A Different Way of Pitching

One of the biggest reasons to attend a writing conference is to pitch your writing projects to prospective agents, editors or publishers. Pitching face-to-face makes even the most experienced author feel queasy.
Check out my posts on crafting a winning pitch and my actual pitching experiences.
One thing that I liked about OCW Conference was the opportunity to pitch three projects (or one project to three different people) in advance. Three pitches were included in the price of the conference (rather than being an add-on as at every other conference I attended).


This advance pitching was nothing more than querying these agents or editors.

And what writer doesn’t need more practice creating a query that sells?

As soon as I registered for the conference, I scoped out the conference website for details on agents, editors and publishers who would be accepting pitches. Most of the time, this included clicking through to individual websites to discover all the necessary information.
This conference had a page for agents and one for editors that were accepting advance queriers. Which one sounded like a fit for my memoir project? Did any of them seem right for the women’s fiction novel I also wanted to shop at the conference?
In the end, I chose two agents to query about the memoir and an editor who might be interested in my fiction project.
The process looked the same for all of them:

  • Craft a query letter (specific requirements listed on the conference page)
  • Write a compelling single-page synopsis (so simple to boil a 75,000-word novel into one page)
  • Include ten pages of the manuscript.
  • Put each query in a manila envelope addressed to the chosen individual
  • Mail all of them in a larger envelope with a check for a $5 per submission handling fee

And then the waiting began. I sent the pages off nine weeks prior to the conference. Within a week, I had a confirmation email from the manuscript coordinator. A few days later, I received another email informing me that TWO of the people I’d queried wanted electronic submissions.

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

So I had to convert my files to PDFs and send them along.

And the waiting continued.

On the first full conference day, I will be able to pick these queries up. I can expect some notes from the agent/editor on the letters or manuscript pages.

If they’re interested, there will be an appointment card included with my manuscripts. (Really praying for THREE appointments.) At those meetings, we’ll discuss the project during the pitching sessions.

If they aren’t interested, I shouldn’t try to sell them the same project during the conference. But I can approach other buyers about the projects, if I want.

In the world of querying, nine weeks is an average waiting period for a response to a query. Many agencies won’t even respond if they aren’t interested (which feels rude to me), but most ask for 90 days to decide.
Generally, the more quickly a response is received, the more likely it is a “no thank you,” or “not for us” and “good luck with this.” In short: generic form rejections.

So with less than a week until I find out the fate of my queries, I’m perfecting my in-person pitches for these projects. I’m printing out copies of the sales sheet on Through the Valley of Shadows.

And I’m trying not to think about what these three individuals have to say about my project. Also, I’m imagining a scenario that would include one of these publishing professionals to show up at a meeting with a contract in hand.

After all, I’m a writer. I imagine outlandish things on a daily basis. Why not dream big for my writing career?

Even in Writing it’s who you know

My youngest son, recent college graduate, swears he doesn’t have to apply for jobs. “It’s who you know, Mom.” In writing, I’ve discovered, this adage is also true.

Not that I agree my son should sit around waiting for someone from his “network” to offer him a job, but I see that in the world – made much smaller by technology – people tend to “know someone” who would be “perfect” for that position.

That doesn’t mean you can sit back idly. Someone searching for employment should pursue the online application process and follow up an interview with a thank you email. Or in the writing world – send out perfected queries and submit to contests and anthologies.

Along with all that, you should reach out to other people in the business. Here are the ways I’ve done this – AND the byproduct for my “career.”

Following Blogs

I started my own blog as a college assignment four years ago. Since then, it has left the “free” WordPress site and migrated to my author website. It still doesn’t generate as much traffic as I need for my “discoverability.”

However, networking isn’t about people following MY blog. It’s about me following them. And I don’t do it just so I can ask for favors later (ugh! Using people: still out of fashion in this new era).

I follow writer advice blogs: Kristen Lamb, Jami Gold and Writer’s Helping Writers. I follow blogs of other indie authors: J. Keller Ford and Jennifer M. Eaton. I read their posts, comment when I have something to add, and share their content when I find it unusually valuable.

How has this network helped me?

Kristen Lamb critiqued a piece of flash fiction for me – just because she understood a new writer’s struggle to find good advice. I won a partial developmental edit from Jami Gold that took a story I was proud of to a deeper level.

The truth is, I have found helpful advice on these blogs and connected with the women behind these blogs in ways I never expected.

Connecting on Social Media

I am a late bloomer. I came to Facebook when it was no longer the edgy, fashionable thing to do.

The only reason I even signed up for Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest was because I trusted Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb. If you’re trying to build an author platform, I highly recommend her book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age.

It was on Facebook that I met J. Keller Ford (and began to follow her blog). She published a few short stories. I followed her publishers’ pages and shared interesting posts.

Thanks to my connection with J. Keller Ford, I found the submissions page to Roane Publishing, where my first short story was accepted to an anthology.

If I hadn’t been following her, I never would have discovered this small New York publishing company. Further, she is the one who shared her online critique group with me.

In fact, once I become a best-selling author, Jenny and I are taking a tour of castles in Germany. We’ve never met face-to-face, but I owe her a good deal in the scope of my confidence as a writer.

Joining a Critique Group

I’m leery of critique groups because I’ve been a member of a few. I wrote critiques like crazy. Read everyone’s stuff and offered advice about everything from word choice to character arc. In return?

“Too much telling. Show more.” No examples. Or they gave me a rewritten passage that was nearly identical and doesn’t feel any more like showing than what I wrote.

However, after I helped J. Keller Ford with an opening to her second novel in a three-book deal (I know! Crazy that a published author thought I had anything to offer her manuscript), she recommended me to a critique group in Scribophile.

It was here that I was offered some advice by Jennifer M. Eaton. When I rewrote my short story using her feedback, it was accepted to a short story anthology by a larger independent press.

Additionally, I meet monthly with a local group of writers. Several of them are independently published. We are regularly encouraged by a local published author (sci-fi novels and short stories).

We don’t do formal critiques. At first, I wasn’t sure about that. Everyone is welcome to read for five minutes and request specific feedback. Then we use various writing prompts to free write and share that writing for the second hour of the meeting.

This group helped me streamline the opening of the first short story I had published. One of the writing prompts helped me generate the opening for another short story I submitted. (It wasn’t accepted, but it turned into a marketable story.)

Paying it Forward

I’ve met with a local author a few times. Mostly, he has offered me advice about my next steps. I have hopes that he may help me with synopsis writing or perfecting queries in the future.

Other writers helped him, and he believes in paying that kindness forward. Without the encouragement (and introduction to an editor and agent) he received, he believes he would still be a moonlight writer. Rather than an award-winning short story author with a five book deal from Tor.

He’s the one who connected me with another local writer. She’s a humorist pursuing nonfiction writing. Now.

I invited her to Willamette Writer’s Conference last year because I didn’t want to go alone. Since then, she’s critiqued opening pages for me and offered me advice when I bounced ideas off her. She constructively criticized my website, helping me identify how to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.

Conversely, I’ve pointed her toward some of the writing resources that have helped me improve. I’ve asked her questions when she threw ideas toward me that set her on paths that have led her to paying work.

More importantly, I have another creative mind to jabber with about all the things no normal person wants to hear about. She celebrates my successes and kicks me out of my funk when things aren’t going well in my writing world.

In the end, networking isn’t just about WHO you know, it’s about how you reciprocate the good will with people you meet. In our ever-connected-to-the-Internet age, most of these people may live across the country – or across the world – but that just means your network can reach further than ever.

So, go ahead: network with other writers, editors, publishers and readers. Someday, they might drop your name in just the right place at the perfect moment.

What are so other ways writers network? Do you have recommendations for enlarging our circle of writing acquaintances?

Don’t ask for a critique unless you want your writing shredded

Writer’s need to develop rhino skin, it’s true. If you want to improve your writing, you will need other writers to critique it. Early and often, you should subject yourself to (constructive) criticism from writers you admire.

“Be careful what you wish for”

Recently, I paid to have a published author of urban fantasy critique my novel. I submitted a two-page synopsis of the novel and the first twenty pages several weeks before our meeting.

Then I took a class “The First Five Pages” and completely rewrote the beginning of my story. What was I thinking?

When I entered the business center a few minutes before my scheduled appointment, I already had an agent’s business card. She wanted the first fifty pages of the novel I had asked this author to critique.

That had to mean my manuscript was read, right? An agent loved the premise and main story and character arc. Time to move to the next level with my book. So, I was reading for whatever this other writer had to say about my manuscript. Right?

I handed Ms. Hughes my new beginning. She read it quickly and commended me on improving the story. She pointed out a few areas where my language might be confusing to my readers.

Top three pages - the other 18 look just as lovely
Top three pages – the other 18 look just as lovely

In front of her, she had the pages I had sent her. White margins no longer existed on the first three pages. Her comments were scrawled everywhere.

First, we discussed my synopsis and how it lacked the essential component of introducing the setting. In a fantasy novel, this is element cannot be overlooked.

“I almost stopped reading when I saw it was a destiny story,” she said. “These have been overdone.”

The context cleared. She read my manuscript with a bias against the premise from the outset. Of course, she realized by the end of the synopsis that this didn’t sound like a “girl must find her destiny” story.

We talked for thirty minutes. She pointed out areas where she was confused. More details need to be added prior.

“It needs more setup,” she said. Then turned to a page where she lined out several paragraphs of setup. “This information isn’t essential at this point. Add it in when she actually goes to the city.”

Too much detail. Not enough detail. Details in the wrong place.

In fact, there are only six sentences in the entire twenty-two pages that she commended. Am I sure I’ve selected the correct career path?

I agreed with 80 percent of what she said.  I was stunned by 20 percent. The fact that my writing style with metaphoric actions can be confusing to fantasy readers stopped me in my tracks. Am I writing in the correct genre? I had to wonder.

She suggested two resources – one for story structure (guess I didn’t have it down after following the advice and guidance of Brooks and Bell) and one for sentence structure. “Your sentence construction is really holding you back.”

At the end, she stated that taking a few classes on world building might be a good next step. “All fantasy writers struggle with this in the beginning.”

Do all of them have an agent’s request for pages of the manuscript lying flayed before them?

What had I gotten myself into? A world of revisions. Or the chance to walk away from this project because it was too far from ready to be read.

If the choice seems obvious to you, come back next Friday to see what other murderous (or manuscript-enhancing) things await this novel I keep touting about on this website and Facebook.

Will Daughter of Water get a second look from me – meaning more rewriting? Or will I choose to toss it in the trash and move on to the next great thing (of which I have 35,000 words currently written)?

How to pitch your novel to an agent

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Most of the time, authors must impress an agent with a query letter. At a writer’s conference, a new (and nerve-wracking) avenue for getting your story idea heard crops up. They call it a pitch session.

I might rename it “An exercise in stressing out without giving in to the urge to vomit or run screaming from the room.” Whatever works.

All conferences are not created equal. Different groups organize these events with different priorities in mind. Attending a conference hosted by a group of writers? You can expect opportunities to pitch and improve your work.

I experienced my first one-on-one agent meeting on August 2, 2014. In the process, I learned a few things to help writers prepare.

Months Before

I scoured the page of prospective agents attending the conference before I even registered. (I signed on the first day registration opened, but that’s a different story.) I read the brief bio provided and followed the link to their agency webpage.

Some people I spoke with at the conference did likewise and still ended up pitching to someone who said they didn’t represent that sort of project. Thus, research and research again before investing your money to sit across the table from an agent and pitch in a genre they don’t accept.

Still online, I surfed well-known writing blogs for advice on how to make the best of this pitching session. I’ll admit, I learned the most profitable tidbits from those articles and posts written from an agent’s point of view. Go figure.

A pitch:

  • Should be short (100 words)
  • Include your protagonist and their desire
  • Include the major conflict in the story
  • Showcase your logline (more on how to develop one here)

So few words, really? You will say more, but as far as the story goes, those four elements will get the job done.

Days Before

I wrote and rewrote my pitch. I practiced my top choices on my friends and family to weed out the things that didn’t work. Then I combined those voted “most likely to hold the agent’s interest” and read the result aloud several hundred dozen times.

Whatever it takes for you to embed the essence of your “elevator pitch” in your mind – do that.

Practice saying it aloud. I tried the mirror presentation, recommended by many articles on the subject, and it distracted me. I got distracted by how big my teeth look and how I move my hands when I’m talking.

In the end, I found sitting in a chair and staring at an invisible person worked best for me. Again, whatever you find eases your tension and helps you imagine speaking to a real purpose – do that. Over and over.

Eventually, the words will run through your mind like a live broadcast. This is a good thing as long as you can spill them with an ease that sounds unrehearsed. Rehearse so I sound unrehearsed? Yes, that’s the ticket.

I also prepared a One Sheet on my novel, which includes the log-line, a short synopsis and the character’s journey. It also has a short biography, photo of the author and contact information.

Minutes Before

Read over the pitch. Recite it in your mind.

Pace – because sitting with the others who are waiting raises your nervousness factor exponentially. Or maybe you’re a sitter and that will relax you.

Try to relax. Visualize yourself strolling confidently up to the agent. You are a professional. They want to hear about your story.

Do not throw up. I felt like throwing up while waiting the first day. Then I found out I had to reschedule the appointment for the next day. All that terror wasted.

During

Most of the time, a herd of pitchers will enter the pitching arena at the same time. I was (un)fortunate enough to be the only person scheduled to present to anyone when I made my pitching debut.

I strode over to her table, keeping eye contact. Reaching toward her, I shook her hand and introduced myself. I handed her the One Sheet and sat across the small table from her. So far, so good.

I asked how the conference was going and told her I enjoyed her workshop on the perfect pitch the day before. “I hope I can demonstrate I was paying close attention.” Laughs. Laughter conquers nerves for me.

Introduce your novel: title, genre and word count. Give an idea about what your writing is like: “Lord of the Flies meets Survivor.” I used two authors who write in the same genre as my book for my comparison.

Now it’s time to deliver your 100-word pitch. I started with my premise question “What if…?” The second sentence was my logline. The rest of the words included what the protagonist wanted, what stood in her way and a hint about the journey she would take.

Stop. Breathe. The hardest part is finished and you did it.

Let the agent ask questions. They will. Answer each question with simplicity and clarity. If they don’t ask for pages, ask them if they want you to send pages. (Thankfully, I didn’t have to ask that.)

After

Dance a jig, jump up and down, or, at this point, feel free to vomit if the urge persists.

Now, you’ll be thinking about how to prep your manuscript pages. If they ask for a synopsis as well, you might find yourself researching how best to write one.

Send what they requested as soon as it represents your best work. Within a week or two is probably best. In the query letter (yes, they still want one of those hideous beasts introductory pages), mention the meeting at the conference and remind them they requested to see your work.

They should have given you an address that will bypass their towering slush pile (up to 2,000 manuscripts per week). Check their website to find out how long before you might hear back from them (usually 4-8 weeks).

If you want to polish the rest of that manuscript in hopes they will be requesting to see it, that’s a great use of time. Write something new. Don’t sit by your computer staring at your email inbox.

What is your experience with pitching a project? Your words of wisdom are welcomed.