We’ve been talking about pitching your manuscript (as well as yourself) to editors and agents. One commonly used tool for this is the “one-sheet”–a sheet of paper that summarizes the high points about your book and you.
I’ve invited novelist and freelance editor Meredith Efken to answer some of the many questions posed by my loyal blog readers. Meredith is the author of the popular e-book Writers Conference Survival Guide, which tells you how to get the most out of those all-too-expensive writing conferences.
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?
Randy sez: Self-publishing can be a good idea if you have the skills to carry it off. You need to be able to get your manuscript professionally edited, of course. And most important, you need a marketing platform big enough to make it worth your time. If you are speaking to thousands of people per year (and can sell books at the back of the room) then self-publishing almost always makes sense. If you have a web site or blog with similar exposure, then again it makes sense. If you don’t have that kind of marketing platform, then you need to team up with somebody who does. That “somebody” is a royalty-paying publisher.
E-books can be good, and I think the Amazon Kindle is going to make it (finally) work for fiction. But again, an e-book will only earn you money if you have a marketing platform. If you don’t, then you need to team up with someone who does.
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?
Randy sez: POD is not the same as a vanity publisher. At present, I have too little information to evaluate this, since I don’t know the details. The question I would be asking first is whether there are upfront fees that the author has to pay. Also, whether a POD publisher can really get a book into Wal*Mart, Target and B&N.
Meredith commented on this question:
The thing with self-publishing is that the distribution is extremely difficult. And e-books are still very limited in sales. You also lose the opportunity to have a traditional publisher pick it up because most of them won’t want something that has already been published in any form. I would advise being patient, keep working on other projects, develop your craft, adjust your sales pitch, and don’t settle for anything less just because it’s taking a long time.
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…
I feel your pain, honey! I, too, am comfortable speaking in front of people, but I am acutely uncomfortable pitching or even discussing my own work. I can’t answer your “why is this” question, but I can tell you what helps me. First, do use a one-sheet. Second, take a bottle of water with you into the pitch session. My mouth gets very dry when I’m nervous, so the water is a must. But you can also use it to give yourself a break. If you start to babble, stop and take a drink. Gives you a way to get control again without being too obvious about it.
This past April, I pitched for the first time in quite awhile (having an agent means I don’t really have to pitch, so I’ve avoided it). I, too, tend to babble or get tongue-tied, so what I did was let the editor guide the conversation. We exchanged a few small-talk remarks and then she asked me to tell her about my book. So I gave her my pitch line (use that one-sheet–which I wished I’d had!) and then told her “I don’t want to unload the entire plot line on you–what would you like to hear more about?” She actually wanted to hear more details! And it helped turn it into more of a question and answer session, which was somewhat more comfortable for me than trying to give a big presentation. If I’d had a professional looking one-sheet, I would maybe have handed it to her after giving my pitch line, and then taken a BIG swig from my water bottle while she perused it. She asked for me to send three sample chapters and a synopsis, so I’d say it was a successful pitch. But I was still nervous.
In my Writers Conference Survival Guide, I have some other suggestions for how to handle pre-pitch jitters. But don’t get too down on yourself about being nervous. It’s quite normal, and there is nothing wrong with you. Editors and agents generally understand how nervous writers can get. If you plan out some coping mechanisms in advance, you can learn to get through it. I just accept the jitters as part of the process
and work to keep them under control. Having experience pitching successfully, I now don’t let it bother me because I know I can be successful in spite of it.
Randy sez: I think it simply comes down to practice. You will get better at pitching by pitching. If you don’t feel confident, then going in with the goods is essential. Then you don’t have to talk much. Just show them your work. Listen, if it sings to that particular editor or agent, then you win. If it doesn’t sing to that particular editor or agent, then the best pitch in the world ain’t gonna fly.
OK, enough for today! Tomorrow, I’ll continue working through the backlog of questions that you’ve asked, so be patient. We should be able to get through them all in the next week or so.
I may have already mentioned this… if I did, sorry. But at a recent conference I found it helped to talk about the novel to other writers at meals or chat times before I talked to editors. I actually had one cool writer lady offer to let me practice on her. She just smiled when I stumbled and stammered. I’m glad I did that BEFORE I tried to talk to an editor. That helped. If you can find someone who you are comfortable practicing on who doesn’t know what your book is about, it might help. Dunno. Just a suggestion.
The funny thing is, while talking to live people, I discovered what part of the story I needed to get to in order to pique their interest… and it wasn’t what I had on my one-sheet or my summary. It was actually something I never covered in those items. Then of course they ALL said they would buy the book when it came out, but I suspect that’s the standard, safe response. In fact, I think that was the topic of one of the workshops offered at that conference: Preventing A Manical New Writer From Turning Suicidal When No One Gets Their Work. 😉
I think that’s a great idea, Camille! (Now all my friends are going to start running when they see me coming. LOL. “Oh no! Here comes Lynnette! Run! She’s going to want to practice a pitch on us!” 😀 )
Elizabeth, Writer Unscripted says
Ann Isik says
Yes, it occurred to me after reading all that’s been written so far on this, that practising one’s pitch with other people in advance, would be a good idea, would be of the same benefit as reading one’s work out loud. Actually, pitching is also one’s writing, is it not? I read to my husband and we often end up rolling about laughing, so it’s good fun too! It’s probably better to find some people to practice on who won’t pull the punches on it, though, like a stranger on the street! (Joking on that last bit)!
Lynn Squire says
The last conference I was at I was petrified before I arrived, but when I got there everyone was so friendly and willingly to listen to what I was doing that the shackles of fear fell away. All the editors and literary agents were very approachable and very helpful. Once I realized that they were humans too and actually there to meet me as well, I found I relaxed.
When it came time for one on one’s I just kept in mind that I was laying myself down before God as an instrument. If He chose to pick me up through an editor or agent, then I was there, otherwise I’d wait on Him. The decision was His, and He is the master craftsman. This helped me.
After the first full day of the conference, I was blown away by how “easy” it was to gain interest and momentum – but I believe that was not because of what I did. God was the one who “gave the increase”.
With respect to self-publishing. I have done this, had a platform, and successfully sold all the books I ordered. Recently I’ve went this route again for a very specific purpose, a very specific event, and for a project that needed to be done quickly.
I used a POD. With the POD I didn’t have to worry about the books stored in boxes. I get paid royalties on what is ordered, and I put out substantially less than $100 to get it done (not including paying for an editor @ $.01 cents per word). The book I published is a ministry, written for the express purpose of sharing the Gospel, and it is unique. I’ve only had it “released” for a week, and I’ve already earned enough royalties to more than cover the production costs — and this is before the original intended events have taken place.
I’m sure POD is not for everyone. I can’t imagine trying to promote this without having specific channels in mind before it went to print. However, I think some POD companies can give you a terrific, fast, inexpensive way to meet a specific need.
I’ve also done e-books. Again, you need to have the platform, and you can’t ignore the benefits of marketing off-line. E-books are unique, new, and a difficult sale, in my opinion. Your topic has to be very specific, unique, and desirable, and you need to communicate to individuals why they would want to risk paying money over the Internet, risk downloading something, and be willing to spend long hours reading off a screen or the additional cost of printing it out (even if it is on their own printer).
These are just my experiences. I wish that Randy had done this series on One Sheets before the last conference, but I managed – by the way I did have one editor ask if I had one. When I said I didn’t, she just asked me to email a one page synopsis.
Karla Akins says
I have many friends who self-publish in the homeschool market. Like Randy says, if you have a platform, a hefty speaking schedule, and a way to edit your work professionally, I think it would work fine. My friends travel to homeschool conferences, have blogs, podcasts, and do all the marketing and distributing themselves. They use their garages as warehouses. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more work than I feel I am able to do, which is why I would like to one day be published by a publishing house. I would rather be writing than anything.
However, I think there is money to be made if you can find an ebook niche that fills a need. I buy ebooks all the time for my cottage school. But it usually isn’t fiction.
Kristi Holl says
I just wanted to mention that I used Meredith’s e-book Writers Conference Survival Guide before I went to Mt. Hermon, and it was soooo helpful. I highly recommend it.
Randy you said: “POD is not the same as a vanity publisher” point taken. But…errr…what exactly IS a vanity publisher?
Thanks in advance,
Just a note about the comment that most publishers don’t like to republish novels that have been previously published elsewhere. Here at Harvest House, I think we average at least one or two books a year that were successfully self-published by the author. A good example is our upcoming release of Linore Rose Burkard’s excellent Regency novel “Before the Season Ends.” I came across it and took it immediately to our committee and they also saw the value in it. So, yes, some publishers may not want to take on self-published books, but it’s not universally so. We’re quite open to good self-published novels that have proven they can sell.
Also, we’ve recently taken on a few OP novels from already published authors at other publishing houses. We think those books can find a new audience with our readers, especially as we give them a fresh treatment with new covers and, when warranted, better titles.