Answers To Questions On Pitching

I can see we are way overdue to talk about pitching yourself (and your manuscript) at conferences. So far, there are about 25 comments responding to my last post, and many of those have excellent questions which deserve excellent answers.

Camille mentioned Meredith Efken’s terrific e-book WRITER’S CONFERENCE SURVIVAL GUIDE. I should have mentioned that in my last post but I forgot. Meredith is my freelance editor and one of the funniest novelists I’ve ever read, and her e-book tells you just about everything you can imagine on conferences. I’ve asked Meredith to answer some of your questions, so those will be appearing over the next few days (until we wear her out).

Lynette asked:

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

Randy sez: A “one-sheet” is kind of like a mini-proposal. It’s partly about you and partly about the book. The emphasis should be on arousing interest in the editor or agent. You typically use it during a one-on-one meeting to help you present what you want to present.

A one-page synopsis is a very high-level summary of the plot of the story. It will not mention you, the author, at all. Frankly, most one-page synopses are about as exciting as a phone book. Useful information, to be sure, but they contain only about five paragraphs, one to set the stage and one for each of the major chunks of the storyline. A one-page synopsis is generally too short for a proposal; I recommend doing about 2 single-spaced pages for a proposal, which gives you enough room to summarize every sequence of scenes in about one paragraph.

I have never used a one-sheet. Nobody ever told me about them back in the bad old days when I was scared to death to meet editors or agents. Nowadays, I’ve gotten past those fears and anyway, most editors know me now, so there’s no point in giving them a one-sheet with my bio. So I usually sit down and just talk without an agenda. I’ll tell them what I’m working on and find out what they’re working on and that’s that.

Those of you who have nice one sheets, go ahead and email them to me and I’ll be happy to post them on my site as examples. As my way of thanking you, I’ll include a link back to your web site or blog.

Hannah asked:

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?

Randy sez: You should give the genre, the expected word-count (to the nearest 10,000 words), a one-sentence summary and a one-paragraph summary. You should also tell how much of the manuscript is complete and whether it is polished or first-draft. You should also have a bio about yourself. We have discussed many of these issues separately over the past year on this blog. You do not have to have the whole project finished, but be aware that you will NOT sell a first novel unless the manuscript is finished and polished. You may possibly get an agent before then, however. If your novel is only partly finished, then your mindset should be, “My one-sheet is a chance to introduce myself to an editor and arouse interest, but I’ll have to wait till it’s done before this editor is going to be ready to consider buying it, so this is really just an introduction and nothing more.”

Once again, I’ll emphasis that a one-sheet can arouse interest, but it cannot sell your manuscript. What sells your manuscript is your manuscript.

Let me tell you a story which I’ve told several times. Years ago, I met an editor named Chip MacGregor at a writing conference. I made an appointment with Chip and did absolutely everything wrong–except one thing. I had brought five pages of my manuscript. They were the first five pages, and they ended with a strong hook.

Despite the fact that I practically babbled at Chip, (or maybe because I was babbling), he asked to read my sample pages. They were good pages and he asked me to send the proposal and 100 pages. I did, and that led eventually (18 months later) to selling my first novel, TRANSGRESSION. I can assure you that my babbling didn’t sell the book. If I’d had a one-sheet, that would have helped me not look like an idiot, but it would not have made one speck of difference in the final result.

As a postscript, Chip later became my agent and we worked together for several years, until he moved on to a job with a major publisher. Now he’s agenting again and is more successful than ever. I am one of the many authors he discovered, and I’m certainly not the only one who babbled like a loon during the first interview. Every editor and agent knows how to look past the babbling to the essential point: “Can this writer write?”

That’s all for today. Tomorrow, I’ll take up more of the questions you all posted, and Meredith will also be chipping in answers to some of them. Stay tuned!

6 Comments

  1. Karri July 15, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Randy, I read somewhere recently that editors don’t read manuscripts, they read proposals. Isn’t it possible for an editor to be interested in a novel that is not yet completed, but that has a solid proposal?

  2. Hannah D. July 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm #

    Thank you for your excellent answer Randy! I think now I won’t worry so much about pitching, and more about writing well. My goal will be to write well, then to get an editor to recognize it. A one-sheet might be good for me to write, because it will make it clear in my mind what I want the agent or editor to know, which will make me less nervous, which is good.

    I also figure it is good to know your own skill – if you know what you are good at, you feel more confident when pitching yourself!

  3. Kristi Holl July 15, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    Actually I had never heard of (nor prepared) a one-sheet until Mt. Hermon this year. I didn’t use it when there, but it WAS helpful in clarifying my own thinking about something. Thanks for sharing your babbling story. 😎

  4. Pam Halter July 15, 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    I think we need a balance of writing well and pitching ourselves. I met with an agent at Mt. Hermon and she was considering saying no to something I had sent her before the conference UNTIL we met face to face. She asked me to simply tell her the story. And I did. After that, she said, well, that made all the difference. Send me 3 more chapters and a more detailed outline.

    I’m still waiting to hear from her, but at least I had a second chance, and that was because I could tell my story.

    On a happier note, I was asked for the full manuscript of the same story 3 months ago! Still waiting to hear on that, too.

  5. Barbara July 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    Hi Randy: I have a general question about pitching myself. I’ve mentioned before that I’m blind. For some of my WIPs I have blind characters. One is a police detective who has been moved to Public Relations — though she manages to keep getting involved in open cases. And some of my stories involve aspects of horror. For these types of stories, I think mentioning I’m blind might help sell the story. But, what about stories that have nothing to do with either blindness or horror; should I mention the fact I’m blind in my pitch? For instance, one story I’ve started is about SAR dogs — my husband had one so I know quite a bit about them. Should I mention my blindness in a case like this? Or simply ignore it?

  6. Susan July 16, 2008 at 7:44 am #

    Question: Is the one-sheet usually written in first or third person?

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