered, “I’m glad I’m not signed up. I’m not ready for this.” David agreed. Yes, I had planned, written, and prepared, and I would have learned a lot by the experience, but most of the presenters far outclassed me. A twelve-year-old boy impressed everybody, The panel chose one winner and a couple of runner-ups. They promised to assist the writer in every possible way to find a publisher and get published. Next year, I’ll really be ready.

Here are a few ideas they presented:

It’s hard to pitch a series. Publishers are interested only in the first book. If it sells, then . . .

Read the flap pitches in the same genre. If your pitch can go on the flap to attract readers, it will also attract publishers. If they buy, you’ll probably have to write that pitch anyway.

Pitch with passion, and authority. Also, pitch to everybody you know, or see—verbally, or otherwise. Get the feel for a good pitch. Remember what others find exciting, but skip over the parts that glaze the listener’s eyes.

Jump right into the middle. Editors get too much introduction, anyway. Even listeners may not stay around for the good part if you start too slowly.

State reasons why a publisher would want to buy this particular book, or why a reader would crave it. Write objections you think they might have, and overcome them.

If you can, get a blurb from well known authors.

Test your pitch and your story with others—besides family and close friends.

In all this, dear sisters, ANWA shines. Hurrah! And thanks!



  1. Thank you, Anna, for jumping in and posting. So imformative! Right on!

    I appreciate all this information. You did a super job for not having taken good notes.

    Give David my thanks for accompanying you.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful report, Anna. I, too, appreciate all the information! I have always been impressed by your keen intellect.

    Actually, I even had a conversation (about you and your many talents)with your daughter, Marilyn. We saw each other at Stake Conference and I had a great time learning more about you from Marilyn's perspective. What a joy!

  3. Better be careful, Kari. Marolyn is somewhat biased in my favor. Maybe that's why I think she's so wonderful.


  4. Thanks, Anna! Maybe a bunch of us from ANWA ought to make it our goal to be ready to have something to pitch next year!


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