Julie Bogart: Find Your Voice—and Audience—Before Pitching
I grew up around traditional publishing. My mother (age 79) is writing her 80th book right now. You would think that background would translate into eagerly submitting my work to the big New York publishing houses. Uh, no. Plenty of my mother’s books wound up in remainders—I didn’t want that. I saw early in my adult life that if I didn’t have readers, simply getting a book published to then watch it die on a bookshelf would break my heart.
Julie Bogart is the creator of the innovative writing program for homeschooling families called Brave Writer. Her program includes online writing classes and more than 200 pieces of curriculum created by Julie which have sold over 100,000 copies in the last 17 years. She’s a popular international speaker and the author of six self-published books. Julie homeschooled her five kids who are now adults. She has also worked as a magazine editor, ghostwriter, weekly columnist for University Press International, and adjunct professor at Xavier University. Julie lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she runs marathons and roots for the Bengals. Follow Julie on Social media: Instagram (@juliebravewriter), Twitter (@bravewriter), and Facebook (facebook.com/bravewriter).
Enter the Internet—a new way to find an audience. In the 1990s, I discovered that, lo and behold, my writing voice did have resonance. I blogged, joined email lists, and commented on discussion boards like the compulsive writer I was. In the 2000s, I found work as an editor, was regularly published in magazines, and wrote a weekly online column for a major news organization. My minor successes in writing and editing gave me courage. In January of 2000, I wrote my first book—and published it myself. In the last 17 years, I’ve sold over 10,000 copies.
Since then, I’ve written and published thousands of blog posts, 200-plus pieces of curriculum, and 6 books related to my chosen field: teaching writing to homeschooling families. I built a business and expanded my readership through social media. My aim has been to develop my writing chops and audience first, then to seek traditional publication later. I didn’t need the money (I’ve got a thriving business). What I wanted—what I had yet to experience—was a chance to expand my reach through traditional publishing and to partner with an editorial team to produce the best writing I could. It gets lonely writing alone.
Last year, my mother suggested I attend the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference to wade into the publishing waters. I would need an agent; I would need contacts. I had none of these as an entrepreneur and self-published writer. I signed up for the Pitch Slam eager to meet agents face-to-face. I scoured the materials and agent bios we were sent in advance.
One name stood out above the rest: Rita Rosenkranz, from Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency. I read her entire website. It was when I read Rita’s list—authors and books she had represented—that I could see my work fitting neatly. Her long, successful career impressed me. I also liked her look; she seemed smart and serious in her rectangular glasses. I felt if I could pitch my book to her and succeed, I’d have a good shot at publication.
I had never given a pitch before. I hired a friend of a friend who worked as a publicist for authors—Louise Crawford, located in New York City—to meet me at the conference. I found out that I knew nothing about writing a pitch! Louise chucked my first draft and we got to work brainstorming better, more powerful language. For the next 24 hours, every chance I got, I stood in front of a mirror and delivered my pitch.
When the doors to my session of the Pitch Slam opened (the last session of the conference), I made a beeline for Rita’s table. There was already someone ahead of me. I waited my turn, mentally rehearsing. I approached Rita with a smile and launched into the pitch. Rita listened studiously, stoically. I watched her eyebrow go up when I described my social media reach and the scale of my business. She asked a follow up question about the book topic itself, and then handed me her card inviting me to send a proposal. It was the first of six cards I received that day, but easily my most valuable.
When I returned home, I applied the most important advice I had heard at the conference: No invitation to read a book proposal ever expires. It is more important to write a great proposal than it is to hurry to get something into the agent’s hands. I took that advice to heart. I spent the next five months revising my book proposal. Of the three agents I sent it to, Rita replied first and immediately. She gave excellent feedback to improve it. I took her advice and made substantial changes to focus and tone.
Rita took me as her client and went to work, selling the book. What impressed me most about the process—my book kept improving. Each editor contributed meaningful comments that changed the book’s shape and title, and enhanced its marketability. Rita acted as a dialog partner for me, and skillful navigator of the business of publishing.
After ten weeks, we had two solid offers and a couple other interested publishers! We took the best offer, of course. I am thrilled with the outcome—it’s everything I hoped to achieve back when I first published my own work. I’m glad I had already found my writing voice and audience before I sought publication. It’s been a long, slow journey, but one I wouldn’t trade. The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference played an invaluable role in helping me take the next step in my writing life: getting traditionally published.
My book, The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic for Homeschool, Learning, and Life comes out August 2018, published by Tarcher Perigree, an imprint of Penguin Random House, represented by Rita Rosenkranz. And the best part? I love writing it. Pure joy!
Rita Rosenkranz: Do Your Research Before You Pitch
As with its musical and sports counterparts, an author’s perfect pitch is a powerful summary of the book, defined by utmost clarity and precision. It offers enough particulars to help anchor my understanding of the work, but not so many details to bog down the description, or waste precious time in what typically is a tight window. A successful pitch can trigger an agent’s almost visceral response and instant embrace. A project that catches my attention presents with confidence and commitment either a familiar subject approached freshly or a less well-known subject approached commercially. An author should realize, too, that a perfect pitch might not register for reasons beyond the author’s immediate knowledge or control—anything from personal likes and dislikes to imperfect timing (the agent has just signed up a similar work or has a book in the same category that is performing poorly).
A well-established agent, who began her career as an editor at major publishing houses, Rita Rosenkranz represents almost exclusively adult nonfiction titles. Her wide-ranging list includes healthy, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, sports, popular reference, cooking, writing, humor, spirituality, illustrated books, and general interested titles. She represents first-time as well as seasoned authors, and looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets.
Julie Bogart’s pitch was concise and persuasive. However niche the market for homeschooling books was, the market appeared to be passionate and active. Julie had a built-in, loyal audience in place, making her an appealing author.
- To be prepared, research an agent’s areas of interest and track record; otherwise, the perfect pitch can be lost on the wrong agent.
- How are you aligned with the subject, either personally or professionally, to make the marriage of author and subject make sense and supportable in the marketplace? Publishers expect authors in most nonfiction categories to have an established audience, thanks to prior publications, media connections, professional or university affiliations, lecture circuits allowing for back-of-the-room sales—whatever helps you achieve a competitive edge.
- Do not spend valuable time apologizing for taking up the agent’s time. Authors are an agent’s lifeline and most of us depend on a continuing stream of new clients. I like to think we are mutually reliant. We need you, too!
In these times of great mobility and inconstancy in the publishing industry, it is especially important for the new as well as experienced author to be vigilant about the details of the publishing process. May your perfect pitch lead to a successful publication!
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