Category Archives: Writers Conferences

Pitch Perfect: How to Make the Most of Face Time with an Agent

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Pitch Session

One of my favorite things about fall is that I always have several writers conferences to attend. (Next up: Castle Rock Writers in Parker, CO, November 6-7.) In that spirit, I’m due for a post about the most fear-inducing activity writers face…worse even than writing a query letter…you know what I’m talking about: PITCHING.

In my literary agency days, I was often asked to take pitches, and for me, that face-to-face interaction was so refreshing after the relative anonymity of the slush pile. But I also knew how hard it was for the person on the other side of the table: ten minutes to make someone else believe in your dream is a lot of pressure. So, is it easier to get a manuscript request in person? Absolutely. Agents are more likely to take a chance on a project after direct contact with the writer. So take a deep breath and go for it—every time you get a chance.

Now, as an indie editor, my role has shifted to one I enjoy just as much: coaching writers on how to make the most of their time in front of an agent. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced pitcher, here are some tips to help you avoid the jitters at your next appointment:

Relax and be comfortable. Agents hate making people nervous (really!). Remind yourself that they are regular people, and they’re just as eager to find their next client as you are to be that client! They might be nervous, too.

Do your homework. Research the agents you are pitching so you can show you know something about them. Agents like to know you are interested in their agency in particular (not just any agency).

Along those same lines, be prepared for the agent to close the pitch session with this: “What questions do you have for me?” It’s a great chance to show your professionalism and satisfy your curiosity about the agent or the publishing business.

• Get ready to elaborate. Agents will usually ask for more information once you have delivered your initial spiel, so try to anticipate some of them in order to avoid that deer-in-the-headlights look. Here are some that I often asked writers during a pitch session:

Is this your first book? Are you working on anything else?

Where do you see your novel fitting in the market? Who is your target audience?

Does your book have series/sequel potential?

Where did the idea for this book come from/what made you just have to write this book?

What do you love most about your story? About your main character(s)?

What does your writing process look like? What do you enjoy most about writing?

• If you have extra time after your pitch, use it! For example, mention you have another novel completed and you’d love the agent’s take on which might be more marketable. Just give a very quick nutshell version—some agents might get annoyed if you’re clearly trying to pitch two novels at once.

What if the agent turns you down? This is the worse-case scenario, but it can happen. If an agent knows your book isn’t her cup of tea, she’s actually doing you a favor by being up front. Don’t be discouraged. Use any remaining time to ask for advice about improving your pitch—so that when you do get in front of the right agent, it will be right on target.

BEST OF LUCK!

Should Writers Worry About Trends in the Publishing Market?

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Today I’m delving into my archive of guest posts to share some advice I gave at this year’s WriteOnCon. If you’re not familiar with it, WOC is a yearly online conference for YA/MG writers and I highly recommend it. Whether you write for adults or children, you’ll find lots of relevant content from authors, agents, and editors in their 2013 archive.

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Should Writers Worry About Trends on the Market?

trendsVanillaIceTwo pieces of advice you often hear in the writing business are “Agents love a savvy writer who knows what’s hot on the market,” and “Don’t write to fit the trends.” But aren’t those contradictory?

Not necessarily. It’s all about your frame of reference. Are you sitting down to begin a novel? Or putting the finishing touches on it? Where you are in the process determines whether you need to think about trends and marketing and the like.

Publishing trends have no place in the beginning stages of your writing process. One reason is that by the time you finish your book, the trend will either have died down, or agents and publishers will already have seen a hundred similar pitches. So many hopeful writers will have jumped on the Hunger Games/Twilight/Game of Thrones bandwagon that the chances of your novel standing out are slim. Another reason not to chase trends is that your heart probably won’t be in it, and readers will smell a rat. It’s one thing to sit down and force yourself to do a writing exercise—that can be a great way to generate ideas or power through writer’s block. But pounding out a story just because you think it will sell is like turning your entire novel into a writing exercise. Sounds exhausting!

So my advice is this: write the novel that has been percolating in your head for years, or that came to you in a mind-blowing dream last night, or that was sparked by an obscure headline at the back of last week’s paper. These are the stories that come from that mysterious realm of inspiration that has nothing to do with logic or planning or marketing. And they’re also the novels that break out, because readers can feel the spark.

You’ve done that? Great. Now you can start thinking about the market. Does your novel have something in common with a brand new bestseller? Great—you just might be poised to catch that wave. The trick will be to show how your novel appeals to the same readership and yet stands apart—how is it unique?

Or let’s say your novel is not like anything you’ve seen in a book store or online. If you’ve mastered your craft and you have a big story to tell, you could be the one setting the next trend. But it’s best not to tell agents that (arrogance is not considered a virtue in query letters!). Instead, show your knowledge of the market by outlining how you will help promote your book once it is published. Nowadays, no matter how “big” a publisher feels your book is going to be, you’ll still be expected to do a fair share of self-marketing.

In the end, the thing to remember is that most agents don’t want writers who methodically churn out simply “marketable” work—that’s a recipe for average books with average sales. Every agent I know is looking for something quite different: clients who write with passion and originality, and who know the industry well enough to promote their work effectively when the time comes. If there’s a “secret” recipe for success, I’d say that’s it.

World Book Night, a Writers Conference, and Some Q&A

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This past week was a fun and eventful one. In honor of World Book Night on Tuesday, our crew at Nelson Literary Agency WorldBookNightheaded out to Coors Field and the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall in downtown Denver to hand out free books to reluctant readers. “Reluctant readers” were the folks who: (a) pretended not to see us waving at them, (b) ran the other direction with us in pursuit, or (c) called the police. Just kidding. We did find that people initially thought we were trying to sell them something—there’s always a catch to something free, right? But then we got lucky: we made an awesome new friend named Isaac, who loaded his pedicab with two literary agents (Kristin and Sara), one adorable child (Sara’s son), two big boxes of The Phantom Tollbooth and Good Omens, and took off down the Mall. After that it was a piece of cake! You can see more pictures of the fun here on Facebook.

On Friday, I headed to Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference to take pitches and talk to writers about what agents look for in a manuscript. The conference featured a dynamic keynote by author/actor Andrew McCarthy (The Longest Way Home) and craft presentations by Todd Mitchell, Laura Pritchett, Bonnie Ramthun, and many other talented Colorado authors. On the industry side, Lara Perkins (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), Rebecca Schwab (Leapfrog Press), and Robert Brewer (Writers Digest) gave a great balance of craft and marketing guidance. One thing I really liked about this conference was that instead of the traditional pitch sessions, where I listen to individual writers talk about their book (without seeing any of the actual writing), we did roundtable sessions with a group of six or seven writers. Each writer read the first page of his or her manuscript and I gave feedback. I could then choose the projects I wanted to hear more about and schedule an individual meeting with the writer the following morning. This interactive format turned out to be both practical and fun—props to organizer Kerrie Flanagan and the NCW team. I hope it catches on!

One of my favorite things about writers conferences is that I get great questions from attendees. Here are a few of my favorites from this one:NorthernColoradoWritersConferencePoster_Small

1) What are some of the new trends you see on the horizon? I want to make sure I write a marketable book.

My advice? Just don’t go there! By the time a trend is visible, even to those inside the business, it’s pretty late in the game to start writing a book in that vein. When you’re finished, agents will have seen a slew of hopeful follow-ups. Not to mention it’s extremely difficult to manufacture inspiration in this way. If you try to write toward a trend, chances are your heart won’t be entirely in it, and readers will notice. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: write your story that’s bursting to be told—and worry about the marketing once it’s done.

2) How long should I wait to hear back from an agent before following up?

To some extent, it depends on the agent’s process. At NLA, we ask for a query letter only as the first step. We try to respond to all queries within about a week at most. For partial and full manuscripts, the wait time is naturally a bit longer—our goal is 1-2 months; it is often less but can also be a bit longer at our busiest times of year. Some agents post average wait times on their websites, so check there first. Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is to give an agency 6-8 weeks, and if you haven’t received any type of reply or confirmation for your submission, go ahead and send a polite note to check in.

3) [At the roundtable sessions, I asked participants whether their manuscript was complete, as we only take submissions for finished projects.] How does a writer ever know his or her book is “finished”?

Touché! We all know that when it comes to a manuscript, the final product is a moving target. You think you’re done, then your critique group says “not quite.” Or you give it to your editor friend, and she tells you it’s time for another draft. Basically, you know your manuscript is complete and ready to show agents when you’ve taken all feedback into account and feel it is the very best book you can write at this stage in your writing career. If an agent takes you on, he or she will likely recommend some changes before the manuscript is ready for submission to publishers. Then, when you get a contract you’ll have an in-house editor at your publisher. And that’s when the real work begins.  : )