Tag Archives: agents

Becoming pitch perfect

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to take part in Savvy Authors‘ Pitch Practice Week (seriously, if you’re not a savvy author already, go join now! So many fantastic resources and opportunities).

We were invited over to Pitch University, a site dedicated to helping authors learn how to pitch. The amazing Diane Holmes, founder of Pitch University, chose six of us to make examples out of – in the most pleasant way possible.

I learned loads from Diane, and hope this post showing the different steps we went through together will help you get over any fears you have. (And, if you make it to the end, I’ll show you my practice pitch video.)

I’ve never pitched anything before. The only pitches I’d ever seen were on The Apprentice and, let’s face it, pitches like this one are more likely to fill me with fear of crashing and burning. (Aside: isn’t it great how the guys in this video assume the wife should do the cleaning, and create a product so she’ll have time and energy left over to pleasure her husband? Lovely.)

These are the steps I went through with Diane.

1. Figure out the expectations you ‘re setting with your query or pitch.

For me, it was easier to start with my query because I had no idea what a successful pitch looked like (hint: Diane has loads of pitch videos on her site, so I’ll link to them later in this post).

Diane made a fantastic point that your query can be beautifully written, but if it doesn’t match the story then you’ve just hooked an agent or editor on something that doesn’t exist.

She read my query and made notes about what she expected the characters to be like and what she thought happened. You can read my query and her expectations here. Then you can read my responses where I realize that some of the expectations I set don’t fit my story.

I can’t tell you how useful this was, and I’ve never seen anyone else suggest it before. My advice to you: do this with someone who doesn’t know your story at all.

2. Correct the wrong expectations you’ve set and figure out where to focus your pitch/query.

Through working with Diane (you can read our back-and-forth conversation about my story) I was able to see which parts of the story I should emphasize more.

3. Write your pitch.

Diane gives some very helpful guidance on writing a pitch. You can also find her series on Pitching 101 on the right-hand side of that page. There’s too much advice for me to replicate it here, but go read it.

4. Watch yourself pitch.

This can be really awful. When I took a public speaking class in college, the professor videoed every one of our speeches and made us watch them. Excruciating. But also pretty useful for forcing you to see what kinds of strange mannerisms you have when you’re nervous, and hear the places where you need to put more oomph into your voice.

Here are some great pitch videos from other Savvy Authors.

You can record your own video directly onto YouTube – you don’t have to show it to anyone. Just get used to the sound of yourself pitching, and make note of where you should trim your sentences because they’re difficult to say out loud.

Okay, moment of truth. I’m sharing my pitch practice video with you. It’s way too long – I’ll never remember all those words when I’m pitching for real. So I still have work to do. But at least now I’m more confident I can deliver.

A few words of warning before you hit play: My mic sucks, and so does my voice. This is what I sound like with a stuffy nose and a sore throat (which is why you’ll see me grimace and swallow hard whenever I try to put more enthusiasm into my voice). The main thing going through my head was “Whatever you do, DON’T sneeze on the camera!” By the end, my throat was killing me.

So yeah, pity me.

BONUS! Helpful info from super-agent Sara Megibow!

Sara Megibow hosted an #askagent session on Twitter the other day, and I asked her what some of her favorite follow-up questions are if someone’s hooked her in a pitch – because you don’t want to nail your pitch and then fluff the rest of the meeting.

She said, “I like to ask, ‘have you queried this?’ ‘Do you have a website?’ ‘What’s your vision for your career?’ I also ask, ‘what other authors in your genre do you love?’ ‘Do you know any of them personally?’

Hope that’s helpful to all of you heading to RWA Nationals next week! I’ll see you there!

Have you ever pitched before? What kind of experience did you have? What follow-up questions did the agent or editor ask?

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Checking in with 2011 goals

We’re now officially half-way through 2011, which hardly seems possible. Wasn’t it Christmas a few weeks ago? Didn’t I just sit down to write my goals for the year?

Back in January, I told you all about my goals for this year in the belief that making them public would make me more accountable.

I haven’t hit all of the ones I meant to by this time. It’s taken me a little longer than I expected to write and revise the two manuscripts I’m working on, but that’s okay with me because I’d rather take that time to improve them than to pointlessly send out work I’ve rushed through.

Things I have managed to do:

– go on my first research trip (to Bosnia)

– book my tickets for RWA Nationals (my very first writing conference!) and line up pitch appointments

– enter a couple of contests

– judge the Golden Heart, beta read for a couple of people, and continue weekly critiques with my partners

– connect with more people on Twitter and this blog

– blog at least once a week through WordPress’ PostAWeek challenge, and grow the number of blog subscribers and daily hits this blog gets.

The year may be half over, but that’s still a lot of time to achieve my other goals:

– completing the two manuscripts I’m working on

– writing the first draft of another story

– querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll find the right agent for me.

Did you make goals for 2011? How are you doing with accomplishing them?

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Guest post by Sara Megibow: being a feminist romance reader

Late one evening, when I’d just finished writing my post on being a feminist romance novelist, I was chatting with friends on Twitter when a tweet by agent Sara Megibow from the Nelson Agency popped up. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but she emphatically said that a woman can be a feminist and still love to read romance novels.

Since it was a subject that had been on my mind, I replied and soon we had a little conversation going. She’s very kindly agreed to share her thoughts here.

Sara MegibowIn my experience, here’s what happens:

Me, “I represent literary fiction” (true.)
Person, “OH, anyone I’ve read?”

Me, “I represent science fiction and fantasy novels” (true)
Person, “Hmmm…like the Hobbit?

Me, “I represent romance novels” (true)
Person, “Good grief, WHY? Aren’t they all just smut or porn?”

This conversation is about the same if I tell someone, “I read literary fiction”, “I read science fiction” and “I read romance.” My immediate reaction is always to feel hurt when someone says “WHY” – I mean whether I’m talking about my career or what I enjoy reading for pleasure, I say “romance” and someone says “blech.” I feel hurt. And mad. And then…defensive.

Over the years, I’ve come up with any number of responses to people when they give me heck. By now, I’ve narrowed my response down to one sentence, “I love romance novels because as a feminist with a women’s studies degree, I find the genre to be inherently pro-woman.” Now, THAT generates a great conversation! And, it’s true. The basic tenants of the genre – happy endings, healthy relationships and great sex are all pro-woman.

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Agents who go tweet tweet tweet

Twitter IconOn Nathan Bransford’s blog the other day, there was an interesting discussion about whether agents should blog and tweet. Apparently some writers think spending time on social networks means agents aren’t doing their real work.

It made me wonder whether these writers were complaining about agents on their own blogs and Twitter accounts. If so, why weren’t they doing their real work: writing?

I live in a virtual world. My work is all online, I communicate with most people I know using some sort of virtual connection, and even the books I write are currently only available if you have access to my laptop.

Connecting with people online is vital, and here’s my defense for why agents should be great at social networking.

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Oh, the things you’ll do!

When I graduated from high school, one of my relatives gave me the Dr Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! The title became my mantra in the seven years or so afterward, as I grasped every exciting opportunity that came my way. I moved from San Diego to Chicago to L.A. to Prague to London by the time I was 26. I took interesting jobs, got two degrees and a teaching certificate, and made a fantastically diverse group of friends.

This year feels like I’m on the cusp of huge changes in my personal life, my writing career life, and my day-job life. I wanted to share with you some of the things I’m most excited about, and the goals I’ve set for 2011.

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2010: How writing and writing buddies got me through a shit year

My friend Suzanne Johnson wrote a great post at Write in the Shadows about how her writing career developed throughout 2010. For me personally, this year has hit higher highs and lower lows than any I can remember. For months I said I just wanted to get the year over with, but when I read Suzanne’s post and decided to write one of my own, I realized that writing – and my new writer friends – got me through it.

Here’s where I went on my roller coaster ride.

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Who holds you accountable?

Frustrated man at a laptopYesterday I read Jessica Faust’s post about a day in her life (not a typical day, just a day), and it occurred to me that I always get warm fuzzies when I read about agents checking in with their clients to see how they’re doing.

Maybe it’s just the agents whose blogs I read, or maybe it’s that agents who are the best with people will be more likely to set up helpful blogs, but I love that a writer could go on Twitter and say they’re having a hard day, and get a call from their agent the next day.

Now, before you call me naive, of course I know that agents and writers have a professional relationship. And yes, it makes good business sense for an agent to check in with her authors. But just because it’s done out of professionalism doesn’t mean it’s not helpful.

Sometimes it makes me think that the best thing about having an agent would be having the kind of relationship where I could send an email to say I’m struggling, and have someone to talk it through.

Before I started blogging, I didn’t have that at all. Over the last year, though, I’ve been able to virtually meet loads of writers who’ve helped me out.

As an unpublished, unagented writer, I don’t have a professional obligation to write. I do it because it’s my passion. But that also means the only deadlines I have are the ones I set myself. And that means they’re easy for me to shift.

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Brenda Novak’s auction o’goodness for diabetes research

I stumbled upon a link on Joanna Bourne’s blog where she mentions that she’s auctioning off a critique. It’s part of Brenda Novak’s 6th annual auction to raise money for diabetes research.

And holy crap if there isn’t a boat-load of goodies on offer – from critiques by agents and editors, to a six-month mentorship with Brenda Novak. Here’s the list of stuff you can bid for. Most of the auctions run throughout May, but some end earlier or only run for one day.

Part of me would feel strange about getting a critique and knowing I only earned it by paying for it. But, as someone who works for a charity and has several diabetic family members (including an uncle who lost a leg because of it), I have no qualms about setting a limit I’m able to donate and hoping I get something out of it. After all, I donate to the charity I work for and others just because it’s the right thing to do, so why not take part in a fun fundraiser as well?

If you bid on something and win, I’d love to know about it. Here’s hoping Brenda raises a million!

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Why does everyone have to write a book?

I tried to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers Scheme last week. For those of you in the US, the RNA‘s a British association for romance writers, although a lot of their authors seem to write more chick-lit than what American readers would consider romance.

I hadn’t heard from them (not surprising, since you have to apply via snail mail), and last night I saw on their website that the scheme’s full for 2010. I emailed to find out if they’re received my application in time, but my name’s not on the list.

They must’ve received 250 applications in the first ten days or so of January. I’d read that, in previous years, they usually filled up by mid-February. I wonder why so many people this year were eager to join.

The Rejectionist and Nathan Bransford are both suffering from query deluges (would the ‘s’ be pronounced in ‘deluges’? This question for my French friends). Nathan comes up with several possible reasons. I have one to add: Everyone’s fed up – whether with family, work, economy, whatever – and they feel the need to do something different, like get published.

I’m guessing lots of the people who are trying to submit manuscripts to RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, to agents like Nathan, and to agents’ gatekeepers like the Rejectionist all started their manuscripts around the time the economy tanked. I started when I was assigned the World’s Most Difficult Project at work, and I needed to do something creative in my free time to give my brain a happy place to escape to.

Who else has noticed an increase in the number of people trying to get published?

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How agents think

A couple months ago, I wondered out loud what kinds of questions agents and editors ask themselves about your manuscript when they’re reading it for the first time.

As if they’ve been pondering my post for several weeks,* three agents wrote blogs this week giving insight into how they think.

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