Pitch Guide for Publishers: How to Easily Sell your Foreign Rights to Other Publishers
A series of fortunate events lead this senior editor to be selected for the “Frankfurt Invitation Programme”. This 12-day curriculum opens the Frankfurt book fair doors to promising independent publishers from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. These doors are quite prestigious, for the Frankfurter Buchmesse is the largest and most internationally renowned professional book fair out there. And so I found myself among a flurry of international experts, all with the same goal in mind: to sell our foreign rights catalogues to other territories, in other languages.
As part of the Invitation Programme, all invitees benefited from theoretical prepping in the form of a day-long seminar about rights negotiations, as well as a conference about book trends in international markets. The gates of the arena opened on October 10th, and each of us had to put these theories to good use, and do some pitching in the hopes of achieving a couple of elusive home runs. For my part, after 31 pitches in 4 days, I find myself one step closer to mastering the art of pitching a book at book fairs.
This is why I decided to summarise my learning into six tips to keep in mind when pitching a title to foreign publishers—in chronological order, here’s what you need to do:
1. Be prepared.
Whether you got your meeting after bombarding the foreign publisher with emails, through common professional acquaintances, or by visiting their stand and cornering them into granting you a slot, you did it. You got a big fish to listen to you. So you can’t just wing it; you need to come prepared. If you’re meeting for the first time, learn all there is to know about the publishing house beforehand: how long it has been active, what genres it publishes, what its best sellers are. It’s important that you understand why you are pitching to this particular person. If it’s someone you have met with before, check your previous notes before your meeting (Yes, you should take notes) to refresh your memory, and pick up where you left off.
2. Be on time.
It’s D day! First things first: A slot at a professional book fair consists of 30 minutes, no more, no less. Get to your meeting on time, otherwise you risk seeming unprofessional and ruining everyone’s schedule, especially yours if you have back-to-back meetings.
Bonus tip: If you have a poor sense of direction as I do, then the Frankfurt fair grounds will seem like a giant maze. It won’t hurt to locate the booth where you’re meeting at ahead of the date, this will help you save up on time later.
3. Be adaptive.
You did your homework prior to the rights meeting. Now is the time to put your research to good use. Whether you have hundreds of titles in your catalogue, or have just started out with one or two, it’s all about knowing your audience. Never pitch more than a couple of titles, if you want to make your pitch stick. This can be tricky when you have a small number of titles to choose from, as you can’t afford to talk about the wrong book. You should adapt your choice of titles to your listener’s tastes, the titles they previously published, their recent acquisitions, etc. If you are unable to make this link, you can always rely on current worldwide trends, or simply go with your latest titles.
4. Be precise. Be concise.
You’re there on time, you know your material and have selected the title you want to push. Now all that is left to do is convince the other party that they need to have your title in their catalogue. Time is of the essence; you shouldn’t talk about one book—especially uninterrupted—for more than ten minutes (we will get to this point later). Know what points you want to make, and highlight them beforehand. Just as the presentation sheets you have written about your title, your live presentation should be organized to the point, highlighting the key elements that make your title stand out. Use voice intonations and gestures to emphasize these important points and re-invigorate your listener’s attention.
5. Be human.
You must have done the math by now, and figured out that if you will only be talking about one title for about ten minutes that would leave you with twenty to spare. That’s because at the end of the day, your encounters will be with human beings. You have to connect with these people on a personal level as well, to make your meeting meaningful, and to ensure the longevity of your professional relationship. Always make eye contact with the person you’re pitching to, and articulate clearly; yes time is short, but you won’t be saving up on any if you talk so fast and unintelligibly that the other party can’t keep up. Furthermore, you should open and end the conversation on a personal note, be it saying something about yourself or asking them something (but try not to pry too much into their personal life). For the less socially inclined, there’s always the weather; Frankfurt’s in particular is a doozie!
6. Be a standout.
You’re almost done with your meeting. There’s one last thing to keep in mind: Most big publishers, agents, and scouts you will meet with have overloaded schedules, to the point where most meetings mesh together in their thoughts. In order to make your tete a tete memorable, you need to stand out. From offering goodies like pins (which are surprisingly in again!), bookmarks, a box of candy from your hometown, a witty anecdote, or a funky business card, or even showing up in (slightly) eccentric clothes, do what it takes to leave an impression—preferably a good one.
So, let’s recap!
Rights meetings can make a break the deals that you wish to strike with other key players of the book publishing chain. Don’t let this break your spirit. It’s a highly competitive business we’re in; keep that in mind. So make the necessary preparations, yet leave room for improvisation. Above all, be yourself: you love books (if you’re in the business of books solely for money, you are in for quite a surprise), you believe in your titles, you have something to say. Make them listen. And when all's said and done, and you gave it your best, the rest is up to the book itself. If you don’t make a deal, don’t take it personally. Every book has its audience, and you are bound to find them.