Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pitching - Use Your Time Wisely

I get it! Pitches are tough. Pitches are those stressful situations that many introverted writers have to face to get their stories in front of an editor or agent. But understand that a pitch is absolutely no different than an interview for a potential job. In fact, that is what you are doing - applying for a job as a writer. Still there is stress, and that stress comes from the time constraints. You only have 5, 7 or 10 minutes to make that great impression. 

But here is the thing... too many authors screw up pitches because they simply use their time poorly. Wasting that time could be the difference between getting a request and getting a lukewarm response, or even an rejection.

Too often, writers spend much of their time talking about the conference, sharing their personal background in writing, or even making small talk. They think they are doing this to make the pitch personal and allow us to see who they are. Yes, this is important, but remember, we are also looking at the story. If we have very little to go on regarding your story, we are going to be less likely to be overly enthusiastic about your project.

Let's break down a basic 10 minute session. If you have shorter pitch sessions, just scale things down. So, let's start the clock.

30 seconds - Introductions and niceties - "Hi, my name is..." and "Hope your conference is going great" and the thank you for being here talk.

1:30 - During this block of time, you will give the editor/agent the basics of your story:

  • Why you selected this editor or agent for your story. Demonstrate what it was in their bio, their talk during the editor or agent panel, discussions with other authors, or their information from the website that makes you the perfect candidate for submitting
  • Title
  • Genre - Be very specific using the language the editor/agent always uses
  • Word Count
  • High Concept - This can also include comparable titles, but if you do use these, make sure you state exactly what it was about those other titles that make your story similar
We're 2 minutes in with 8 minutes to go...

4-5 min (NO MORE THAN 5) - Talking about the story.

  • Talk about the plot of the story. Give us the beginning, the middle and the end
  • Make sure to talk about the conflict
  • Give us a sense of the protagonists. Make sure we have a true sense of their GMC's. What are their goals in life, what are their motivations and what is potentially holding them back.
  • Focus your attention on the central story arc and don't dive into all of the sub characters
  • Make sure to describe your story to always target what the editor or agent likes in a project like your story. If, for example, they like strong heroines, or heroes with a crack in their fa├žade, make sure to show that. 
We now have about 3 minutes left...
During this last block of time, be prepared for additional questions from the editor or agent. This is also your time to talk about the following:
  • Where you see your career going
  • If this is part of a series, tell us what the other stories are going to be about. Be really clear here such as "The second book in the series will focus on the brother who is faced with..." or "The next book will focus on a [insert character name] who will be having this similar theme]. 
  • You can also talk about how this story has maybe won some contests or your other writing. 
1-1:30 left

Make sure that you leave enough time so that the editor or agent has a chance to give you the information on what he/she is interested in seeing, to get notes on how to send material, or to give them your card (ONLY IF THE EDITOR OR AGENT REQUESTS ONE!). 

Make sure that you say thank you, shake hands (or in this world, elbow bump) and make your exit. Remember that the editor or agent will want to get their notes in order because someone else is coming in right behind you.

Now, after the pitch, take the time outside of the pitch room to:
  • Organize your notes
  • Think about their responses and how you will shape the material you will be sending.
At the end of the day, or in your first moment you can get to a computer, email the editor or agent thanking them again and stating exactly when they should expect to see your material. It should be within 1-2 days and not weeks!

Honestly, this all comes down to using your time wisely, and more importantly, making a great first impression!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Learning From The Classics

I honestly believe a lot of authors are missing out on a great resource to improve their writing. I see them, repeatedly looking at the present day novelists in their genre and looking at the techniques they are using and attempting to repeat those ideas in their stories. While we learn from repetition (babies do) and yes, this is certainly a technique we can use, it is not really going to get you what you want. Instead, all you get are pretty bland copies of someone else's novel. Not exactly what you want.

Instead, I want you to turn to the classics. I want you to go back to the books you always return to when you want that great book to read. Turn to the "Canon of Literature." Why do I want you there instead of with the current books? Because there is something about those books that make them stand the test of time. 

If you think about it, the things that draw you back to those books are the basics of every book: the characters, the world building, the dialogue, etc. It isn't the necessarily the different plot twists, the hot sexy scenes that we tend to gravitate to. It is those basics. 

Think on this... what is it about Scarlett O'Hara that is so amazing? It is her attitude, her frailty, her weaknesses. Really, if you look at the plot line of Gone With The Wind, it is a pretty basic story. Nothing fancy. In fact, there is a pretty good bet that if you pitched that story to an editor or agent, it won't do much. 

As you think about books that you totally fall in love with, look to those basics., Look beyond those basic things such as "Oh, I love the use of first person" or "I love the way the author used emails for dialogue." Look instead to the deeper things. What is it about the things they are saying, the way the author manipulates you and your emotions.

That will get you to the heart of the things you want to work on with your own novels

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Time In Publishing Is Not Important, It Is What You Do With It

I hear authors always trying to justify why their story should be published and they always go back to the time they spent on the story, or the number of rejections they have had with prior projects. It seems that there is this belief that the time you spend is the only thing that matters. The reality is what you do with it. 

Think of it this way. I have heard "athletes" (and I put this in quotes for a reason), talk about the hours they spend at the gym perfecting their craft. They proclaim nearly Olympic athlete status, and yet, when you watch them in their sports, they are far from good. Why? It wasn't about the time they spent at the gym but what they did at the gym. 

My daughter just joined a new dance team and I am seeing the same thing here (as well as hearing it from the other "Dance Moms"). The people who have been there for some time, try to act and behave as if they are the end all be all! The reality? Nothing to cheer about! And why is that? I watch them from outside of the studio and when they are not being watched by the instructor, they are goofing around and not working on their skills. Outside of the studio, you hear the moms talking about getting their kids healthy and really prepared for the season, and yet, as the kids come out of the studio, mom tosses them a McDonald's bag. 

We often like to use the phrase, "practice makes perfect." The reality is "PERFECT practice makes perfect." Again, just going through the motions is not going to fix the problem. You have to critique your own work. You have to find your mistakes. You have to fix the problems.

Look, if you are getting rejections from editors and agents, there is a problem. It is not just a situation of "paying your dues." The story may not be right. You have no idea what you are doing. You are submitting to the wrong person. You are submitting projects that are not marketable... the list goes on and on. I can promise you that your manuscript does not have an odometer on it and when it reaches a certain number of rejections, your story will sell.  

Monday, September 6, 2021

In Publishing, Rules Are Not Always Fixed

 I was out in the garage cleaning yesterday when I stumbled across a tote bag with a message I totally love. 

"I" before "E"

Except after "C"

WEIRD huh?

This is just something to think about. As you attend workshops, read craft books, visit blogs like mine, or talk to your critique partners, remember that the "rules you need to follow to be successful" are merely guidelines. 

I always find it funny that as an English major, I am always having authors tell me about grammar rules. One in particular always shows up about writing in passive vs. active voice. Writers are always telling other writers (and me every now and then) that you SHOULD NEVER write in passive voice. The reality is that we often do write in passive, we speak in passive and sometimes, due to the fluency of the writing, it is the only way to do it. 

We see rules all of the time about how to write a query letter. Again, there are no fixed rules other than be professional, communicate the story properly and submit to the guidelines of the editor or agent.

Now, with that said, is this a free-for-all when it comes to publishing? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Remember the statement I said in the last paragraph. Be professional. This is a business. Treat it as such. Along the same lines, don't try to do things your way because following the submission guidelines is tough. 

Just a small thought for a Monday!