Monday, May 02, 2011

Book Talking, and preparing for Focus Meeting

I've mentioned this on the blog in the past, but twice a year (once for each list), we have what we call Focus meeting. At other publishing companies, this is sometimes called "Launch Meeting", because what we're doing is launching the list to our in-house Sales, Marketing, and Publicity teams. Tomorrow we're presenting our Spring/Summer 2012 list for the first time.

At Little, Brown, we meet in a large conference room--there are generally about 75-100 people in the room. The editors rotate to the table at the front of the room, and everyone else sits around the table and perimeter, and in rows of chairs in the back of the room. We've prepared a Power Point presentation in advance, and each editor presents their books. We present ours by format--picture books first, young adult novels last.

There are some people in the room who know about the books in advance--mainly the members of our acquisitions committee. But for the most part, this is the first time people are hearing about our list. Because of this, it's important for each editor to get across his or her enthusiasm and passion for the book, and pass along information and tools that the sales force can use to in turn sell the books to their accounts, whether it be Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, foreign publishers, etc.

I thought I'd talk about what I do to prepare for the presentation. Basically, because I only have between 1 and 2 minutes to present each title, the presentation needs to be really tight. I want to touch on the summary of the book, because again, this is the first time they're hearing about the book, but at the same time I don't want to spend TOO much time on the summary, because (ideally) they'll read the book eventually, and they also have title fact sheets to read and study.

I like to start with a "This is X meets X" because I feel this is an easily digestible and memorable way to get across very quickly what type of book this is. If "X meets X" doesn't quite work, then some other pithy opening is important--just as the first sentence of a book is crucial, so is the opener of a sales presentation--I have to grab the audience's attention right away so they'll keep listening!

Sometimes, if I think it's important/relevant, I'll talk briefly about the acquisitions process--was it a big auction? That's important for them to know. Was there some other interesting story behind either the acquisition of the book, or the author's inspiration for the story? Those interesting tidbits can help make the book memorable as well.

If the author has previous books, I'll usually end on some kind of past glory, whether it be sales, awards, or reviews. If the book is a debut, I'll try to offer some kind of way to position the author/book.

So, here's my general formula:

1) X meets X (or other strong opener/intro)
2) brief plot summary
3) acquisitions process and/or author's inspiration
4) past accolades/sales and/or future opportunities

All of this in under two minutes!

My goal is to really get across just how much I personally love and am excited about a book. I try to do everything in my power to entice the people listening to read the book. At the end of the meeting our publisher will usually ask the group which books they're excited to read, and I take it as a personal victory if the books I've introduced are the ones people name. Then I know I've done my job.

Book talking is definitely a skill that I'm working on and trying to get better at doing. I think I do a good job of getting my passion across, but I'm sure I could be smoother and more articulate overall. Many librarians, teachers, and booksellers are so brilliant at book talking: our Library and Marketing Director is especially skilled at it--oftentimes when I'm working in the booth at a conference like ALA, I'll listen to how she pitches a book first, and then copy her.

How many of you do book talks, and if you do, do you have a certain way of approaching it? If you're listening to someone telling you about a book, what type of things pique your interest?

P.S. I'm leaving for Australia on Wednesday--am going for part vacation, and part work--am attending the Sydney Writers' Festival, as well as the Auckland Writers' Festival. I may not be able to post much while over there, but I have a few guest posts lined up for the two weeks I'm away. And will of course take lots of pictures!


Maria Wen Adcock said...

Interesting information, a good look at home things work on the edit side. Have fun in Australia!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing - the things that go on behind closed doors at publishing houses feel like such a mystery to me. It's nice to get a peek inside. :)

Enjoy Australia!!!

Jess Stork said...

It's interesting to hear how booktalking is approached from the publishing perspective. I might try your formula at the library.

Ben Langhinrichs said...

Interesting perspective on the pitch inside the publishing house doors. As a book reviewer, I see a distilled version of those pitches in the letters that come out about books to be released in the next month. Fun to see where it all starts earlier in the process.

Thanks for sharing.