How To Pitch: Book
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Jerome Kramer describes the magazine he cofounded in October of 1998 as "the
Rolling Stone not the Billboard of the book industry."
Though you'll find a copy of Book on the desk of every literary agent,
editor, and book store owner in the country, industry insiders aren't this publication's
target audience. "We're a mainstream lifestyle magazine," says Kramer.
"Most of our readers are well-educated, affluent people over the age of
30 who consider books to be an important part of their lives." All those
bibliophiles who loiter in the aisles of bookstores on Saturday afternoons,
crowd into tiny cafes to hear readings by local writers, and pay more than $20
for a bulky hardcover because they can't wait for it to come out in paperback
they're Book's target audience.
To those of you who have only glanced at it on the newsstand before
flashier titles caught your eye, what may surprise you most about Book magazine
is that it's not boring. Flip though an issue and you'll quickly notice that
Book is as much about celebrities, movies, music, current events, history,
and human drama as it is about the publishing business.
"We're fun to read because we focus on the point where pop
culture and the book world intersect," says Kramer. Which explains why
personalities like Ethan Hawke and Peter Jennings have been recent cover models.
"We don't print features about writers simply because they
write," says senior editor Adam Langer. "They have to be interesting,
dynamic people who are as engaging as their work."
You could say that Book is also the Us Weekly of
the industry, offering up juicy tidbits of what passes for gossip in this relatively
respectable trade like what authors really think about the film adaptations
of their novels, which fictitious characters and events are based on a writer's
real-life experiences, and celebrity confessions about the tomes currently on
their bedside table.
And, of course, there are a good 15-plus pages of concise book
reviews that mercifully focus more on whether the title is an enjoyable read
than where it fits in the grand scheme of literary achievement. Book is
for enthusiastic leisure readers, not disciples of Derrida.
What to pitch: Articles that
are about a lot more than just a book or a writer. "Don't bother pitching
an interview with John Irving because he's about to publish a new novel and
you've always been a huge fan," says Kramer. "Instead, pitch a story
about how Stevie Nicks has the world's largest collection of cult horror novels
and you went to her house, got high with her, and read blood-chilling excerpts
to each other all night long." Just make sure you get the go-ahead from
"You have to already have the access to the author or celebrity
you want to write about when you pitch the story," says Langer.
Assume that the staffers have a handle on all the new releases
and up-and-coming authors. What they need from freelancers are features that
are unexpected but still relevant to the magazine.
Departments of Book most open to freelance contributions
are "Backstory," which sheds light on a little known aspect of an
already famous book; "Shopwatch," which highlights an interesting
or unusual bookstore anywhere in the country; "Locations," a story
that revolves around a place made famous by a book; and "Epilogue,"
a one-page personal essay on the last page that can be about anything
as long as it's intelligent and entertaining and somehow gets neatly back around
to books and reading.
What not to pitch: Q&As
with writers (unless you have special access to a famous author), book reviews,
and ideas that require travel expenses that you aren't willing to pay yourself.
Recent freelance stories pitched and
published: A September/October 2002 "Epilogue" entitled
a Man by His Covers" by Ellie Forgotson; a November/December 2002 "Backstory"
essay by David Bowman about In Cold Blood; a November/December 2002 "Epilogue"
by David Masello about a woman who made an unexpected discovery about her family
at a book sale. Kramer and Langer also recall a freelancer who pitched a story
for the November/December 2002 "Locations" department that involved
taking a child to Dylan Thomas's house for Christmas. Both editors loved the
idea, but it turned out that the writer didn't have a child and couldn't get
there for the holidays, so it never came to be.
Etiquette: With so many review
copies of books cluttering their offices, email is the only way to save your
pitches from being lost in a biblio-landslide. "Be as brief and succinct
as possible, and don't send electronic clips I never read them,"
says Kramer. And, he adds, don't call. "If a caller with an unsolicited
pitch has somehow made it to my line, I'm very disappointed."
Lead time: Minimum of four
months, and up to a full year for some stories although if you're so
organized that you can manage to plan a story that far ahead, they'll be suspicious. Responds to queries within: Two weeks.
"But if you haven't heard from us, you should be persistent via email follow-ups,"
says Langer. Pay: $1 per word in most cases, but fees
can vary depending on the circumstances. Kill fee: Negotiable; typically 25 percent. Rights purchased: Book considers pieces
written out-of-house as work-for-hires. You write it. They own it.