Monday, November 07, 2011

Hit me with your best pitch if you want to get to first base

A  blog post about platform  here elicited some questions.  Here's one from Loretta Ross (remember her name; you're going to know her as an amazing writer one of these days.)

How about this one, Janet? I have a friend who, as a teenager in the mid fifties and early sixties, worked as a batboy (and scoreboard operator and all-around-gopher) for the New York Yankees. He still has tons of memorabilia and all kinds of great stories about things that happened on and off field. Assuming that I can get him to stop *talking* about writing a book about it and get him to actually sit down and *write* the damn thing, how much of a platform would he need before pitching something like that?

(Seriously, sometimes I just want to duct tape him to a chair and say, "look, just tell ME your stories and I'LL write it for you!")

He doesn't need much platform--the Yankees have platform enough for everyone.

But, what he needs is a book. "Great stories" are what grandpa tells at the dinner table. When everyone tells him he should write a book, sometimes he does, queries me, and can't understand why I don't fall all over myself to sign him right up.

My guess is hanging out with Yankees was amazing, and meeting Marilyn Monroe when she was married to Joe DiMaggio was amazing, and yoda yoda yoda all amazing that was. It's not new. It's fun to hear about Gramps being there, but if he's not MY Gramps, I'm less inclined to care.

What does make me care is if:

1. It reveals something previously unknown and hopefully horrifying: like the pitching lineup sacrificed goats in the locker room, or traded wives during the playoffs or something that will get people hot under the collar and reaching for their rolodex to call their lawyers.

2.  The stories are attached to a motivational how-to book of some sort: Everything I know about agenting, I learned as a bat boy for the Yankees, etc.

This applies to most memoirs these days. I get a lot of queries from folks who have had some very interesting things happen to them, and understandably want to tell their story to an audience. That's all well and good but the question I have to ask is "who wants to listen to this and why." The answer they give is largely why they want to tell the story, not why anyone would want to hear it. That's the trick with memoir.

I want to read something that will tell me something I didn't know, or teach me something I want to learn.  Tell me that and you've got a book.  Tell me they're great stories and I like to read great stories and you're missing the pitch.


Ali Trotta said...

I'm so going to show this to a friend of mine; I was trying to explain this concept to him, but failed rather spectacularly. Now, I can just point and go, "THIS!"

Thank you. :-)

TC Avey said...

Good pointers, thanks!

Feaky Snucker said...

I've been writing a memoir about my experiences as a biological child whose parents took in over 35 high needs foster children, and the effect it had on me. But I don't know what type of platform would be needed for this. I'm not famous, I'm not an expert in my field, and I think it's a sort of niche book. There's plenty of scandal and betrayal, and there isn't much out there about the biological child's experiences, but still. I'm not sure it has a chance of getting published.

Ali Trotta said...


If I were to give you advice, not that you asked, it would be to write the book first. Then, worry about platform. Get it written. You can always rewrite and revise it later.

To me, that already sounds like it has the making of a great book. Write the book that only you can write. Because others will relate to your stories, perhaps children who were fostered -- because children who grew up in a house, like you.

In a way, you are an expert in your field -- because you lived it. You're not someone standing on the outside, like a psychologist, discussing that kind of situation. You lived it. That counts.

Columbia 60 said...

I would add to Janet's criteria for a good memoir that it should be entertaining (humorous, inspiring, horrifying, or some combination thereof). It's what I call the "David Sedaris Effect." I didn't learn a lot of new facts from "Me Talk Pretty One Day," nor can I truthfully say that I grew as a person because of it. Frankly, I have doubts that some of the events he described even took place. But I find his sense of humor and his painfully acute observations of the human condition so spot-on and uproariously funny that I devour his books at one sitting the moment they're published, and so do lots of other people.

Marsha Sigman said...

I had an idea a few years back to go barefoot for a solid year and write a memoir about it. The Barefoot Chronicles.

But it sort of grossed me out when I thought it through. Like parking lots, and gas station bathrooms...

I'm pretty it would have interested anyone with feet.

ryan field said...

I have friends in the antique buisness and they have a sign over their desk reads:

"The only one who wanted what grandma had was grandpa."

In other words, if they are going to buy an antique, the antique has to be "important."

Feaky Snucker said...

@ Ali Thanks. I've been writing it anyways, because I do think parents need to know the positives and negatives that can and will come up. I've even had a bunch of my foster siblings write about how I may have influenced them, anything I taught them etc for better or for worse. Also, you only really hear about the horror stories in foster care, not the homes where the foster parents actually care, so I wanted to bring that to light as well.

P. J. Casselman said...

The idea that the subject is the platform sounds good, but it is simply not true. For example, one of my novels, From Chicago with Hope, is a modernization of the Book of Ruth. OK, Ruth is the most popular Biblical book among both Christian and Jewish women and all who hear that I wrote a modernization say they want a copy, but will they BUY one? Book Agents never let me get past the query stage with it because they know something I did not. Those who say they want a copy are often not book BUYERS. Book subjects do not sell books. The author's reputation (platform) sells books. Why else would anyone buy that garbage Pamela Anderson writes?

gregkshipman said...

Thanks, Janet... I love understandable explanations

My grand-daddy did WWI (in France), my daddy did WW2 (European theatre), my uncle did The Korean War (you guessed it... in Korea), I did Vietnam (flashback... way too close to the North) and my son...? (well let's just leave it at 'my son').

From my grand-dad to my uncle, those three had a constantly used saying that hits home. 'You can even sell shit if you package it right... the trick is knowing how to package it right!'

I'm sure each of our 'experiences' in war-land was memorable... but likely far from unique. In this world unique is getting harder and harder to do (pass the 'package' please)

Janet Reid said...

PJ, your point is well taken, but I'd like to clarify that I did not say the subject is the platform as a guiding principal. I said "the Yankees have platform enough" and I meant it to apply ONLY to this instance. I would not have said the same about the Toledo MudHens, who I'm sure are a very good team.

Loretta Ross said...

Thanks, Janet! Good advice and well-explained as always. I did ask my friend if I could help him any (okay, I want to play with his memorabilia) and this will help me see if there's a way to slant this stuff so there's an actual book there.

Greg, I would think there might be material there for a book that looks at the ways war has changed and the ways it has not from a soldier's point of view.

(My word verification is "jackn". If there's a Jack N. out there, today could be your lucky day!)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

As always - awesome. I'm working on a friend to lend her expertise to mine and together create a guide for non-custodial parents caught up in the federal/state/interstate child support collection system. It's not complicated, but the repercussions for mistakes are brutal.

I'm a staff attorney in the trenches and she is considered da bomb in her state, rewriting that state's child support procedure manual. I'm going to send her this and work on refining the pitch.

michael gavaghen said...

Not sure whether you knew this when you posted, Janet, but two Yankee pitchers actually swapped wives in 1972. I believe Fritz Peterson is still married to Susanne Kekich. Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson didn't make it through the '73 season. (And the Red Sox thought they had problems with their pitchers drinking beer . . .)

Love the blog. Still.

Michael Gavaghen
Weston Florida
Proud of Our Lawns

Janet Reid said...

Hey Michael,
No I didn't know that. And here I thought I'd come up with something so tawdry NO one would believe it.

I live a sheltered life here at Saint Sharcia's School of Wayward Minnows.

And I love your signature lines.
A lot.