Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pitch Ettiquette

Pitching is a topic we spend a lot of time talking about at conferences and on blogs like this. In all honesty, we spend this amount of time to insure that A) you have a great pitch for the editors and agents; but also B) so that we as editors and agents get what we need to make a decision about your story. Still, it is amazing that with all of the information out there, so many writers completely blow those pitches. Of course, there are a few things you can do.

DO YOUR RESEARCH I have to say I was beyond amazed at how many writers were pitching projects to me and the other editors and agents when we simply didn't want that genre at all. During one session at the PNWA conference last weekend, over 50% of the authors were pitching things such as screenplays, memoirs and the like, but not romance or women's fiction.

Look people. The information is out there. The conferences do a fantastic job of putting together bios of the editors and agents. We do panel discussions where we tell you exactly what we want and don't want. And obviously, there are the websites. This is not rocket science out there. Read!!!

DON'T ARGUE WITH THE EDITOR OR AGENT We aren't going to ask for projects from all of you. There will be times when the story just isn't going to work for us. But, if we do say no, please do not try to justify why we need to take it anyway, or that we made the wrong decision.  I can promise you that we will not change our mind and suddenly say yes.

I actually had people telling me, after I explained their project wasn't a romance or women's fiction, why I was completely wrong. This, unfortunately happens far too often. If the story isn't going to work, simply say thank you, offer another project (if they ask) and if the project is what they want, and then move on. Who knows when you might have to come back to that person in the future.

KNOW YOUR STUFF Again, this might sound completely obvious, but know your story, know your genre, know your word count. It is not our place to have to drag that information out of you. I did hear one author pitch a story but didn't know what his genre was, and then proceeded to tell the editor that it was really up to the editor to decide on the genre. Not going to happen. This just shows us you are not ready to move into professional publishing.

DON'T READ YOUR PITCH Come on people. Are you telling me you don't know your story well enough? Reading the project simply shows us you are not prepared. I should also add that having it memorized lacks the sincerity as well.

BE HONEST Tell us the truth. If the story has been previously published, then tell us. If it is not done, then tell us. If you have already shopped your story to a lot of people, then tell us.

DON'T PITCH TO EVERYONE This is really important and there are two elements here to remember. First of all, your story is not going to fit with everyone so don't just pitch to people because there is an open time slot. You shouldn't be "throwing darts and hoping something sticks". Secondly do not pitch to multiple editors and agents at the same publisher or agency. This also includes if someone has already passed on the project.

BE PROFESSIONAL This is only obvious. You are selling not just your project, but also you as a writer. this is a package deal so show that you are a professional writer. Dress the part, look the part and sound the part!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Quit Trying To Write A Great Novel

Every now and then I pull out one of my favorite books to make myself feel miserable. I know, this might sound strange, but I pull out Irving Stone's THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY to remind me of the great times I had when we lived in Florence. In any case, on a recent virtual trip with my buds, Michelangelo and Lorenzo, I stumbled across a nugget of inspiration that I thought was amazingly relevant.

So, the scene is taking place in the Sculpture Garden and Michelangelo has just finished is version of THE FAUN and Lorenzo is seeing it for the first time. Theoretically, it is this sculpture that gets Michelangelo the work with the Medici family.

"Ah, the Faun from my studiolo," said Lorenzo.
"You left out his beard."
"I did not feel it necessary."
"Isn't the job of the copyist to copy?"
"The sculpture is not a copyist."
"Not even an apprentice?"
"No, the student must create something new from something old."
"And where does the new come from?"
From where all art comes from. Inside himself." (Irving Stone's THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY)

One of the things I look for in writers when I am looking at their manuscripts is how natural the writing flows off of the page. We are really looking for writing that is not "forced" and the story is told organically by the author. For many authors, however, that writing just doesn't occur and much of it comes from the fact that the author is simply trying too hard.

I do think the title of today's post is really the essence of what I am trying to say. Quit trying to write that great novel. Just write it. If authors would simply let the words flow, let the characters do their thing and tell the story naturally, the voice of the writing will truly emerge.

My son with his swimming and my daughter with her horseback riding have seen the same thing. On the days of practice when their coaches and trainers really start working on technique, both of their skills seem to really decline. Why? Because they are simply thinking too much about what they are doing. Their brains are focused so much on arm position, body position, aiming the horse in the right direction, and so forth, that the writing just doesn't look fluid and natural. When they are in competitions, however, those skills should just come out naturally because the body just "knows what to do."

The same applies to writing. You know what to do with dialogue, narration, character development and so forth. So just let it flow.

If you think it just applies to writing, let me also say it applies to pitches, query letter and synopsis writing. When authors sit down with me to pitch their stories, I tell them to not give me their "memorized elevator pitch" or to even "read the pitch to me." I explained to a writer this last weekend at the PNWA conference that I want to hear their real story and not the one they think their story is that they have crafted in that prepped out speech. It is again back to the idea of being forced.

Now don't get me wrong here. I don't want you to "just wing it" or just head into your writing blindly. You can still plot. You can still draft. You can still wordsmith. The key, however is to allow that writing to happen naturally as you work. You will be surprised at the results.

Friday, July 18, 2014

It's About Being In The Right Place At The Right Time

The business of publishing, and certainly the success authors have in publishing really comes down to timing. We have the timing of the book release to hit the summer reading rush. The timing of great "mother" books around Mother's Day. We have the issue of timing to get a book out just when the public is interested in a particular topic. I think you get the idea. Last night at the PNWA Conference,, as I was listening to the key note speaker James Rollins, I had the chance to hear, once again, how one author made it through being in the right place at the right time.

I do need to preface, before going any further, that success is not just about the timing. If the writing is not good, it doesn't matter how good your timing is. You will not succeed!

In any case, James Rollins is a great speaker and really fun to listen to. He told us how he really got his big
first sale and yes, this is really a series of links to get him to the place he is today. Just follow this...

1) He was attending the Maui Writer's Conference.
2) He already had an agent pushing his Thriller but he really wanted to write this great Fantasy story he was working on.
3) He had entered a contest at the conference and apparently made it to the final round.
4) One of the judges happened to be Terry Brooks.
5) James decided at a reception to go over and meet Terry Brooks as a fan (not knowing Terry had been a reader).
6) Terry Brooks proceeds to tell James he loved the story. He liked it so much he passed it on to his editor.
7) The editor HAPPENED to be at the conference too.
8) Terry introduced him to the editor.
9) ... and an offer was made.

In several earlier blog posts I also talked about being in the right place at the right time. Steve Berry happened to be released paired up with Dan Brown (now that is nice). My author, Jean Love Cush happened to get hooked up with her current editor only after the editor moved to a different publisher that ENDANGERED happened to fit at. I have also talked about a previous Greyhaus author that happened to get her first deal after Sue Grimshaw, then the Border's Book Buyer, happened to read her unpublished manuscript after asking about it at a conference. She then passed it on to Maggie Crawford at Pocket and the rest is history.

I think you get the idea here. It is about being at the right place at the right time and this is something James Rollins ended the talk with. He discussed what it was about attending conferences. This is a chance to get you as a writer into situations that might be that lucky break for you.

But I do think we need to also remember that your success is not going to come just from that. We are talking about that chapter in those math books on Possibility vs. Probability. You cannot hope to succeed just from talking to the right person. Success in this business does take time. It does take skill. It does take those long hours working on your manuscript to get it just right!

And yes, if a little luck comes along our way, then let's take it and celebrate it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

You Can Learn A Lot From Your Pathetically Bad Stories

Great writers have the ability to turn anything into something good, and yes, that does include those really bad stories and story ideas you come up with. Unfortunately, regardless of how hard you try to avoid those bad projects, you will end up with a lot of these projects. Now before you go throwing those away, or giving those pages to your kids for "scratch paper" I want you to stop and think. Those projects are gems that can guide you to bigger and greater things.

First of all, let me stress that I am not saying you should go out and attempt to fix the projects. The odd are, an insurance company would consider these projects "totaled" and are certainly not worth the time or money to get them repaired. Still, there might be something to learn from these.

To use this project effectively, read the story as a reader and not as an author. Now start to ask yourself what you like and don't like about the project. Would you really spend your hard earned money on buying this story? What is it about the project that is not working for you?

I equate this as looking over a crime scene and trying to figure out what happened that led to this disaster. Did you do something different with this plot or these characters that you might not have done in prior projects? Were you missing something that, as a reader, you would need to truly connect with the story and the characters?

Once you have determined what wasn't working well on the project, you now have some things to pay attention to in your current project. If, for example, you found you were lacking a lot of introspection and your characters were really 2-dimensional, you should start to look at the characters you are working on with the new project. Are you making the same mistakes? Are you over-compensating maybe and now putting too much into your story?

This really isn't rocket science. This is, however, a learning moment. Athletes do this all of the time after a poor performance. Who is to say you can't do the same thing with your writing?