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I’m at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC today! I’ll be tweeting about it this weekend @Kourhei and blogging about my favorite panels next week.
I’m super excited to be here again. Last year, I learned so much, met some cool people, garnered several requests for my YA manuscript and learned how to breathe while pitching.
Hoping this year’s event further improves my craft and that I get requests on my adult manuscript.
Here’s what the conference schedule looks like.
If you have any questions about the conference, please comment below and I’m happy to share anything I learned. Even stuff like what to wear, how to strike up a conversation with a stranger, when to approach a writer you love for an autograph or who the best speakers were.
Here are my notes from the CTRWA April meeting…
Next month is the CT Fictionfest one day conference. There will be 13 editors/agents in attendance and 128 attendees. And there is still availability if you’d like to attend.
- There will be:
- Cold reads of the 1st page of blind submissions during lunch and agents/editors will critique them.
- Agent/editor pitching sessions.
- Amazing workshops.
- A silent auction. Donations are currently being accepted.
Laura Moore was the guest speaker at our meeting. She talked about writing her romance trilogy.
- Her advice on the saggy middle? Resort to sex.
- She has had readers complain about not continuing characters in previous books. But she switched publishers and it is hard to get the later editors interested in her old characters
- It’s important to remember that readers get very invested in emotional lives of the characters you write.
- In a trilogy, it’s important to have an arc. Each book must be a complete story, but you have to unite all the books with a golden thread.
- This thread can be fine and weave seamlessly though.
- Her trilogy is a story of coming home/finding home. She wanted to explore the idea of sisters since she didn’t have them growing up.
- So she decided to write a story about three sisters coming together to save their family horse farm and find love.
- The sisters love lives waxed and waned throughout the books.
- Also, be honest with yourself about your personal life commitments and make sure you take them into consideration in setting deadlines.
- Moving, buying new house, college applications for kids–these all impact your writing life.
- She confessed to not having a feel for sentences and doesn’t think in terms of their beauty or rhythm. Instead, she strives to not make them flat or boring.
- She warned against making a heroine too perfect. In her first book, her heroine was gorgeous, a model and rich. Hard to make her sympathetic to readers. She had to have a weakness.
- As a writer, she finds herself more interested in backstory than what is happening in the novel. So she works to dole it out sparingly. Keeping in mind that backstory slows the pace.
- Her heros tend to be outsiders that come in.
- She loves prologues.
As a bonus session, Peter, Kristan Higgins and Jessica Andersen offered to be an “American Idol” panel to critique people’s pitches as preparation for CT Fictionfest. They were awesome. Gave honest, tactful and insightful feedback. And super thoughtful to do it before the conference so people have time to really hone their pitches.
Jessica started off with a quick overview of pitching:
- As a member of CTRWA, you can download from the members only section her pitching handout.
- She is doing the pitching workshop at CT Fictionfest next month.
- What are the key points of a pitch? Introduction, Mini-synopsis, and writing credits (if any).
- Introduce self and then state the title, wordcount, genre and hook.
- Introduce the main character and their challenge.
- Talk about who assists them.
- Tell what the twist is in the story–what works against the character?
- What are the stakes? Why should the reader care?
- The key is to make the pitch sounds like the back cover of a book.
- You are not trying to sell the entire story.
- You are trying to interest the editor/agent enough to get them to read 30 pages of the manuscript. You want to get a request so you skip the slush pile.
- Be coherent enough so that the agent/editor can see where you work fits in the universe.
- Kristan added that when an agent asks a follow-up question, take a breath and think, then only answer that question.
- Agents want to find a good book.
- Keep in mind great pitching doesn’t equal a great writer. But if you cannot talk about your story concisely, there may be a plot hole. Also try to keep the tone and presentation in line with your genre. Bring the voice in your story into your pitch.
Onto the actual pitches. Here are some points that were brought up by our fabulous “Idol” panel.
- Make sure your logline is specific. What sets your story apart from every other story?
- Keep it short. 1-3 minutes max. This allows time for questions and doesn’t allow agents’ eyes to glaze over.
- Make sure to tell the listener what is likable about your hero/heroine.
- Focus on the conflict of the story. What most the main character overcome.
- Be careful of x meets y comparisons.
- Avoid reciting your synopsis. They don’t want a blow-by-blow plot description.
- Talk about the most interesting stuff in your book. Dazzle them.
- Don’t get lost in the details or your own world building terminology. You’ll lose the listener.
- Voice in pitch is a definite plus.
- Don’t focus on setting up story and only talking through first 2 chapters. The best stuff may happen later. Give them a glimpse of the whole book. Intrigue them.
- Include inciting incident for story.
- Don’t talk about how to market the book for too long. A line or two is fine, but give them the meat and potatoes of the story.
- Practice reading pitch aloud because written sentences don’t always translate well into spoken word sentences.
- Shorter sentences work better in a pitch.
- Don’t talk about more than 3 names in the pitch. It confuses the listener. Don’t list all your characters
- Don’t ever say it’s a 10 book series. Way too big a gamble on an unknown commodity (unpublished writer). Say standalone with series potential.
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?
The CTRWA December Meeting included a fabulous Christmas party and fun naughty/nice grab bag. Awesome event!
In terms of chapter news, newsletter submissions and the January mentoring program were discussed. Specifically how articles in the newsletter can be picked up by other chapters and improve your visibility. The mentoring program will rotate in January.
CT Fiction Fest (http://ctrwa.org/ignite-your-muse/) is coming up in May and there is an AMAZING lineup of agents and editors for pitching. Speakers are also top-notch so this is an event to attend if you are in the New England/New York area.
Our guest speaker was Sourcebooks editor Deb Weksman. Her overview of Sourcebooks included how they are an independent publisher who does their own marketing and focuses on building careers for their authors. Ms. Weksman acquires for romance and fiction. Sourcebooks publishes about 350 titles a year, half of which are fiction.
Submission guidelines are found on the Sourcebooks website and include a cover letter, synopsis, and full manuscript. Generally, she takes 6-8 weeks to respond to a query. For her, clear nos are the easiest. She will read until she is clear on whether or not she wants to publish the work. She equated herself with a midwife for books. Sometimes it’s an elephant pregnancy, but she is a firm believer in nurturing her authors.
Sourcebooks is known for its marketing and PR muscle.
She noted that 1/2 to 1/3 of the titles acquired by her come in via the slush pile. 2/3 to 3/4 of her authors are agented, including those who get an agent after the fact.
- Submissions come in via email.
- Within 20 days, she will confirm having received it.
- The submission is logged in and some are flagged as a priority depending on different factors such as a great title. Her assistant may also read submissions and if something excites her it can be flagged as a priority.
She loves to read submissions and takes them home with her.
Her general criteria for submissions include:
- 90,000 words (anything over 100,000 points to a potential pacing issue)
- Romance fiction
- Heroine is relatable–reader has to imagine self
- Emotionally satisfying ending
- Good hook
- Career arc of writer–she prefers not to do a contract for one book (what if writer can’t replicate uniqueness of first book?)
She mentioned that it is important to pick a genre to build your brand within. Pseudonyms are important for branding across genres.
With branding, heat level is also branded. You can’t suddenly reduce the number of pickles in a McDonald’s burger or the amount of sex/love scenes in your books.
Synopsis is essential, but she does not evaluate writing quality of synopsis. Instead, she is looking at the whole story arc.
A question was asked about middle-aged protagonists in romance genre. She pointed out that although 12-year-olds read up and want 17-year-old protagonists, the core adult market is 31-49 and most 40-somethings like to imagine self at 30.
Writers need to be honest in assessing the time it takes them to produce a good manuscript. Not just a first draft, but something that has gone through critiques/editing. Never overpromise to an editor. The editor is your champion and probably the only other person in the world who cares about your book as much as you do. Keep in mind that missed deadlines have a domino effect throughout the publishing house.
In terms of marketing, Sourcebooks does several things, including:
- Releases ARCs 5 months ahead of time
- Group ads in RT
- E-book promotions so that release at the same time as in print and across all e-book platforms
- Pay for space on the New Release Table at Borders
In terms of query letters, it’s important to tell how the story differs from other stories and how the character is relatable.
A pitch is not a plot summary. Tell her why it will sell.
By the end of the meeting, she had requested a couple submissions based on query letters read and pitches given during our meeting. Talk about an awesome Christmas present.
Most people would rather leap off this rock than pitch face-to-face with an agent. My huge fear of heights, however, does not make me one of them.
Since I signed up for an agent pitch at Crimebake, I also signed up for the seminar on pitching. It was extremely helpful. There was an overview of pitching with handouts conducted by Lynne Heitman and Paula Munier.
Here are some of the key points:
- 50 word opening pitch including:
- word count
- type of book
- unique selling point
Titles can be based on: objects of desire, action, one liners, setting, twist on a poem, song, book, or cliché, theme, symbolism, or character.
With wordcount read agent blogs and do Google searches to make sure your wordcount is inline with industry standards.
For type of genre, research the conventional genre names.
The unique selling point is what differentiates your book from every other book. It can be:
- High-concept premise
- Unique setting
- Unique characters
- Unique voice
- Author credentials
During the rest of the session, an agent sat at each table and helped the author’s hone their pitches for the next day. We had Ellen Pepus whose insightful comments helped get my pitch in shape.
The pitch should tell what the story is about and what makes it marketable. The thing mine lacked was specificity. Ellen also stressed the need to be colorful and catchy.
There are great resources on the web about pitching–some of which I list in my blogroll. My favorite is this Nathan Bransford’s blog on pitching.
I also had a manuscript critique done by Kate Flora. She raised many good points. Having digested them, I’m working on serious revisions again. Manuscript critiques with published authors are offered at most conferences and are a golden opportunity to get critical feedback. I recommend getting one if you can. Take lots of notes and give yourself a few days to process it all. Several points that Kate pointed out were also mentioned by a couple beta readers. Whenever 3-5 people point out a similar issue/concern, I know there’s a problem and I have to figure out how to fix it.
Crimebake was a huge learning experience and I can feel my manuscript improving because of all the amazing people I met who shared their knowledge with me.
So I signed up for a query and a manuscript critique at Killer Nashville. Both I will receive this morning. I’m a little bit butterflies in the belly.
I also signed up for verbal pitches. Think godzilla in the belly. I’ve practiced. I’ve gone over my work. I know my story. I love my characters.
But I tend to ramble when nervous. And face to face interaction with a stranger=nervous for me.
I am not sure how many agents/editors I will have the opportunity to pitch to, but I hope I do my story justice. I guess it is better to talk than to freeze up. I just have to pretend this is a job interview. I am good at interviewing, or at least I think that’s why I’ve been hired several times over.
I’ve read blog posts on dos and don’ts so I should be prepared. I am prepared. I can do this. Wish me luck!
Have you ever been super nervous before a pitch session? How did you deal with it? What are your biggest stumbling blocks?