Tag Archives: editors

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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Dealing with negative feedback

In my day job, I write for and edit a large website. I’m fortunate enough to have a manager who’s taught me a lot about both disciplines. Since Charles is a former journalist and an experienced editor, I asked if he could write some tips on how to deal with negative feedback on your writing. (And if you think any feedback you’ve received is harsh, check out these rejection letters.)

Keep in mind that this is the man who regularly covers my stories in red ink, and who has to deal with my demands for gold-star stickers when he hands back a flawless story.

Here’s his advice:

If you want to publish your work, you need to accept you aren’t writing purely for yourself anymore. You’re writing for your readers, which means you’re automatically making other people’s opinions about your work important. If you don’t or can’t accept that early on, you’re going to find it all very upsetting.

But it’s not a free-for-all. Some feedback is unhelpful. It can be vague (“I just didn’t like it”), irrelevant (“This historical fiction would be better with lasers”) or from someone who isn’t your target audience anyway (“I ain’t much for book-larnin'”). I’d also tend to distrust feedback that feels like it’s rewriting your work for you (“it would be better here if, instead of proposing to Juliet, Romeo shacked up with Rosaline, and had a falling out with Benvolio”). You might not like getting feedback like this, but instead of worrying that it’s negative, you should probably just ignore it because it isn’t useful.

Useful feedback can be prosaic and mechanical (“I don’t understand this sentence”, “I don’t think you intend this paragraph to mean what it does”) or about how someone feels about what you’ve written (“I hated the character of Steve, but it felt like I was supposed to like him”, “I didn’t believe it when the ghost turned out to be the old caretaker wearing a mask”). With that second kind of feedback, you need to probe further and find out *why* a reader feels that way so you know what needs fixing.

Criticism helps you tell the story you want, in the way you want to tell it. You need other people to give you that feedback, because it’s really hard, and sometimes impossible, to know how other people will read and respond to something you’ve written.

It might be upsetting and demoralising to hear that someone doesn’t get from your writing what you want them to get from it, but it probably isn’t personal. Your writing is not you. It’s not even your story, your setting or your characters – it’s how well you’ve communicated them. And that can be fixed, by taking on board feedback and communicating them better.

What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned about how to deal with negative feedback on your writing?

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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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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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Conference season

I don’t know if it’s the time of year, or if these things happen year round, but I’ve noticed several agents talking about conferences and workshops lately.

The problem is, they almost never seem to name which ones they’ve been to. I’d love to see an agent write a post with a round-up of the biggest and best conferences around. I know about RWA’s annual conference, but how do you find out about others? Through RWA networks? Writers’ groups? Google searches (tried this one and wasn’t very successful). And how do you know whether a conference is right for you and worth spending money on if you don’t have an inside source saying whether a certain conference has been well run/helpful/a complete shambles?

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Questions to ask your manuscript

If you do get a critique partner (or, say, you have a wonderful PhD-candidate husband who’s studying literature and who looks at your last post lamenting the lack of a critique partner, and says in his most sympathetic voice: “I’ll be your critique partner”), what exactly do you get them to comment on?

It seems to me that it’d be handy to have a list of criteria agents and editors use to judge whether a manuscript is worth taking on. I’m sure this will be different for every agent and editor to some extent, but there must be certain questions that guide their decision-making process.

My initial thoughts are:

1. Are characters drawn realistically enough, or do they feel flat and one- or two-dimensional?

2. If they are realistically three-dimensional, are there any scenes or pieces of dialogue where they let themselves down and start to sound manipulated?

3. Are there scenes where your mind starts to wander to your to-do list? If so, how could I jazz the scene up or improve its structure?

4. Does the conflict help build tension, or is the story arc too flat?

5. Are there any scenes that seem to come from left field, in an unpleasant way?

What do you think? Do you have a list of questions you and your critique partner use to guide your discussions? If you’re an agent or editor, do you have set questions you ask yourself about manuscripts you receive?

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