Last week we began discussing “one-sheets”–a sheet of paper with info about your book that you use in pitching to an editor an agent in a one-on-one appointment. I’ve enlisted the help of novelist/freelanced editor Meredith Efken to help answer your questions, since she’s become something of an expert on writing conferences, having authored the e-book Writers Conference Survival Guide.
Today, Meredith and I will tackle more of the backlog of questions that my loyal blog readers have posted here.
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.
Randy sez: We’ve got some great cliffs around here, so be sure and come visit me before you make that pitch. Of course, Alice had a slightly more helpful comment:
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.
Randy adds: To be honest, it is very scary the first few times. But it’s true–agents and editors are there because they’re looking for talent. If you have talent, they want to talk to you. Now here is a secret that isn’t commonly known: The editor knows how to dance. What I mean by that is that even if you don’t know how to pitch your novel, the editor knows how to ask the right questions to put you at your ease and find out about your book. With VERY few exceptions, editors and agents are Xtremely nice people.
Meredith had some good comments to add to the issue of what it means to dress and act like a professional, so I’m going to insert them here:
At the conference I attended in April, I saw so many would-be writers shuffle into their pitch sessions in worn-out jeans and scuffed t-shirt and tennis shoes that looked like a dog chewed on them. They sat slumped in their chairs while pitching, and their entire body language and appearance screamed “I don’t believe in myself and you shouldn’t either!” If any of them actually were invited to send a proposal, it’s either because they’re actually so brilliant that their slovenly behavior was overlooked, or the editor merely felt sorry for them.
And I can attest to the fact that even Randy, with his “zany physicist” fashion sense, still looks neat and presentable at conferences. Beyond even his clothing, he is good at relating to editors, agents, and other writers as a confident, competent professional. And that’s what I think most writers need to remember at conferences. You can be yourself, you can be zany, you can be eccentric and wonderfully unique. You don’t have to be a fashion plate or look like the CEO of a company. But you do have to convey that sense that you are, indeed, a professional, career-minded writer.
Randy sez: I can say amen to that. I will never look like a fashion plate, but if there’s one thing I communicate to editors when I talk to them, it’s that I’m interested in them and that I enjoy talking with them. I want to know what kind of books they like to read. I want to know what authors they’re working with that excite them. Occasionally, I’ll find an editor who loves the same books I do. Of course, it may turn out that they don’t much like my kind of writing. But I may very well know a writer who’d be perfect for them.
For the same reason, I spend a lot of time talking with agents at conferences. I don’t need an agent. I have a great one already, and I don’t need another. But I like to know what various agents like, because then I can do a better job connecting up writers with agents. (Please note: I only do this when I decide a writer is ready for an agent, and that is rarely when the writer thinks he or she is ready. And I only do this at writing conferences, which is the only time I have time to play matchmaker.)
Andra wrote a question which seems to be very common for many writers:
Why is selling myself as a writer so darned difficult?
Great question. I find it MUCH easier to rave about other people’s work than my own. I think, for me, it’s a matter of perspective. My writing is personal, and it’s hard to distance myself from it. There’s also all that creative angst of “Oh, this is total schlock. Who would want to read it?” I think those insecurities come across when we’re talking about our work. It’s hard to sound as if we believe in ourselves and in our manuscript when we’re so acutely aware of the flaws and shortcomings of it.
What I do to overcome that is give myself permission to be proud of the strengths in my manuscript. It’s so easy to only think about what’s wrong. It seems arrogant or egotistical to be proud of what is right. But the truth is that your manuscript is a product–an artistic product, but still a product to be sold. You need to believe in the value of that product and know how that product will benefit the reader. It’s not ego to confidently assert that your manuscript holds certain reader benefits. It’s not arrogance to acknowledge that your product is unique or different from what is currently available.
As far as yourself–if you have managed to write an entire book and are going to conferences and have the nerve to actually meet with publishing professionals, that puts you in a very elite group of people. Do you know how very many people are out there who would “like to write a book someday”? How many of them actually take the time to study the craft, to put in the time to create this piece of art? How many of them are willing to take the risk of receiving tough feedback about it? How many are willing to handle the rejections, the disappointments, the years it can take just to get that open door to submit their work?
Those of you who are pursuing the study of fiction writing, who are persevering in this incredibly difficult and
competitive field–you guys are HEROES in my opinion! You are worlds ahead of all those wanna-be’s who never quite manage to make the sacrifices necessary to turn that dream into reality. So when you start feeling low on confidence or unsure of yourself, remember that you are attempting what most people don’t have the courage or perseverance to try. You have already accomplished so much just to get to this point. You’ve earned the right to be confident, to believe in yourself.
It’s a tough, tough road and plenty frustrating. Celebrate how far you’ve already come. Never, never look down on yourself or discount who you are. You’ll be surprised how much respect you’ll receive from other publishing professionals when you show that you respect yourself.
Randy sez: Yeah. What she said. I’d never thought of it, but yes, if you go to a conference, you have already done something that 90% of the wannabes have never done and never will. Let me give one last piece of advice for today, and then we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow:
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER reject yourself. That’s the job of the editor or agent. Don’t do their job for them! Your job is to write your best stuff. Your job is to present that in the most appealing way you can. Your job is to keep on keeping on until you make it. When you write something and then don’t even make an honest effort to sell it, you are rejecting yourself. Don’t do that!