Chris Pavone's first novel The Expats won both an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award for Best First Novel.
I still remember the first time I saw Jacqueline Onassis pitching a book. We were in Doubleday’s conference room, in a newly constructed skyscraper whose architecture was meant to evoke the prow of a ship, with a glass triangle protruding from the façade, jutting out into Times Square. If you stood in the floor-to-ceiling-windowed corner of the prow, you could imagine you were flying. Like DiCaprio and Winslet, but this was a half-decade earlier, and in the real world.
Perhaps forty people were in this seasonal launch meeting, arrayed around a big table as well as chairs that lined the perimeter of the room, salespeople and marketers and publicists, production and design and me, a twenty-four-year-old copy editor.
Each acquiring editor took a turn to stand and present his or her books for the season’s list, the thirty new hardbacks that would be going on-sale a half-year or more in the future, books that had already been acquired, written, delivered, edited, accepted. This was the editor’s opportunity to convince the publishing house that each of her books was original, or notable, or unique, or beautiful, or whatever was special about the project, whatever was the reason the thing was going to exist in the world. Most importantly, it was the editor’s obligation to convince her colleagues that the book was saleable.
I don’t remember the titles that Mrs. Onassis pitched. What I do remember was how hard she tried, how impassioned she was, entreating about how some author had been working on the manuscript for years, how good the book had become, how much it deserved a place in the world. Some colleagues were skeptical; they challenged her with questions.
There were a few things about this episode that were revelatory to me. First was that this woman, arguably the most famous in the world, was in this circumstance just another editor, someone who came to work and did a job.
Second was that Jackie Onassis’s job, like many others, entailed asking other people for something, day in and day out. For book editors, it’s asking for attention for her books. It’s pitching.
Third was that the pitching never ends. I’d thought these books had already been pitched to death. An author had pitched an agent. Agent had pitched acquiring editor. Acquiring editor had pitched her colleagues, I’d like to take on this project, could you give it a read? Then editor maybe pitched an editorial board, a publisher, may I have permission to offer 10, 50, a million? Publisher may have pitched CEO.
Then the book was acquired, contract signed, advance paid. At this point, I sort of assumed the pitching was over.
Absolutely not. Then came the pitching for endorsements. Pitching inside the publishing house—for an aggressive marketing budget, for sales goals, for production bells-and-whistles. Pitching for the trade publications to review, for catalogs to carry, for book clubs to adopt. For newspaper reviews and magazine features, for TV-morning-show segments and radio interviews. For a mass-market-paperback subsidiary-rights sale, film adaptations or television, foreign translations, audio or large-print licensing agreements. Pitching to libraries and wholesalers, book chains and independents, newsstands and grocery stores, huge corporations and mom-and-pop businesses, pitching in hotel ballrooms with microphones and in small offices one-on-one.
All before a single copy is in the hands of a single reader.
Until, ultimately, after hundreds or even thousands of pitches, there she is, one reader is standing in one bookshop. She’s appraising the cover, running her fingers over the embossed spot-laminated type that the editor pitched to spend the money on, reading the endorsement from a famous author, one of dozens of luminaries whom the editor pitched, but only a few responded; these authors get pitched hundreds of times per year. This book landed on this particular display table because the sales rep pitched the bookstore buyer who pitched the merchandising director, who said, Okay, we’ll give it a couple of weeks, see how it sells.
The reader turns to the bookstore clerk. “What’s it about?”
The clerk knows this book’s pitch; he’s heard it before, more than once. “A travel writer,” he begins, “who becomes a spy . . .”
The Travelers by Chris Pavone is out on 10th March (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
The Travelers by Chris Pavone
Will Rhodes is an award-winning correspondent for The Travelers, on assignment at a luxury Argentinian resort - fine wines and gourmet food, polo fields and the looming Andes. But Will's life is about to be turned upside down when a new flirtation turns into something far more dangerous, and he only realises too late. Turns out he's been targeted, he just doesn't know why. He doesn't know what these people truly want and how far into his life they will reach, to his friends and his colleagues, to his boss and his wife. He doesn't know that they will stop at nothing in their pursuit, and he doesn't know about the secrets he has already been keeping...
More information about Chris Pavone and his books can be found on his website.