Friday, June 22, 2018

Who Are You Pitching To?

I try to post on something like this every year right around conference time. I think it is always a good reminder for those of you veterans who are pitching and certainly a great word of warning for you new authors.

Pitching is a tough thing. I am, in no way going to argue that this is a great experience. You have 8 to 10 minutes to convince that mean old scary editor or agent on the other side of the table that your story is the best thing ever. Not easy.

Now, many organizations such as the Romance Writers of America are trying to give more authors the opportunity to get their work in front of those editors and agents using a "Speed Dating" approach. Now you have 3 minutes and you just run from one editor to the next to pitch.

OPINION TIME... I am putting this in a color to really stress that this is just my opinion. This is the stupidest thing I have ever seen. 3 minutes is just not enough time to get names out title of book and a single log line. To add to this, ever time I have done this, we just see authors who run to any open spot and really have no clue who they are pitching to. And then they wonder why they get rejected???? Snort...

OK, back to the previously scheduled post...

The first thing to remind authors of is that a pitch is a job interview. This is your chance to sell your story and your writing. With that said, you need to treat this with the same respect that you would any other job interview.

Now, when you think of a job interview, you always go in prepared. You have taken the time to read all about the company. You know their slogans. You know their work models. You know where the company is heading in the future. You also take the time to know something about the person you will be interviewing with.

Why do we do this? To hit the right buttons. To be able to shape your work experience, your skills and your education into something that fits with the model of the company. You want to show that you are a component of the company.

With your writing, you do the same thing. You want to demonstrate that your writing and you, as an author are a perfect fit with the editor and agent.

I heard Deb Werksman from Sourcebooks describe her approach to finding authors in one of the best ways. She stated that she is signing the author and not the project. She wants a complete package and the book just happens to be the link tying it all together.

I really don't care if you are going to use the speed pitch opportunities, regular pitches, or planning on using the query approach, it is important to take the time to know who you are pitching to. If you have no clue who the person is you are talking to, or who you are sending that project to, you are doing nothing more than throwing darts.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

You Aren't The Only Author

I don't want to take a lot of time on this today, but I do think it is something we have to be reminded of this every now and then. You are not the only author out there.

I know this might seem like a "no-duh" statement, but it is also too easy to forget. We spend hours and hours with our characters and stories and as we do start to see that our stories are really good. Whether or not our story is the best thing since sliced bread, we think it is. This the translates to how we view out writing in the entire publishing world.

Let me explain.

When we send our stories out to editors and agents for review, we expect our writing to be moved to the top of the "to be read" stack. We expect to get a full response back from that editor or agent, and, even if that letter is a rejection, we are expecting to get a full revision letter back with a chance to resubmit.

We also want that response within 1 week of sending that story in. Why? Well, "no-duh!" We are the best thing this editor or agent has ever seen and that person should be honored to have our writing on their desk.

This goes even further.

When we sign with an editor or agent, we are expecting our writing to be their first priority. We are expecting those editors and agents to drop everything they are doing to focus on our writing. We are expecting the editors to put our writing on the schedule first and in the best time slots. We are expecting the best covers, the best copy editors and the best marketing team to truly showcase our amazing writing.

We also expect those book buyers to leverage our amazing writing in the best way to show all of those readers why we are so amazing.

But remember, you are not the only writer out there.

A January 5th article on Publisher's Weekly by Jim Milliot clearly shows the numbers.

Although no new book sold more than one million print copies last year, unit sales of print books were 1.9% higher in 2017 than in 2016 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The service, which tracks between 80% and 85% of print sales, reported 687.2 million total units sold last year, up from 674.1 million in 2016. The increase follows a 3.3% increase in 2016. Units have risen every year since 2013, and 2017 sales were up 10.8% from that year.

And you are just one of these authors.

As an agent, I know I try my best to get to your writing as soon as possible. But there are going to be times when someone else is going to get the priority over you.

I know that editors do their best to leverage your writing the best way possible. They are not going to put your book out there to not make money. Remember, if you don't make money, your publisher does not make money. They want you to succeed. We want you to succeed.

But remember, your critique partners, your writing colleagues, and you friends are also fighting for those spots.

Just something to think about for a Friday.

Friday, June 15, 2018

What We Can Learn From Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy

I do believe that so many authors these days are too hung up on plots. They are trying their best to create these unique and totally different plots to stand out from the rest of the authors out there. While this approach is certainly fine, I do believe that these same authors are missing out on something a lot of the great authors around the world have figured out. They forgot the characters.

There are a lot of times when I read submissions and find that I simply cannot connect with the story. The initial premise of the pitch and the story idea sounded fantastic, but, when I start reading the project, the story just doesn't hit home. In the majority of the cases, it comes down to the characters. In simple terms - I just don't care.

If a reader does not make that connection with the characters and find a way to feel what they feel and see what they see, they are simply bi-standers in the story.

I bring up Jo, Beth and Amy from Little Women simply for this reason. The characters are people that everyone can connect with. When it comes down to it, the storyline itself is pretty simply. We are following this family through their journey. We have no car crashes, no serial killers, no adultery. It is a simple story about a simple family. But the depth of characters is incredible. We know what drives all three of the sisters. We know what touches each of them emotionally. We can connect, in some way to at least one of the characters on a personal level. These are believable characters.

One of the things I tell authors that I look for in romance and women's fiction are characters that are real. Of course, I do have a lot of authors who simply do not understand this and send me a memoir or biography (heavy sigh), but for the rest, many still struggle with this. The key to romance and women's fiction is the ETHOS and the PATHOS. We want an emotional journey but that journey is only going to have an impact if we can "relate" to the characters.

So here is the question for the weekend.

Have you even thought about your characters as being real? Are you creating characters that people can say they "know?" Do you have characters such as Beth that you can really cry over?

If not, it might be time to rethink what you are doing.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

I spent the weekend with my daughter at a dance recital. I got the day off of going to the stable this time. I am always reminded of the comment you often hear people say - "Practice Makes Perfect." I always feel sorry for people who believe this because they are so missing the point.

Practice DOES NOT make perfect.

PERFECT practice makes perfect.

My daughter's ballet instructor is someone who truly believes this. Bonnie never lets her dancers move on to the next element of the dance until the prior part is perfect. As they practice their routines, she is always on their case to make sure the positions are proper and their posture is perfect. The result, a great performance.

My other daughter rides Hunter Jumper equestrian and she too has been fortunate to have some great coaches who demand excellence. The team at her current stables, Thumbs Up Farm push for that excellence. Heels down. Hands in the right position. All of the fundamentals. It is not about the safety, although this certainly comes into play. It is about the perfection of the ride that makes a beautiful performance in the arena.

Finally my son, the swimmer pushes for the same thing every day at practice. Even though much of the practice is about endurance and pacing, there is also the element of him having to push himself to "race speed." Keeping it at that
higher pace allows him the chance to "duplicate" that same performance when he hits the pool at an actual meet. If he never practices that upper level speed, when he hits the race, he will do what he always does.

So, what does this have to do with writing? The answer is simple. As you sit down to work on any piece of writing, you need to push yourself to make that story perfect for publication. Just writing and not putting that effort into the piece to make it the best thing possible is teaching your brain that mediocre is OK.

This is actually one of the reasons why I am not a big fan of the NaNoWriMo   or even those competitions that many writing chapters have where they do "Blitz" writing. Yes, the intent of programs like this is good. They want people to get writing. The problem, however, is that the strength of the writing, the focus on making the story amazing with every click of the keyboard is not there. 

As you write this week, take the time to maybe slow down some. Make sure that those sentences, those characters, those scenes and those plots are the best you can do. You might surprise yourself with some really good writing.