Pitching Yourself

I’ve been reading all the comments over the last couple of days and am completely depressed at all the great books that I’ll never have time to read. I’ve also been staying up late every night reading (when I was supposed to be blogging) so I could finish rereading Harry Potter #6.

I have to say I am incredibly impressed with the ending of this book. HP #6 breaks the pattern of the other books by NOT ending with a victory for Harry. The reason, of course, is to put Harry in a box and force an ending to the series. So the book ends in Xtreme disaster, in which much of what you thought certain is no longer certain. This is the first time I’ve read #6 since reading the 7th and final book in the series, and I noticed some clever things designed to mislead the reader. JK Rowling of course does clever things to mislead the reader in every book, but she usually clarifies them by the end of the book. Not so in Book #6. I’m looking forward to rereading #7.

One of my loyal blog readers recently emailed me to ask about pitching her novel at a forthcoming writing conference. She particularly wanted to know about “one-sheets.” I am not able to answer detailed questions like this in email anymore because I get so much email. However, I promised to address this on my blog. I’m thinking it’s time to discuss writing conferences again, since we’re in the middle of conference season, and I myself will be going to a couple in the next 10 weeks.

What is a “one-sheet?” Good question. It’s whatever you want it to be, as long as it’s one sheet of paper. A “one-sheet” tells a bit about you and your book, summarizing all the high points.

Do you need a “one-sheet” to sell your book? LOL, I have never made a one-sheet. I’m sure it’s handy for breaking the ice when meeting an editor or agent, but you can do that just as well yourself by . . . being yourself. And trust me, you are more interesting than a piece of paper.

When you meet an editor or an agent, you are really pitching two things simultaneously–your project and yourself. Let’s talk about those in order:

Your project: It’s handy to have a one-sentence summary for your project. We talked about this a couple of months ago. Remember, a one-sentence summary does not sell your book. Great writing sells your book. The one-sentence summary just saves time by letting the editor or agent know in 5 seconds whether or not they might be interested in it. The purpose of the one-sentence summary is to get the editor or agent to read your sample chapters. Those chapters will make or break the book. Period. Every editor I’ve ever heard comment on what makes them buy a book has said the same thing: “I’m looking for great writing.”

Yourself: It is a good idea to be clean and neat but there is no reason to go overboard on dressing up. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If your brand is “walking pig-sty” or something similar, then you should present that image. And if your brand is “super-stylish fashionista” then you better be dressed that way. My brand is something along the lines of “zany physicist” so it is expected that I’ll dress like a geek. It would (I believe) be a mistake for me to dress up for a meeting with an editor, because no zany physicist would be caught dead looking fashionable. So be yourself. The editor or agent is going to be asking, “How can I sell this writer?” If you are famous, fascinating, funny, beautiful, outrageous, or whatever–anything that will make you insanely more marketable than the next writer–then highlight that. If you are none of those (most writers, quite honestly, aren’t) then don’t worry about it too much. In that case, be neat and clean and highlight your writing.

So getting back to the tangent, do you need a one-sheet? The short answer is this: If you can make one in a day or two that will nicely summarize who you are and what you’re writing, then do. If you are going to spend three months obsessing about one lousy piece of paper, then don’t. Obsess on your sample chapters instead.

OK, it’s question time. What burning questions do you have about pitching yourself and your manuscript? Leave a comment here and I’ll work through them.


  1. Susan July 11, 2008 at 7:41 pm #

    Thanks for the information on one-sheets. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is required and what is optional. I appreciate the clarification.

  2. Lynnette July 11, 2008 at 8:52 pm #

    There’s a new thread over on the Christian Writer’s forum (www.christianwriters.com) about this very subject. There a great example posted in the thread of how one author made his one-sheet.

    Onto my question, what is the difference between a one-sheet and a one page synopsis of the novel?

  3. Richard Mabry July 12, 2008 at 5:01 am #

    Thanks for expressing a sane viewpoint about the magic one-sheet. I’ve pitched to dozens of editors and not one has asked me for a one-sheet. If they’ve been interested (and fortunately, most have been) they’ve either said “Send me a proposal” or “Send me the manuscript.” As for being yourself in the interview, I totally agree. To paraphrase Mark Twain (who probably never designed a one-sheet), “If I tell you the truth, I don’t have to remember what I said.”

  4. Hannah D. July 12, 2008 at 6:05 am #

    What and how much questions regarding the project am I expected to answer? Do I need to have a lot of details finished? I guess, what I am really asking is, how much of the project should be finished in my mind before I try to pitch it?

  5. Gina July 12, 2008 at 6:41 am #

    I always use a one sheet. It helps break the ice and to be honest, with a one sheet, I’ve never had to verbally pitch my one sentence summary. So for those of you who are nervous about pitching, a one sheet is a great thing to have, as long as it’s done well. During a late night session at a writer’s conference, three agents critiqued several one sheets showing what not to do and what to do. To my relief, they used mine as an example as what to do. 🙂 One sheets also make a great cheat sheet for those one sentence pitches!

  6. Sally Ferguson July 12, 2008 at 6:58 am #

    It’s a relief to know you can be yourself!
    I have a hard time finding the right publisher for a narrow niche. Is it time to self-publish? At writers’ conferences, my work has been praised, but not for their market.
    I’m thinking about doing some e-books. What are the pros and cons of e-books vs. “real” books?

  7. Alice July 12, 2008 at 7:28 am #

    I used a one-sheet when I pitched to agents and editors at the 2006 ACFW conference. It had my photo, a brief street-cred bio, and a brief blurb of the book I was pitching. Lots of white space, easy on the eyes. (I’ve done lots of layouts, so I know some tricks.) Because there were hundreds of us at the conference (and Randy’s Fiction 301 sessions *rocked*, BTW), I wanted the agents/editors to connect a face with my pitch. One agent wrote notes from our 15-minute session on my one-sheet.

    I’ve never used it since. I found my agent–not an agent I talked with at that conference–through her website.

  8. Sylvia July 12, 2008 at 7:34 am #

    My daughter recently sold her historical novel to a rather new publishing house which is taking a new tack in publishing. Here are some things about the house:
    It is a Christian publishing house, fairly new, that encourages first-time authors. The editor seems to be well-respected. They only print on demand and offer no advance, but give 25% of profits to the author instead of the usual 10-15%. They do little PR, leaving a lot of that to the author. They sell only on-line, but sell through the “big” companies: Wallmart, Target, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.
    I recently asked an agent (on his blog) what he thought about this venture. He wasn’t very encouraging. He seemed to regard POD publishers with “vanity” publishers. I realize that agents are by-passed with this type of publisher, so he might not “approve” for his own economic reasons, although this agent is a respected one, and I would hope he would give an honest evaluation.
    What is your take on such a publisher?

  9. Martha July 12, 2008 at 7:55 am #

    Thanks, Randy, your advice is right on.
    I have always been able to speak in front of groups with not problem. I taught English and sponsored Student Council groups for years, served as president of a number of groups and minored in public speaking. I even direct a conference here in Houston. Why is it that when I sit across from an editor I am suddenly tongue tied or babble like a child who doesn’t know what he’s saying without or without a one sheet, and with my “one liners” memorized. After years of attending conferences, I have yet to “sell” a manuscript to an editor. And I know several editors personally, but when it comes to getting them interested in what I write…

  10. Camille July 12, 2008 at 8:23 am #

    I was asked for my one sheet while pitching to an editor at Mt Hermon. Luckily I had one.

    I’d heard both – you must have one & you don’t need one. A kind writer sent me a template of hers which I used to format mine. It has a photo, my name and contact info at the top like a business card, the title in large font, the hook/tagline set off, then about 2 paragraph summary of the novel (this is where knowing & using Snowflake method is crucial).

    The second half (broken by white space) is a brief bio about me. Brief and pertinent to this novel. I toyed with being a little obnoxious – hey, you oughta know what you’re getting – but in the end I opted for nearly sterile and professional. Just the facts. Anyway, that editor asked me to send my proposal. But so did two others who didn’t ask to see the one sheet.

    I think it wouldn’t hurt to have copies of it with you for a couple reasons:

    1. You might run into an editor who is visual and prefers getting all the info in a nutshell instead of having to work at pulling it out of you in a conversation.

    2. Like someone else mentioned, it helps you have something to refer to if you feel a little lost or stammery. Or while you’re praying for the nerve to go into the editor’s den and trying to remember what your novel is about.

    3. If nothing else, they make great paper airplanes, especially if the editor or agent you want to see is booked. If your aim is good, you can land that baby right in his lap.

    Visit Mary DeMuth’s So You Want To Be Published blog -she offers tons of help with stuff like this.

    I’m betting Randy will be offering Meredith Efken’s Writer’s Conference Survival Guide again soon since it’s conference season, and I’m going to pre-plug it here by saying it’s a must have. Not only does Meredith tackle everything you ever wanted to know, she touches on matters of etiquette that are important and sometimes overlooked, no matter what your professional venture.

    (I wish she would teach etiquette workshops to the 25 & under kids working in the service industry.)

  11. Karri July 12, 2008 at 8:45 am #

    I don’t have any questions, but just thought I’d say that all this talk of pitching makes me want to pitch myself off a cliff.

  12. Alice July 12, 2008 at 10:32 am #

    LOL, Karri! It’s not as scary as it sounds. Agents want new clients–selling more books is how they pay the rent. So they’re willing to listen–you might be their next multi-seller. The key is to know your hook and your elevator pitch cold.

    Oh–and you also have to be willing to put yourself out there and be ready for any reaction. I met at agent at a conference–yes, we were waiting for the elevator! I asked her if I could pitch to her, she said yes, and–well, she shot me down. *eyeroll* It’s one more layer to the rhino hide. That’s how I looked at it.

  13. Mary DeMuth July 12, 2008 at 10:58 am #

    I have a brief explanation of one sheets on my wannabepublished blog, along with two real-life examples from novelist D’Ann Mateer. You can read it here:


  14. Karla Akins July 12, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    When I grow up and go to a conference I will use a one-sheet because it gives me a focal point. Since I hate confrontation and would be more comfortable living in a cave — alone — (as long as there’s electricity and technology accessible to the cave) then I know that one-sheet is going to give me something to point to, talk about, and comfort me. If I wanted to sell something, I’d be a sales person. I have always hated sales. Always. So this is very difficult for me. The one-sheet will be my savior in this situation, I think.

  15. Andra M. July 12, 2008 at 2:32 pm #

    Be myself, eh? What if I have no idea who I am? Kidding.

    Mine’s a more rhetorical question. I’m a land surveyor by trade, and I find it very easy to tell people my qualifications as such. I’m quite confident about it.

    Why is selling myself as a writer so darned difficult?

    I know the answer for myself, but I would like to know how others would answer.

    I like the idea of a one-sheet for the same reason as Karla. It’s easy to get flustered during an interview. A one-sheet would help me stay focused such as, “Where am I and why am I here?” Oh and, “My name, what’s my name again? I know it starts with an A . . .”

  16. Rita July 13, 2008 at 5:57 am #

    I agree with Randy. It’s more important to obsess over your sample chapters than anything else. So, if you do create a one-sheet, don’t obsess over it. Keep it simple, graphically pleasing, with just enough information on it. The key is not to over-burden yourself with promotional gimmicks, to the point they shadow what is most important…your novel.

    Stepping Stones Magazine for Writers: http://www.freewebs.com/steppingstonesforwriters/index.htm

    Inspire / The Musings of a Historical Fiction Writer: http://inspire-writer.blogspot.com/

  17. Karen July 13, 2008 at 3:47 pm #

    So it’s conference ‘season’ up over eh? I’ve been drooling over the ACFW conference schedule…

    What other conferences are about?

    I’m an Aussie, so drooling is about all I’m going to do for a few years. I’m looking at options now so that once I have a finished manuscript, I hope to make it to an ACFW conference. It covers my genre completely, includes many of the authors I avidly read, and every publisher that I would target, so I’m guessing it’s the one for me. Still, if you know of other conferences coming up, feel free to list them here so I can do some more drooling. We all know how important it is for writers to dream!

    🙂 Karen

  18. Ann Isik July 13, 2008 at 4:33 pm #

    I can just imagine the catastrophic consequences for me of ‘pitching’. For a start, I’ve noticed that we Englishers’ (not Amish ones, real ones), tend to speak in a much less direct manner than Americans. I think it’s because we tend to meander along to the point at the very end of sentences. Like trying to find out if a restaurant (in the US)serves veggie food. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to trouble you, but, er,I’m just wondering, if perhaps, as I don’t see any sign or menu card or list or whatever, well, what I mean is, is it possible that you do have on the menu, meal options for vegetarians?’ By this time, she’s gone off-shift! Have to practice talking forwards.

    Ann Isik

  19. Joanna Mallory July 13, 2008 at 5:15 pm #

    I’m with Karla and Andra. My one-sheet is for my personal comfort — call it a prop. I’ve yet to persuade an editor or agent to keep one, but it gives me something “official” to put on the table between us, and I don’t have to fear that I’ll choke and forget my hook sentence. I don’t sit and read it to the editor, but I feel safe to refer to it.

    Does anyone else fear total brain lock-up at times like this?

  20. Mo July 13, 2008 at 9:55 pm #

    I’m with Karri – LOL – in detesting the marketing/pitching side, in spite of understanding how critical they are to getting published. In other words, pitch (a.k.a. tar) is the black stuff you put on before rolling in feathers and parading down the street.

  21. Sam July 14, 2008 at 5:46 am #

    Randy, Good stuff on the One-Sheet (both from you and the bloggers).
    My question regarding your conferences is: if you don’t *need* a one-sheet (but maybe bring one as a nice-to-have) what else would you bring to carry around a conference? Would you have your sample chapters in hand or do you wait to send them to an agent/publisher when they ask for it?

  22. Camille July 14, 2008 at 8:04 am #

    Sam – Randy will have a gooder answer, but I’ll say this: it probably depends on what conference you attend and how things are set up. I went to Mt Hermon this year (first time-beautiful setting-loved it). They were set up for writers to pre-submit one or two proposal/sample packets before conference for review by either an editor for submission, or for critique by a panel of highly respected novelists. I wasn’t ready to submit mine to editors, so I chose two novelists (Randy was an option, but frankly, I was far too afraid of his red pen to send it to him.)

    The sample chapters were returned to me later in the conference. And as it turned out, those two critiqued samples were all I had with me when I changed my mind and decided to talk to an editor. I asked if they minded reading a manuscript that had comments on it and they didn’t seem to care. Of course, they were favorable comments or I wouldn’t have been sitting there twisting my buttons and holding my breath.

    Depending on whether or not you’re going to have your work critiqued/marked on, you may want to have one clean sample of your work in case the opportunity arises for a chat with an editor, agent or other writers. Hey – you never know who you might end up next to on a plane. 🙂

  23. Elizabeth, Writer Unscripted July 14, 2008 at 9:38 am #

    A great post. I have done a “one-sheet” for a pitch I did a few years ago…it was basically just a log-line. Went to a workshop, narrowed it down to what sounded good and went with it. I got rejected but it was great practice. 🙂

  24. Pam Halter July 14, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    I did a one-sheet for Mt. Hermon and didn’t need it, but I’ll take it with me to the Philly conference in August, just in case.

    I’ll also be wearing my fairy wings. (Guess what I write??)

  25. Melissa Stroh July 14, 2008 at 3:09 pm #

    I have to agree with Martha. I’m a complete social retard though, who hasn’t even got up the nerve to approach an editor with my work. So way to go Martha for trying! Anywho, my deal is that I completely lack the confidence. I have no credentials to speak of. So how do you be yourself and pitch your idea with confidence when you just know that every word you say is going to come out sounding stupid and unprofessional?

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