We’ve been talking about “one-sheets” recently. A “one-sheet” is a sheet of paper that you take with you to help you in pitching yourself and your manuscript to an editor or agent. This is generally most useful to you at a writing conference, since that’s a common place to meet either an editor or agent for an appointment.
I asked Meredith Efken, author of the Writers Conference Survival Guide, to help me respond to the many questions my loyal blog readers have posted here in the last few days. Meredith types scorchingly fast, and she sent me a vast amount of material. I’ll be posting it here over the next few days, along with my own comments.
Meredith’s first comment is the following:
On one-sheets: It’s not surprising to me that editors aren’t asking for one-sheets. These are a fairly new innovation that WRITERS came up with. They actually snitched the idea from professional speakers who send out one-sheets as part of their media kit–once again proving how creative and brilliant we writers really are. I have never used a one-sheet either, because I got an agent before one-sheets became popular. So no, they’re not “essential.”
But they are a great visual tool for a couple of reasons. One, they give the nervous writer a “cheat sheet” to use in the pitch session. Those of you who blank out and can’t remember a thing about your book the moment you sit down with an editor will love using a one-sheet. Two, if you have one that looks professionally designed, it can become a powerful tool to help the editor visualize your story concept as well. Remember, the pitch session is essentially a business presentation, so having a professional-looking visual tool to go along with your verbal pitch can be helpful. It’s not required, but it is useful.
The thing to remember is that the editor may or may not take the one-sheet with them. Don’t ask them to, and don’t be upset if they hand it back to you. One-sheets are pitching tools, and if your pitch went well, then the one-sheet functioned properly. Do get one that looks professional, though. A sloppy, home made one is worse than none at all. If you aren’t able to create or pay for a professsionally designed one, then you can certainly make yourself a cheat sheet. I just wouldn’t advise giving the cheat sheet to the editor.
Randy sez: I mostly agree with Meredith here. I don’t particularly see the need for a professional one-sheet, since I see it as a pitching aid, not a pitch in itself. If you need it to remind yourself what you want to say, then a 3×5 card is as good as $300 one-sheet. If you believe that a glossy piece of paper is going to sell your book without some stellar writing to back it up, then please come buy a bridge that I own. It’s just north of San Francisco, and in good shape, but I don’t need it anymore because we moved.
Now that I think about it, I have used a one-sheet once. Years ago, John Olson and I pitched an idea for a Mars novel to an editor friend (Steve Laube, now an Xtremely successful agent) at a writing conference. We walked into the appointment with a blank pad of paper and a head full of ideas. John pitched the idea. Steve listened. I nodded my head wisely and kept quiet because I was a terrible pitcher in those days. During the 45 minute conversation, we sketched out the journey to Mars on the blank pad. That was our “one-sheet.” When we finished the pitch, Steve said, “Sounds great, guys. Now show me some great writing.” Months later, we sent him a proposal with three killer chapters. He bought the book and you can read those chapters in our novel OXYGEN. I don’t know what became of our “one-sheet.”
Meredith also had some good comments on Hannah’s question about how much of your manuscript should be done before you pitch:
I think it’s best for an unpublished writer to have as much of the manuscript finished as possible before pitching. First, you’ll have to have a complete manuscript in order to sell it or sign with your first agent. Okay, yes there have been exceptions to that, but in the vast majority of cases, you can’t sell your first book without having finished it.
To pitch it, I don’t think you have to have it completely written, since the proposal review process takes months. But it should be pretty far along. Remember, it’s not just finishing the book that counts–once you finish the manuscript, all you have is a completed rough draft. You don’t want to send an interested editor or agent a rough draft. Leave time for revisions.
Second, you’ll look more viable and serious as a writer if you can honestly say, “Yes, I’m within four chapters of finishing the manuscript” or “Yes, it’s written.” It will show you’ve put in time and effort into your project and aren’t just pitching an idea you came up with in the shower that morning. Third, even for published writers, it’s difficult to pitch a project you aren’t yet familiar with. You can have all the pre-writing done that you want, but the voice and flavor of the novel develops as you labor over the manuscript. You discover things about your characters you hadn’t seen before, and there may be important plot changes you make once you get into the writing of the story.
Having recently sold two books on sample chapters alone, and then having to write the books, I am finding that it’s sort of like having a safety net ripped out from under a tight-rope walker. My editor is now expecting the book to look like what I pitched, even if I get into it and want to take it a new direction. I still have creative freedom, but I have to be careful. I would NOT have wanted to try this as a first-time author.
So, as a final response to this question, I would recommend a first-timer to have at least several sample chapters completed, and preferrably half to three-quarters of the book finished before pitching. Your pitch will be stronger and it will be less pressure if you get a proposal request and eventually a full manuscript request.
Randy sez: I agree with this. On Monday, I talked about my less-than-stellar pitch of my first novel TRANSGRESSION to Chip MacGregor years ago. He requested the first hundred pages, which I had in first-draft form. Later he requested the whole manuscript, and again, all I had was a completed first draft. What did I do? I sent it to him, but I made it VERY clear–this is a first draft and it’s really rough.
He bought the book based on the first draft, and THEN I had to do revisions in about four months. At the time, that seemed horrendously short, and I had a lot of anxiety about it, even though they didn’t ask for much revision. (These days, four WHOLE months to do revisions seems like an eternity.) I worked very hard to revise the story the way I knew I wanted it. It would have been very nice to have a more polished manuscript to give him upfront, but you play the hand you’re dealt. I had been waiting ten years to get published at that point, and I was not going to tell him, “Oh, sorry, I’ve just got this crappy first draft so you’ll have to wait for it.” So I gave him what I had.
Tomorrow, I’ll post more of Meredith’s comments and answer more of the questions that are piling up.