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!
Daan Van der Merwe says
Thank you very much Randy. Especially your last paragraph is most inspiring.
Scary, Meredith. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you read my recent blog post. Ahem. I didn’t steal your stuff, honest.
Thank you, Meredith & Randy – Excellent reminder about confidence for those of us who totally forget the parts of our writing that might show promise and instead obsess about what stinks. BUT—that obsession with transforming the stink into stellar, for some of us, continually gnaws at us to keep aiming for perfect. 8)
Andra M. says
Thanks Meridith and Randy for answering my question. You definitely hit it for me! I need to convince myself that I write well, and confidence and arrogance are not the same thing.
I’m with Daan. Most inspiring indeed.
Richard Mabry says
As always, thanks for information that is both helpful and practical. I may save the pep talk and read it after the next rejection comes.
Bonnie Grove says
I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s insightful comments.
I’d like to point out one thing I haven’t seen touched on yet. This is my perspective, based on my experience – everyone has a different experience, right?
The way I see it, publishing is about relationships. Going to a conference, pitching your work is absolutely important (and brave!).
But. . .
For me, I found my way to being published through relationships. I got close to other writers, worked with them, communicated with them, etc. And it was these relationships with established authors that helped me in so many ways – I got my agent because someone who is well known and respected in the industry sent a query letter on my behalf to a fantastic agent (mind you, she still had to read my ms and love it before she would take it on – she did, and not only sold that book, but the publisher asked for a sequel. I’m writing that book now).
I have three books contracted and not one of them required a query letter. Why? Because I’m super-duper special? No, not at all. It’s only because, by God’s grace, I was able to understand that publishing had a great deal to do with mutual relationships.
And I agree wholly with Randy’s comments about confidence. Be confident in your calling, in your work, in your pitch – the confidence that comes with knowing God is in control and in charge of your work. There’s a lot of peace in knowing that.
Melissa Stroh says
Thanks Randy and Meredith,
It’s always good to receive that kind of encouragment. And far too easy for us writers to get down on ourselves and our work. It’s a constant struggle.
P.S. Thanks for always being personable! It’s not every day that I get to listen to people who actually strive to be on the level.
Meredith and Randy, thank you so much for your encouraging words, especially the charge to never give up on yourself. I’ve been battling both outside rejection and self-rejection, and lately gathering enough confidence just to keep going has been a tremendous struggle for me. Randy, I teared up while reading your last paragraph. Thank you, both of you, for taking the time to help aspiring writers hang onto their dreams. Your words have given me the courage to try again.
Amy VR says
I had a long, drawn out, 300+ word comment here and after it was written thought I should edit it down a bit. I cut out a few words and ended up with just two…
Lois Hudson says
Way to go Amy! 🙂
I know that, as a writer, I often feel I have to comment on everything. I’m learning it isn’t necessary.
Thank you, Amy!
And thank you, Randy and Meridith!
When pitching to an agent or editor and what you’re selling is a series not a stand alone novel, what should you pitch the first book and just mention it is part of the series or the series and a little bit of the first book, or a balance of both?
Pam Halter says
Bonnie is right when she says it’s about relationships. It really is. But still, we must dredge up some self-confidence and promote ourselves if we’re going to sell our work. I try and think of it as a job interview. Nerve racking to be sure, but how bad do I want the job? I put my best foot forward, smile and be friendly and most of all, believe in my project. If I’ve done my research correctly, any editor who accepts what I write will most likely take a look.
And isn’t that all we want? A fair chance?
Kristi Holl says
Randy said: “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.” This is so true–and I’m glad it is! And I found that if I’m passionate about the SUBJECT of my book, it’s easier to talk about that than how great the manuscript is. And in the end, the writing has to speak for itself anyway.