A 7-Question Quiz Before Pitching

RamonaGravitarConference season begins soon, which means writers are polishing their pitches and embracing the art of articulating their story concepts. Five minutes—-or perhaps  two—may be all the time you have to convince an agent or editor that your manuscript is worth a look.

To prepare, and not waste time, a lot of writers memorize lines that include word count, genre, title, and hook, because you want to look professional and polished. The danger in the memorized lines is sounding like a robot. And what if the nightmare happens and you choke?

As I have posted about before, I find the 2-minute pitch concept a bit cattle-callish, but it is an opportunity and it’s popular, so I will shelve my reservations and try to be helpful:

A pitch session does not have to be you on one side and an agent/editor on the other, with only memorized lines between you. Reciting pre-packaged lines will make you sound phony, like a telemarketer working from a script that includes all possible scenarios. You don’t want to sound like a machine. You want to be knowledgeable and passionate about the story you have written. However, you don’t want to fumble and sound unsure, or be too sure and sound pompous.

How do you talk about your book without sounding like a salesman, a nervous nelly, or a bore? You treat the pitch like a conversation. Be relaxed (okay, maybe slightly anxious). Be there to TALK. Don’t be the guy who spouts a bunch of buzz words and catch phrases you think the editor/agent will want to hear. Be the guy who is sharing an accurate assessment of your story.

You may have heard the statement that, the more complex the lie, the harder it is to remember. That’s why telling the truth is the easy. You don’t have to think about buzz words or what someone wants to hear. You only have to tell the truth.

Try approaching your pitch with these two concepts in mind:  You are there to talk about your novel. You will tell the truth.

That does not mean you can’t prepare.  Here are two tips and five questions:

  1. The agent/editor will need to know the particulars of your story. Become comfortable with the basics, but don’t sound like a trained monkey. Come up with an engaging sentence that is true: “My book is a contemporary thriller called BAD SALE. It’s set in Nebraska and is about a farmer—-a good guy—who is tricked by a childhood friend into buying bomb making supplies at the hardware store.”
  2. Notice there is no word count in this statement. If the agent/editor wants to know word count, he’ll ask. You’ll answer. Because you know the word count, right? Look at this sentence: “My contemporary thriller BAD SALE is a 95,000 word contemporary thriller set in Nebraska about an honest farmer who is tricked by a childhood friend into buying bomb-making supplies at the hardware store.” <<That’s not a bad log line, but is it conversational? No.  Be conversational. Start by describing your novel as a thriller, tell where it’s set, and give the basic plot premise. When the agent/editor wants to know word count (and he will!) he will ask the question. Answer it:  “It’s 95,000 words.”

This is how conversation works. Someone introduces an interesting topic. If the listener wants to know more, she will ask a question.

Now for more questions you may likely hear from an agent/editor:

  1. What are some other books and authors like yours? A couple of names here, recognizable ones. If there’s an author the agent/editor represents or publishes whose work is like yours, here’s where that goes. TELL THE TRUTH.
  2. Why did you choose my agency/publishing house? This is a legitimate question. Why DID you choose this person to represent you? You must have a reason to think you’d make a good team. Be ready to explain this.  TELL THE TRUTH.
  3. What’s the hook? This gets into telemarketing territory, but you spent a year or more with this novel, so you know it intimately. An agent/editor wants to hear about a setting, a situation, a theme, a special voice, or any number of nebulous factors that would make your story sellable. So, what is it? Only you can answer this. Maybe your hook is that you wrote the book you like to read, and it’s a fun read. Say this with confidence, and I’d buy your book. TELL THE TRUTH.
  4. Why did you write this? If you have expertise, special interest, personal experience or bloodline connect to an aspect of the story, bring it up now. If you don’t, then it’s perfectly fine to say you love cozies, you’ve been reading them since you could read, and you wanted to add to the genre you love. TELL THE TRUTH.
  5. What are you offering an audience? You wrote the story. What do you want to say to the people who read it, through the action, characters, plot, and theme? If the justice system frustrates you and you wrote a story that brings closure to a crime, share that. If you are writing an issue story about failed adoptions because the subject is close to your heart, say that. TELL THE TRUTH.

How do you prepare the above information and turn it into a conversation? Let’s turn the questions into a quiz. Answer the questions below. TELL THE TRUTH. Don’t worry about what you think someone wants to hear. Remember, you’ll have an easier time remember the truth than anything you make up that you think sounds appealing.

Here they are, if you’d like to print and answer:

  1. What are your story’s basics?
  2. What is the word count?
  3. What are some other books and authors similar to yours?
  4. Why did you choose this agency/publisher?
  5. What’s your hook?
  6. Why did you write this?
  7. What are you offering to your audience?

Did you learn anything from this quiz? If so, please share.


Conferences–What to Bring, What to Leave Behind

How do you get the most out of a writer’s conference? What do you bring, and what do you leave behind? Think about the following the next time you head out to spend a day, or days, with your colleagues.

BRING:  Confidence! Writers from the full spectrum—published to novice—attend conferences but everyone is there to share and learn.  So share! Raise your hand and ask that question. Participate in that activity. Be the brave soul who breaks the ice and the workshop leader will remember you, with gratitude.

LEAVE BEHIND: Shyness. Look around at the folks gathered in the room or auditorium. You all share a bond: A love of reading and the desire to write. What better starting point to find friends and colleagues? These are your people. Smile. Introduce yourself. Interact with your colleagues. No matter what your experience, you belong. Act like it!

BRING: An open mind. Every workshop leader has an individual style. Maybe you don’t normally do character activities or read aloud what you wrote on the spot, but programs are designed to help in a particular way. Participate fully. You may learn something if you try–but you won’t if you don’t.

LEAVE BEHIND: That Guy. Or Gal. You know the One. The One who is obstinate and defensive—and maybe angry—who complains that editors, agents, instructors—all of them, all the time—just “don’t get” their work. The One who takes up an unfair amount of workshop time ranting about the unfairness of it all. It’s a conference, not a therapy session.

BRING: A give-and-take networking plan. Conferences are great places to meet and greet peers, to hear about local or regional events, to search for potential critique groups and to get yourself out there in the literary world.

LEAVE BEHIND: Blatant BSP. If there’s a table or area to set out your promotional materials, great! Take advantage of that. But the folks who hand out their own bookmark or PR materials, unsolicited, to everyone in a workshop? Not cool. The workshop is the leader’s gig.  Mind your manners.  

BRING: Business cards, postcards, flyers, materials that you can share about yourself and your work. Put them out in the public areas or share them, privately, with the instant pals you make at lunch or between sessions.

LEAVE BEHIND: Your full manuscript, which you plan to press on an editor/agent/teacher who can’t say no because you put them on the spot. Don’t do that. Nobody wants you to do that.

BRING:  Fairness. If you enjoyed a session, follow up with a note to the leader. If a workshop didn’t meet your expectations, note that on the comment sheet. If you can articulate exactly why it let you down, in a fair and helpful manner, all the better. Not all workshops are a rousing success. Leaders have off days. It’s okay to express your disappointment. Just try to be constructive about it.

LEAVE BEHIND: Pettiness. If the workshops were boring because you already know it all, and nobody approached you first to talk to you, and everyone left behind your PR materials on the tables of somebody else’s workshop…take a hint. Your conference-going plan needs some work.

Are you attending a conference sometime soon? Been to a great one you wouldn’t miss for the world? Made a friend, learned a lesson? Tell me about it!