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Q&A with James Spackman, The Book Pitch Doctor

Q&A with James Spackman, The Book Pitch Doctor

By Phoebe Dunn |

Whether you work with a traditional publisher or are navigating the world of self-publishing, James Spackman and The Book Pitch Doctor could be your answer to success. With many years of experience in the publishing industry, James helps clients to confidently and effectively pitch their books to an audience. We asked him to introduce The Book Pitch Doctor, as well as a few questions about the motivation behind the company and his approach to workshops. 

Tell us a bit about The Book Pitch Doctor and your background in the publishing industry. 

The Book Pitch Doctor is my workshop for publishers who want to improve the way they present books in public, either to a big crowd (like a sales conference), in an important meeting, or even one to one. It’s useful for editors who want to give their books the best start in life, and for sales, publicity and rights people who need to persuade others about the titles they represent.

The workshops involve discussion about all aspects of presentation, including preparation, script, anxiety, body language and a lot of practical work. We role-play pitching scenarios and give one another supportive, constructive feedback.

As for me, I do a portfolio of things in publishing, including commissioning a list of cycling books called Pursuit, with Profile Books. Prior to that I ran a division of Osprey Group. I’ve also worked at Bloomsbury (where I started, in the post room), John Murray and Hodder & Stoughton.

You have a fantastic tagline – Pitching is Publishing. What motivated you to set up The Book Pitch Doctor and was there a specific moment when you realised that this was what publishing needed? 

Thank you! I really do believe that it’s crucial. You can’t publish a bestseller on your own, so even the most introverted editor needs to find a way to inspire colleagues and gather support for a big book.

I first tried role-playing pitching scenarios when I was at Hodder; we ran some training for junior sales staff to prepare them for selling to key accounts. I realised that I’d acquired quite a lot of effective techniques and approaches in my many years of selling and could pass them on in a practical way. In addition, I knew I had developed my confidence in “big room” pitching and was sure that even those who dread it can be helped to find their own voice.

Tell us a bit about your approach to your workshops. Do you tailor them according to the participants? 

Absolutely. The full version of the Book Pitch Doctor course is two half days, a week apart. That takes in multiple scenarios: conference pitch, presentation to the board and 1:1 pitch. I usually have a group of up to eight people and try to focus either on editors or sales/publicity/rights so we can tailor the scenarios.

Shorter, half-day versions of the course are more role-specific and I’ve even done these with groups of literary agents as well as publishers, and am intending to expand to work with authors.

I always try to make sure individual needs of the participants are taken into account and adjust the workshops to give them exactly the right support. For instance, if someone is preparing for a specific pitch, we can rehearse it.

Can both traditional publishers and self-publishing authors benefit from The Book Pitch Doctor? 

Absolutely. Everyone needs to be able to talk persuasively about the books they work on. It’s more challenging the closer you are to the book, so self-publishing authors often benefit from finding ways to be objective about a title they know almost too intimately to sell!

However well you know your pitch, nerves can often scupper plans to give a convincing presentation. What quick tips can you give to keep those pesky nerves at bay?

I’ll just give you one tip: a very useful mantra to keep in mind, to stay connected with your purpose and the needs of your audience: “what do I want to achieve, and what’s in it for them?”

Finally, what is the best book you’ve read recently? 

I almost never read business books, but I loved Shoe Dog, by the founder of Nike.

You can find out more about James and The Book Pitch Doctor through his website or twitter.

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