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Gary Schmidt was the final keynote speaker at the SCBWI 41st Annual Summer Conference. He echoed the sentiment about surprises in his own unique way saying, “the only gift that God gives us that he can’t enjoy are surprises.”
He also said, “As writers, never doubt that your stories can change a kid’s life.”
Power stuff there. Realizing the impact a book we write can have on a reader. On a complete stranger we may never meet.
The three day conference ended with a book signing party. BTW, it’s a great way to find new books to read, talk to debut authors, and meet fellow writers in line.
The next day, I attended an additional intensive with agents, hearing their take on lots of aspects of the publishing industry. Here are a few of my takeaways:
- Editors are looking for award winning books and bestsellers. Agents try to take on books with the potential to do that.
- Agents do prioritize conference attendees queries over cold queries.
- As a writer, it’s important to stop and think about what you want your career to be. Whatever you want your career to be, it can be. But be honest with yourself, can you produce 2-4 books a year or 1 book every 2-3 years?
- Sometimes in auctions it’s not the highest dollar value that wins. Authors need to find an editor whose vision for the book matches the author’s vision.
- Agents must feel intense/passionate about your book to take it on. Must live with it for a while.
- Agents are advocates for writers.
Here are some upcoming writing conferences in the Connecticut/New York area:
This year, they’re hosting 11 editors and agents who will hear your pitches in all categories, YA, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal Romance and other genres too like Sci Fi and Horror. If you’re a fiction writer, you don’t want to miss this once a year opportunity.
Register by going to www.ctrwa.org and clicking on the Fiction Fest tab.
The price is pretty reasonable for members of CTRWA / CORW / CoLoNY Member $ 79.00 and $ 99.00 for non-members. And I’ll be there too!
The impressive schedule of events includes panels of Edgar nominated authors discussing YA mysteries, the reality of the writing life, and how to write a novel. The day ends with a cocktail party with agents ( you must sign up for this in advance).
The cost is $90 for MWA members and $125 for non-members.
In addition, MWA has scheduled a book signing for April 26th, a happy hour for April 25th, and the Edgar banquet on April 28th.
I’m planning to make a week of it in the city.
Backspace Conference: May 26-28th in New York, NY. Targeted at all aspiring authors.
This is a phenomenal conference for stepping into the publishing world. You get to meet agents, who give you feedback on your query letter and first two pages. Top notch panels including topics on the craft of writing, social networking, what agents want from authors, and how to write a query letter.
I have attended this twice and my abilities grew exponentially because of the informative panels, the agent interaction, networking with published authors, and bonding with other unpublished authors. This conference is a definite stepping stone to publication.
Attendees can choose to attend 1-3 days of the conference. Day 3 is a not-to-be-missed all day workshop with Donald Maass. Pricing ranges from $150-700. I won’t be here this time, but will be attending the November Backspace conference.
There are loads of other conferences out there. Many are listed in The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazine. These are three that I found very useful in the spring. You can also search my blog under the tag “conferences” for more info on conferences I attended.
In the summer, Killer Nashville is a favorite. But I’ll be in Asia then.
1. Make sure you are ready to pitch. This means: your manuscript is finished. You have revised it. You have had a couple beta readers or a critique group give you feedback and you revised it again. Ideally, you should have written a query letter and used it as the basis of your pitch.
2. Write your pitch a few weeks before you pitch an agent. Practice it out on beta reads, friends, family and anyone unfamiliar with your book.
3. Revise pitch to be as straightforward as possible based on feedback in #2.
This means focus on the protagonist. Use 1-2 proper names at most. This is your window display. You want the agent to come into your store. Hook them, don’t overwhelm and confuse them.
To paint a picture for the agent use specifics like “the Ella-Fitzgerald-loving, cigar-smoking 16 year old girl raised in the bible belt, Jennilee Harrington”.
4. Finalize your pitch a week before you give it. Practice it 5-10 times a day up to the pitching session.
5. Do not make last minute changes to your pitch. If you followed step 1-5, they won’t be necessary. You need to be so comfy with your pitch that it flows of your tongue and last minute changes always flub me up.
Note: If you don’t have a pitch prepared, you might want to consider attending a workshop that is more about creating a query letter/pitch/synopsis. Or joining a writing organization to learn how to write one.
Pitching is like going on a job interview. You want to be prepared and give them the best you.
Second disclosure, this is only what worked best for me. Might be completely different for you.
What is your process for pitching?
First day of the Writer’s Digest conference, Chuck Sambuchino gave a world-rocking presentation on how to pitch agents.
If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a conference where he is speaking–GO!
He started off with an overview of how the WD Pitch Slam works. Each person had 3 minutes with the agent. 60-90 seconds to pitch and then 90 or so seconds for agent to ask questions and request your full or partial manuscript. Then a bell goes off and you move to your next line.
In 2008, 4 people got signed as a result of the conference and 2 received 6-figure deals.
So what happens after you get through your pitch?
The agent will say one of three things:
- It interests me, please send something (partial or full with query and synopsis usually) and gives you their card telling you how they want it delivered
- I’m not sure it’s for me. Just signed a similar project. Not representing that anymore
- Asks you questions about your writing history/novel
The pitch is similar to speaking your query out loud. However, You SHOULD NOT read your query letter to the agent.
When you speak to an agent, you need to set the stage and have a conversation.
A bell rings, you sit down, introduce self and shake hands. Then start your pitch.
The pitch is:
- The back of the DVD box without the pictures
- Use your words to create scenes and pictures in the agent’s head
- Be specific
- Try to work in character arc in pitch if possible
- Use as few proper names as possible–it confuses the listener
- Refer to secondary characters as: the professor, the bully, the boyfriend, etc.
- Focus on protagonist in pitch
- Should be 6-10 sentences about the book
Here are the key parts of your pitch:
- Start with the details of the work
- Wordcount (as long as it’s appropriate. Don’t say it’s a 130,000 word YA paranormal)
- Logline–1 sentence description of the work. Give gist of it before they hear more
- Pitch itself–quickly introduce protagonist because agents hear tons of pitches
- Inciting incident–what propels the story forward into motion.
- Focus on conflict–what is the problem/creates tension in story?
- Bring antagonist in if important to main plot
When you finish the pitch you can say something relevant to the topic/subject matter, talk about previous publications, or mention membership in national writing organizations like MWA, SCBWI, MWA, or RWA.
For non-fiction, Chuck mentioned you have to also include:
- What makes the book worth publishing
- Who are you and what ability do you have to sell the book. This is considered your platform.
Of vital important in a fiction pitch: DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE ENDING. You want to peak their interest.
What kills pitches?
- Life turned upside down
- Many highs in lows
- Synopsis-style pitches. Be succinct
- Talking about subplots that involve secondary characters
- Using more than 2-3 proper names
- Talking about how long it took you to write it (unless relevant to research)
- Singing your pitch
- Talking about movie adaptation
- Handing agent your business card/query/manuscript
When choosing who to pitch:
- Do your research and make sure they rep your genre
- Don’t pitch anyone who rejected you in the past
- Realize there is a time limit and a long line may mean less pitches
Generally, you should only pitch a finished novel. Pitching an unfinished novel has two downsides:
- You have to finish it and can’t send it in a timely manner
- You don’t revise enough and it’s not your best work
When you get a request, send it in a timely manner. Agents tend to remember top and bottom pitches. The rest blur together.
Try to stay calm. These are the gatekeepers, but they are human beings. If there is an awkward moment ask if they have any questions.
This was one of the best pitch overviews I’ve ever heard. Many thanks to Chuck for helping a room full of aspiring authors take one more step toward their dreams of publication.
This week I finished proofreading all my Margie Lawson workshop revisions to my manuscript. It’s a lean 82K.
I’ve been working on my pitch for the upcoming Writer’s Digest Conference January 21-23. Pitch Slam is a two-hour pitching free-for-all, where you are in a room with 50+ agents for 2 hours.
You get in each agent’s line and wait to make your 90 second pitch. They then have 90 seconds to ask questions and hopefully request the partial or the full.
At Killer Nashville, I did the 10-minute pitch. At Crimebake, the five-minute pitch. But this is a bit of a challenge. Because each word has to matter. There’s no room for error.
Yup, that’s me putting pressure on myself.
But it’s still a week away. I already spent a week honing the pitch. Trying it out on friends, family, and some trusted writing buddies.
And it’s getting there. The thing is, I want it finalized by Sunday so I have a week to practice it before I am in front of the agents.
Thank goodness that new smart phone has a timer function. At least I know I’m at 80 seconds. That leaves me time for a cough, a nervous throat clearing, or maybe a miniscule loss of my train of thought.
Have you had to pitch to agents? How do you prepare? Any advice on the short and attention-grabbing 90-second pitch?
So after months of slaving over my query letter in response to amazing feedback from agents, authors, and friends, I sent out my first query today! I keep a spreadsheet of all the queries sent and the responses. I sent out about 14 in November/December 2009. I did not get one request for a partial, which meant the query needed work. I ended up doing 4 major overhauls of the novel and a dozen rewrites on the query. I thought the query was ready in May. WRONG. I thought it was ready in June. Nope. But by July, I stopped reworking it. I was happy with it.
But the next step was like jumping off a cliff. I was petrified of it not being good enough and ruining my chances with an agent. But then I realized, it was as good as I could make it. I was proud of it. And damn it, I was going to send it out. So I went to the pile of research I collected on agents who represent YA and mystery/paranormal. I pulled one of the names out of the pile. I spent 2 hours researching the agent. Reading whatever I could find on her. Then I set to work on tweaking my query to her requirements.
Then I pasted it into an email and…reread it. Finally after 3 rereads, I was certain. This baby was ready to fly out of the nest. I sent my first query out in 2010. I leapt off the cliff. And I wasn’t stopping there. No. I resolved to send another query tomorrow. I’d like to send at least 3 a week. That’s my goal right now. Two more to go.
I have no idea what will happen, but I know that if I don’t try I can’t succeed. And for my characters, for this story, for myself, I have to keep trying.
Anyone else sending out queries? How are you dealing with the anxiety before and after sending?