Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pitch Perfect

One of the main reasons for submitting to contests prior to publication is to attract the attention of an editor or agent. Sure, the awards are nice to receive, and the credits look great in a cover letter, but bottom line, writers want to sell their stories. To do that, manuscripts need to be requested and read. So if a particular submission doesn’t make the final round in a contest, what’s Plan B? Pitch the story at a writing conference!

With the RWA National Conference approaching in July and the ACFW in September, I thought it might be interesting to throw out some ideas about how to pitch. My advice? Keep is simple.

First impressions are important. Start with a firm handshake and warm smile as you introduce yourself. Thank the editor for taking time to meet with you and/or for coming to the conference. A minute spent exchanging pleasantries -- perhaps ask about her flight or if she’s had a chance to see the sights in the local area -- can put you both at ease. Yes, believe it or not, the editors and agents are sometimes as nervous about meeting you as you are of meeting them.

Now sell yourself. The clock is ticking so pick and choose a few facts that will give the editor/agent an idea about your professionalism, your commitment and your expertise.

Be sure to mention your writing credits, such as any magazine or newspaper articles you’ve had published. Don’t forget web publications or chapter newsletters, especially if you’ve done a series of articles or how-to pieces. Have you presented workshops at writing conferences? That would be of interest to the editor as well.

The editor/agent wants to know if you’re new to writing or established. Give her some sense of how long you’ve been working on your craft either in years or the number of manuscripts you’ve completed. (Remember a manuscript is an unpublished story. The story becomes a book once it’s in print.)

Are you a member of professional writing organizations? Don’t forget to mention any offices you hold.

Contest wins? If you’ve won a number of them, summarize: “I’ve won ten national writing awards, including . . .” Then mention some of the more prestigious wins. Or you could say, “I’ve finaled in a number of contests, and the story I want to talk to you about today won the Maggie Award of Excellence and the Jasmine.”

If you have expertise or training in an area that plays a part in your story, be sure to include that information, such as if you have a law degree and your story is a legal thriller. But expertise doesn’t have to be limited to higher education. If you ran a dude ranch in Colorado and that’s the role you’ve given your heroine, the editor will enjoy hearing that you’re writing what you know.

Now sell the story. Word count, genre and whether the manuscript is completed are important. If you’ve targeted a specific line the editor publishes, be sure to mention that as well.

Just as stories should start with a riveting opening, so should the pitch. Can you come up with a high concept, hook or one-liner she’ll remember?

What’s high concept? In his book, WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL, Michael Hauge says, “If that single sentence describing your story idea(s) is enough all by itself to get people to line up or tune in to see the movie, then it has a high concept.” He goes on to provide the following high concept for WAR GAMES, “A teenager computer genius breaks into the Pentagon computer system and has to prevent World War III.” Sure Hauge is talking about movies and screenplays, but high concepts work for manuscripts as well.

Another possible opening is to throw out a question pertaining to your book that catches the editor/agent by surprise. “What would you do if TSA found a bomb ready to detonate in your carry-on luggage?” You’ve got her attention, now tell her about how your sassy heroine caused a national stir when she grabbed someone else’s luggage off the airport shuttle.

Remember less is sometimes better. Donald Maass, in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, says, “All I need to get hooked on a story is to know its category, the setting, the protagonist, and the main problem. Add to that one unusual detail that makes this story different from any other like it, and you’ve probably got me.”

For my first novel, NOWHERE TO HIDE, my one-liner was, “When the men who killed Lydia Sloan’s husband try to kidnap her five-year-old son, she and Tyler flee to an island community off the coast of Georgia and run headlong into the trouble they were trying to escape.” I added that, unbeknownst to Lydia, her husband freelanced as the Web master for a gentleman’s club porn site.

For SCARED TO DEATH, my second Love Inspired Suspense, I started my pitch by saying, “Kate Murphy never expects a quick trip to Mercy, Georgia, to retrieve her grandfather’s missing gold cross will land her in the middle of a transplant tourist racket.”

After you’ve thrown out your hook, reel the editor in with a few comments about the story, especially plot points that drive the protagonist to the climax. You could mention the hero’s greatest fear or greatest need or how the characters change, what they learn, what they overcome, who they save, etc. Again, keep it brief.

For my current release, I used the following: In MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA, a returning war hero’s search for a missing girlfriend leads him through the dark side of inner-city exploitation to a woman of faith who teaches him that memories of the past are not always as they seem and authentic love is grounded in truth.

Be prepared to provide information on another manuscript if the editor asks what else you’ve written.

Pitching to an agent? She’ll want to know if an editor’s shown interest in the story or requested a submission so include that as well.

The ending is as important as the beginning. Know when to stop so the editor/agent can ask questions. Once you’ve satisfied her curiosity, ask if she would like to see three chapters and a synopsis or the full manuscript.

Nothing else you need to discuss? Then thank her, shake hands and leave the room, even if you haven’t used up your allotted time. The editor or agent will appreciate having a minute to relax. Hopefully, she’ll make a note on her tablet about the polite and professional writer with whom she just spoke.

One sheet: Some Christian houses request a one sheet when you pitch. Compile some of the personal information mentioned above and add a short blurb about the manuscript you want to discuss. Place your address, phone and email at the top of the page along with a downloaded photo of yourself. Even though you hand the one sheet to the editor or agent, be sure to mention a few of your professional accomplishments and credits at the beginning of the pitch.

Practice makes perfect so start working on your pitch now! Good luck!

Wishing you abundant blessings!
Debby Giusti

PS: Anyone have a pitch horror story? Mine was when I got so involved explaining the plot of a single title story I wrote years ago -- before I knew the Keep It Simple Rule -- that I finally stopped mid-sentence and said, “Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?” Lucky for me, she smiled sweetly, then requested the full!


Chicki said...

Hi, Debby,

I just discovered this blog yesterday through a friend. It's now in my Favorites as a daily read!

Are there any contest sites you know of that don't require a fee.
I don't have any income of which to speak, and I'd like to enter contests. Any suggestions?

See you on Saturday.

Janet Dean said...

Debby, excellent advice on how to prepare and pitch to editors and agents. Keeping it simple is key. For me boiling my story down to a sentence or two is tough. The examples from your books are excellent.

My worst pitch experience was when the editor raised a hand and stopped me immediately. She said they weren't using debut authors for that line. Did I have anything else? Fortunately I did.


Katherine Harms said...

My time to pitch is still ahead of me. This is wonderful material to help me plan and practice for that moment. Thanks.

Tina M. Russo said...

Oh, my goodness this was very good Debby.

I hate pitches as I am a nervous wreck. And while me unable to speak sounds like a good thing, in these instances it is not.

The two things I have taken away from these things is:

1. Treat them like a job interview. I can handle job interviews as I actually do think I have something to offer a company. I don't even get nervous. I just go with the flow and enjoy myself.

2. Always have a few back up manuscript. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. Because not once has and editor ever NOT said, tell me what what else you are working on. And you have to be as prepared to pitch that manuscript, proposal or kernel of an idea sitting on your computer, as you are what you came in to pitch.

And don't worry if it is not finished. Be honest. I had an editor tell me, I'd like to see it when it is done.

Good luck.

Julie Lessman said...

Hey Deb -- Great and timely advice!! And I loved your horror story! I can just see your sweet, tentative smile when you halted mid-sentence!

My pitch horror story is definitely not related to rambling on ... and surely must hold the record for shortest pitches ever -- all of seven seconds long! It was my very first pitch to an editor and my first sentence included the phrase "Irish-Catholic family." Joan Golan of Steeple Hill stopped me mid-sentence with "I’m sorry, we can’t have Catholicism in our stories …" Which proves you not only have to be professional and to the point in pitches, but uh, smart enough to know the publisher's submission guidelines!

Tina M. Russo said...

Welcome, Chicki!

About 98 percent of contests do charge a fee as it is a way to fund the organizations events.

And even free isn't free. There are stamps, ink and paper to consider.

I treat it like a business and budget for them.

I have also found that writing in other venues does pay for the contests. I write for Woman's World, True Story etc, and write articles and blogs on the web to pay for contests.

Also if you go to the first SEEKER front page and the side bar and click on contest update under labels it will pull up contests and there are some that do not cost. Also in the sidebar are Contest Lists and Stephie Smith's site lists more than RWA contests and may have a few worth checking out.

Camy just added the RWA Conferences and Contest Link to the side bar, btw for a comprehensive list of of RWA contests.

Good luck.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Chicki, welcome to Seekerville! Did you bring food?


Well, okay, I've got some fresh Danish (apple and cheese) alongside the coffee bar provided by Sandra. We try to keep it simple in the morning, you understand.


Deb, great post on the ins and outs of pitching.

In the end, editors are people, just like you and me. They've got a job to do: Buy books.

We've got a job to do: Write books.

I try to keep the simplicity of it (similar to Tina's job interview scenario) in mind as I approach them. Only once have I not had a request for a full, and twice I've had fulls go to committee...

No go, but it's good to generate interest, to knock on those doors.

Knock and the door shall be opened...

Ask and you shall receive...

The worst they can say is 'no', right?

Big deal. On to next interview and next book.


Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Debby!

My first conference I pitched my first completed ms. and the editor said, "We don't do missionary stories." I stared at her thinking, "That's it? That's the end of this pitch session?" I was crushed. So Julie, I know just how you felt!

Of course, Debby is so right. It is very important to have a great pitch. At my second conference I was pitching my second completed ms. at the lunch table, sitting next to an editor from another major Christian publisher. Her eyes went wide, then she frowned and said, "Our house doesn't do medievals." And I gave her my brightest smile and said, "Oh, but you will!" Then I rattled off a quote from RWR saying publishers were hotly seeking medievals, or something like that, and I said that CBA publishers would soon follow. So she said, "I really like your one-sentence pitch. Go ahead and send it to me." Then, later, after all the other people at the table had given her their pitches and she only asked for a couple of them to submit something, she turned to me and said, "That is a really great pitch."

Of course, she ended up rejecting it because it was a medieval, and this is officially the last time I'm ever going to mention that word, medieval, since I'm never writing another one again. My husband says never say never, but he's not here, is he???!!!!!

Anyway, Debby, if you're still reading this, I'm so sorry I won't be at the HOD Readers' thingy at the VBC in May! I had already agreed to go to a Christian Women's Conference that weekend with some ladies from my church. Otherwise I would so be there to collect my hug!!! I was really bummed when I realized the conflict.

Ann said...

Wow, Debby, great advice.

So, do I treat it more as a job interview or sales call? A little of both? At least it's not a cold call, which is not any fun!

A whole lot more fun writing than selling, isn't it? Of course, it's whole lot more fun growing a crop or raising livestock than actually selling them.

Anyone for black coffee? I'm going to make another pot.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ann said, A whole lot more fun writing than selling, isn't it?

I remember, after I wrote my first book-length ms., someone saying that it was much harder and took much more work to sell a book than to write one. I didn't flat out didn't believe that. I thought, No way. After all the hours it took, all the effort--because writing a book is Hard Work--I couldn't believe finding a publisher would be harder.

Now, three years later, I can't believe I was that naive, to think selling it would be easier than writing it.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Ladies, sorry I had a commitment this morning that took me away from the computer and all my dear friends in Seekerville!

Hey, Chicki! Great to see you found our spot. Chicki has a fun blog and is a dynamite lady. She ran a writing group in a local Barnes & Noble, which is how we met. Thanks, Tina, for answering Chicki's question about contests! Yes, I'll be at our GRW meeting SAT. It's our annual critique workshop where published members review submissions from our pre-pubbed members to help them get their stories ready to submit in the Maggies. Hope you submitted a sample of your work, Chicki!

Cat Schield said...

You guys are so much fun. I've been lurking for a while, and just had to chime in on this topic. I have a pitch to do in 10 days and my palms are already sweating at the thought. The last 3 pitches I did, I had to read from note cards because I was such a nervous wreck. I'm great in person. I can talk your ear off about pretty much any topic, but a face to face presentation turns me into a mindless idiot (no matter how much I practice). The good news is, a lot of editors and agents recognize that people are nervous and are very kind.

Gina Welborn said...

Debby, you did amazing in giving us reasons why we don't have to be so petrified when pitching.

My first pitching experience wasn't too bad. Earlier that day I'd met the editor in the bathroom. We were both washing our hands when I noticed her badge and said, "Hi, oh, I'm not suppose to talk to you when your in here." She laughed and said we could talk just no pitching. Ended up, she used to live in Cache, Oklahoma, a smallish town about 30 minutes from where I used to live.

I don't think I told her I had a pitch session with her later. Needless to say, I wasn't nervous during the pitch until she asked me about my story. Even though it was one of those unsalable time periods and greater-than-what-the-publish word counts, she still requested a partial. Later she sent a generic rejection.

Oh well. I haven't thought of that experience or rejection in years.

My second pitch session was about two years ago at my first and only RWA chapter conference. I had a slight cold, but once I got to Florida, my sinuses when nutso. During my crit groups late night brainstorming session, the CP whose house we were staying at broke out a strawberry blush wine and the largest crystal bowl I'd ever seen full of Hershey kisses in all flavors.

I said no to the wine, but she said just try it 'cause I'd never had wine before. My goblet might have had one finger high of wine. I suffered through it.

Silly me didn't think about the cold medication I'd been taking.

I could barely get out of bed the next morning. And when I did, I discovered I all but lost my voice. HOw does one pitch with no voice?

The Harlequin editor I pitched to has to be the most kindhearted editor in the business. She did ask for a full of the story I pitched, but she was far more interested in the forth story I'd pitched, the one that I only had a first draft of. I was too stupid to ask if I could send it to her once I revised it.

Then again, I had no voice and was suffering through a medication/wine hangover. Maybe a fourth a cup of most. I'll never make it as a drunk.

Oddly, that experience has elimated any temptation I have for wine.

Not so keen on cold medication either.

When I went to RWA Nationals last year, I didn't pitch to anyone. I registered too late to get in on the GH finalist first dibs. No one I was mildly interested in pitching to was left.

What I should have done is sat in the pitch room and waited until my targeted editor had non-show.

Debby Giusti said...

Janet, you're right! Creating a sentence or two that captures the essence of a story is tough work. While I hate coming up with the right phrasing, I'm always relieved when it's done and find I use the lines over and over again as I market my book.

Kim said...

Another wonderful, information-packed article! Thanks so much!

This pitch scenario is new to me. a job interview sort of. I can certainly relate to that right now! I like the idea of putting a really tight one-sentence scenario out there. That would be hard for me, but I bet it works great!

Adding this to my book of knowledge!


Gina Welborn said...

Oh, I hate one sentence summations.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Katherine! It's always nice to see you on the blog. One of these days you'll be at a conference and a friend will say, "Hey, an editor has an opening. Why don't you pitch that story you've been working on?" Remember some of the tips and hopefully you'll deliver your pitch with poise and confidence!

Myra Johnson said...

Pitching. My least favorite thing to do in the universe. I would rather clean toilets than pitch! I was so nervous I cried at my first pitching appointment. Thank goodness for an understanding editor, who offered me some of her M&Ms. And BTW, I did NOT get a request.

Unfortunately pitching hasn't become any easier, but I do have a technique that helps. I introduce myself and give a very brief statement about my proposal. Then I hand the editor my one-sheet, which has a blurb about the ms. I'm proposing plus two others in the same general category. I sit quietly and let her browse the one-sheet, then wait for her questions. It's way easier to answer the editor's specific questions than to spew it all out in one breath and then be summarily rejected!

Debby Giusti said...

Tina, with the number of writing credits you have, I can't believe you'd be nervous facing an editor or agent! They should pay you to write for them!

I like your comparison of a pitch session to a job interview. It applies nicely.

For me, being in control of the pitch session is important. By knowing ahead of time what information I need to give the editor, I'm better able to keep the conversation flowing in a direction that showcases my story in a positive light.

Debby Giusti said...

Hey, Julie, when Joan "rejected" your pitch bet you never thought it would end up being a blessing! But here you are now with your Irish-Catholic story, PASSION MOST PURE, a best-seller (soon to be NY Times, no doubt!), published by Revel, and your second novel soon to follow. Aren't you glad Joan said no?

Debby Giusti said...

Ruthy, the Danish are delicious! Thanks, honey, for getting up early to bake! And, Sandra, you perk a mean cup of coffee!!!

Ruthy, I can't see you ever being nervous in an interview. Seems to me you'd flash those pretty eyes of yours full of Irish spunk and wow! the editor within seconds.

Ruth edited for Wild Rose Press. Any comments you want to share about being on the other side of the interview table?

Debby Giusti said...

Melanie, I'm crushed! I'd hoped we'd meet at HOD! Have a great time at your Christian Women's Conference. Say a prayer for me, okay? And tell your friends about the Seekers. Maybe mention some of your favorite authors as well! :)

Loved your pitch stories! Good for you being prepared with stats on medievals! I'm sure the editor realized you were a gal who took her craft seriously. And she asked for a submission! Woo-hoo! Okay, she didn't buy the manuscript, but she liked you and liked your one-liner. She'll remember you, Melanie, and that contact may prove invaluable in the future.

BTW, do you remember the line that impressed her? Want to post it so we can all read a hook that "caught" the editor?

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Ann! Hope you got that second cup of coffee! You're right, it's hard to sell a product. I'm beginning to see a pattern when I'm promoting a book. I do an event -- and usually love it, I might add. I'm an extrovert so I enjoy meeting new folks. But after it's over, I need some time to regroup. And if I've done a lot of events in a row, I feel like a turtle retreating into my shell. For my debut, I scheduled six weeks of events. Then I wanted to hibernate in my office for the next month as if I'd stretched myself a little too taut and elastic me needed time to snap back into shape.

Mary Connealy said...

Cat, My experience with editors when I've pitched is, they're really kind.
They're used to dealing with nervous writers and they do a lot to help you. They expect terror. :)

So just talk to them. If you stumble over your pitch, back up and go at it again, they aren't going to dump you as a potential author because of this.

Good luck. Memorize a one sentence summary of your story, no less than 30 words is the rule I've heard. Say it over and over and then when she/he gets you settled in, go for it.
She'll ask questions, you'll answer them. Nobody knows your book better than you.

If she immediately says, "Oh, we don't do...whatever...leaving you with nothing to pitch, then you say, "Well, I've got you for fifteen minutes, do you mind if I just use you for practice? She'll probably laugh and you'll end up having a nice visit."

Debby Giusti said...

Hi CAT! So glad you stopped lurking and joined in the fun! Ruthy, pass the Danish, and, Sandra, pour her a cup of coffee!

Ah, Cat, we can all relate to your concerns, but we can also tell you that you'll do it . . . and probably do it very well. We've survived to talk about our horror stories, as well as our successes! You will to. Be sure to let us know how it goes, okay?

And don't fret about having a 3x5 card at your fingertips. Yes, you can read your prepared script, just be brief. Then ask if she has any questions. By that time, you'll be more relaxed and can easily answer her questions.

Tell us what conference you're attending and the date. We'll be praying for you!

Mary Connealy said...

Here are some short (not always short enough) blurbs from my Lassoed in Texas series.

Petticoat Ranch-- A mountain man marries his brother’s independent widow and gains four emotional daughters. He expects her to be submissive. She would, if he’d order her to do things her way.

Calico Canyon--A prissy school marm expels five unruly boys from school. Their father gets her fired. A completely innocent compromising situation sees them married the next day. The boys are horrified, their father is a trapped rat and the school marm is stuck in her worst nightmare.

Gingham Mountain--A rancher runs head on into the new school marm,
who believes he’s made slave labor out of eight orphaned children

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Gina, thanks for sharing your pitch stories. Your first one proves the point that editors are human -- hey, they even go to the bathroom! :)

You lost your voice and you still got a request! Good for you! (Ever think the problem might have been the chocolate? :))

Thanks for bringing up a great point! Just as Gina said, if you aren't able to get an appointment with the editor of your choice, hang around outside the editor/agent appointment room. Talk to the gals who are manning the door, and tell them you'd be happy to fill in an empty slot if one of the writers is a no-show! I've done that numerous times. For some reason, not knowing until the last second whether I'll get in seems to help calm the butterflies and makes me more confident that I am where I'm supposed to be.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi, Kim, glad you gleaned a nugget or two from the post. Remember some of the info can be used as a cover letter as well. We'll have to do a blog on that some day.

Debby Giusti said...

Myra, love your technique. The nice thing is that it works for you. So, ladies, take what's offered here and then rework it until you're comfortable with the approach you plan to use. Myra's gives the editor everything she needs -- info about Myra (and she has a list of wins that would knock any editor/agent off her chair!) and a well-written but brief blurb about her books. The editor spends a couple minutes reading the one-sheet, then asks Myra to fill in any other details she'd like to know. Very professional! Very nice!

Thanks for sharing, Myra!

Debby Giusti said...

Hey, Mary! Thanks for sharing your blurbs! Love your books!!! And you've done a great job capturing the essence of each story in just a few words!

Okay, Mary, I expected a few horror stories from you? Are you holding back, honey? You know you're with friends. Do tell!

Mary Connealy said...

My favorite pitch session was with Wendy Lawton at the 2005 ACFW Conference. I got an agent appointment, that's part of the deal, but I already had an agent. So, you all know how many books I had written before I ever got published right?
So I'd made FOUR one sheets. Three targeting different companies and one with everything on it.

I'd rewritten several books to fit lines, shortened them to LI length, then shortened them again to HP length.

But I thought showing them a one sheet...six sheets long well, does it make me look like a whiz kid or a complete failure???

So I broke them up. contemporary, historical, short, long, with a goal of pitching to each editor only what I had that fit them.

So I sat down with Wendy and said, "I've already got an agent but I get a free agent interview and you're the lucky girl I picked. Spend the next fifteen minutes helping me, okay?"

I dragged out all my paperwork and there was absolutely ZERO nerves. She was great. We went over what I had, we debated what to pitch to who and what books might interest what houses. It was very useful.

If you could somehow remove the terror component and just pitch away for the practice of it you would probably get past their usual reserve, their sense of every author being the same, a cookie cutter or nerves and hope.

Mary Connealy said...

The first conference I attended I won the Noble Theme historical category. I promptly lost my certificate.

When I went into my appointment with Rebecca Germany she'd found it. The first thing she said when I walked in was, "Lose something?" and held up my certificate.

I always considered that a divine appointment. God used my disorganized clutziness for good. :)

Mary Connealy said...

I went into an appointment with Krista Stroever, the first year, not the year I'd broken up the one sheets. I said my polite hellos and handed her my one sheet and of course here are all these ridiculous lists of books. She started reading through them and I started talking and I could tell I'd interrupted her, like any good lover of words, she'd gone into the reading. She looked up, kinda, 'oh, are you still here.' And I said, "Just go ahead and read them and ask me any questions you have."
I shut up.
She read, finally, she kind of skims her fingers down the list and says, "This one has a political cause, we don't do them."

I started babbling about the story and she sort of cuts through that and says, "No, I'm not saying there's a thing wrong with your story, we just don't do them."

I woke up big time. She was trying to teach me about their line. I decided to learn rather than waste my time defending a book that wasn't right for them.
It was a wake up call, simple but it had never struck me so clearly.
Even if you've written the next Gone with the Wind, a masterpiece, LI publishes 60,000 word contemporaries. They're not gonna buy it.
She requested something, not that one.
I went home and took the political cause out of my book.

Debby Giusti said...

Ah, Mary, you've written what? Three hundred books by now? And you have a one sheet on each of them? You are so impressive! Maybe we should nominate you for Seeker Queen. Grab one of Karen White's tiaras, Ruth, and crown Mary.

Really, you are amazing! And you're so doggone nice too!

Love your lost and found story! Truly a God-incidence!

Wendy must be a doll! If you hadn't taken up her time, she could have put her feet up and relaxed or caught up on paperwork. But she spent the time helping you. Now, that's a great agent!

Mary Connealy said...

This is closer to a horror story. I had an appointment for a paid critique with...who shall remain editor.

I'll use he, but that may not be right.

He spent the whole time, and all the notes on the paid critique, trying to sell me his companies books on how to be a better writer.

I didn't feel all that bad, I was used to rejecting and insults, I'm a writer...rejections and insults are my life.

Then I got back to my room and there is my roommate, who earlier had an paid critique with the same editor.

He'd done exactly the same thing to her. Her paper was word for word the same as mine with about one line changed to personalize it for her.

And he made two didn't say they were in Texas until page eight. You didn't tell me she was blonde until page ten.

Well, I told mentioned Texas on line three and mentioned her blonde hair in the first sentence.

We don't think he even read what we sent in. Or he sure didn't give it much thought. We paid $25 amd his only interest was in selling us his own books.

Very annoyed. Still am.

Lorna said...

I feel like a sponge today, just absorbing all of the information and stories. Thank you for advice, Debby, and to all of you. Mary, your examples were great.

I have a question. Does it seem that a lot of editors are requesting a manuscript just to be nice when they really have no true interest in it?

Janet Dean said...

Melanie, Catherine Coulter's The Briton was the first LIHistorical Steeple Hill released. I would think it would be tough to write a medieval with Christian characters but she did a great job.


Janet Dean said...

Lorna, If editors and agents request a full, they're seriously interested. They may ask for a partial to be nice, but I suspect most of them ask because they've learned they can't always tell from a pitch if they're going to love the writing/story or not. So they give the writer the benefit of the doubt.

From what I've heard from editors and agents, they only read a few sentences or paragraphs before rejecting so it's not like they spend oodles of time with requested manuscripts...unless the material hooks them.

That's what we want and they want it too. Probably worse than we realize. Every editor is hoping to discover that writer that makes big money for them.


Camy Tang said...

Good post, Debby!

Myra's suggestion for letting the editor/agent read your one sheet is something a lot of writers do, and editors/agents understand that. If you're comfortable sitting quietly while they read, that's probably the way to go for you.

I always tell people to read their story pitch directly off their one-sheet or an index card. Editors and agents totally understand you're nervous and they'd rather you read your pitch than rambled on incomprehensibly.

I messed up my pitch. I had five sentences memorized but said sentence four before sentence three, and instead of stopping and backing up, I shrieked, "Oh my gosh I messed up my pitch!" Not my most professional moment.

I was pitching to Sue Brower at the time, who laughed and asked me about the story. She'd been intrigued from the first line and didn't really care that I'd messed up the plotline.

Another thing to try is like what Mary did with Wendy--ask for help on your story. "I'm not pitching, but will you give me feedback on my storyline and characters?" You take the pressure off the editor/agent because you're not technically pitching, but if they like what you're showing them, they might request you send it to them anyway. And they'll also give valuable feedback about characters/plot that might help make your story more sellable.


Debby Giusti said...

Good question, Lorna. But remember the editors and agents are dying to find a book they love. So if you offer them something of interest, if you're enthusiastic about your craft and your story, if they see something special in you or in a comment you made about your story, they'll request a submission. After all, they don't want to miss an opportunity to find the next Nora Roberts or Mary Higgins Clark or Dee Henderson or . . . (insert the name of your favorite author). So, yes, they request and often they reject. But sometimes it all works out and they make that wonderful phone call that changes a writer's life. And that's what I'm hoping for you and for everyone who stops by today -- that you'll be able to pitch your story, get a request and make a sale! Sometimes dreams do come true!

Mary Connealy said...

lorna, I don't think so. I don't think they request a book they're not interested in...except...I think editors do put an author who attends a conference up a notch from their regular slush pile submitters because they know this is an author willing to make a financial committment, time committment to her career. I think that makes them take you that little bit more seriously.

Anyone else?? Honestly, in all seriousness...I've almost never come away from an editor or agent appointment without a request. Although I've only been to three adn the second one I spent most of the time saying, "I think you've already got something from my agent." So I didn't submit things there, I just kinda introduced myself.
And the third conference I'd signed an exclusive contract with Barbour and had an agent so I didn't have any reason to even meet anyone. My editor appointment was with Rebecca Germany and we talked about the future and my plans for future books. My agent appointment was with my agent.

That first conference though, when I'd won the Noble Theme, I got fifteen requests for five different books.

All of which got rejected. Except Jim Peterson held on to my HP. Which led to Golden Days, not the book I'd submitted, which led to Petticoat Ranch. YAY!

Debby Giusti said...

Camy, great comments. Love the part about asking for the editor's help! Here I am saying you can leave early while you and Mary are gaining valuable info from those precious minutes with the editor. Okay, I'm learning lots today as well!

Patricia W. said...

Hi Chicki! Welcome to Seekerville! These ladies are great with advice and support.

I hear you on the budget. Same issue over here. Let's be in prayer for each other's needs. Tina gave some great advice, as I too have written for the Trues as a means of financing my writing. Nothing this year but I plan to submit something next month.

I have a question for the Seekers. Should a first-time conference attendee sign up for a pitch session? Or, is there so much to absorb at that first conference that it would be better to wait until the newbie dust wears off?

Myra Johnson said...

Personally I don't think there's a yes/no answer to your question, Patricia. If you have a finished manuscript that has been critiqued and/or gotten good response in contests, then go for it.

If the thought of that 15-minute appointment makes you a nervous wreck, though, maybe start with sitting down to lunch at the table of the editors you're most interested in. Use the time to get acquainted, become a real face and name to them, and soak up the tidbits that are sure to come out in conversation.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Patricia! So you've got writing credits to your name! Good for you.

Now should you pitch? Depends if you feel your story is ready. Are you almost finished? Are you at least halfway through the story? Are there editors or agents who will be at the conference with whom you're interested in working? How long would you have to wait to have this opportunity again?

Are the questions giving you some answers?

If you're ready to start submitting your story or if you know you'll soon be ready to submit -- say in the next few months -- and you have three chapters and a synopsis that you're proud of, then go for it. On the other hand, if you've just got three chapters and a synopsis, wait until you're further along on the story.

Does that help or muddy the waters?

Mary Connealy said...

another thing about requests. When you get them RESPOND AND RESPOND FAST.

This is a test ladies. Part of the reason editors don't take any partials from eager authors is because asking you to mail them is a huge winnowing out tool.

I've heard as many as 3/4 of the requested manuscripts never get sent.

And of the 1/4 that get sent, a lot get send very slowly. The editors are judging you on your response. Are you ready, are you serious. If you get a response, get that manuscript in fast. I went home after my first conference and printed and mailed every request within four days.

Simply responding quickly is a great way to put yourself ahead of the crowd.

tina pinson said...

Hi, Debbie, and everyone else.

My first and worst pitch was carried out in lines of babble that let to near hyperventilation.

I had my one sheets in hand. Beautiful one sheets with pictures and everything, and never let the editor I met with see one of them. I was so afraid they'd ask me to expund on my stories, and ask me why I'd written them and why I thought they should be published (which they did) and not like what I said about them. Oh the funny things we do to ourselves.
It ended up that my agent came in a few minutes after starting and took over for me. I'm not altogether sure if that was a good thing

But I was asked to send a couple of stories.

Another time, I thought I did real well, got the editor interested in an off the wall short story montage about God walking people through the dark times in their lives into the light so to speak. She was curious to see it. I was pumped, then I went home to clean up the package and never sent it, cause the second story in the grouping wasn't quite right.

I've waited so long I'm sure I'd have to pitch it all over again.

And though I'm pretty sure the editor had probably forgotten my story and my face by now, I still get this vision on sending it in and the editor remembering me and wondering what took me so long.


Debby Giusti said...

Hi Tina P!

Mary has put us all to shame with her rapid mailing policy. But then Mary always has her act together! :)

I on the other hand take my time about things. And yes, I did pitch a single title to an editor and never sent the full that she requested. I saw her a couple years later and apologized. She was kind and laughed it off.

But Tina (Mary might not agree), if you've got that proposal ready about God walking through the dark times, I'd send it and refresh the editor's memory about the request.

Okay, Mary, what's your take?

Tina M. Russo said...

I always thought that after a conference was a bad time to send a query to an editor and agent but --quite the contrary. I have read several articles over the years where they said that they only have a few writers who actually follow through and submit when a request is made via a pitch.

Mary Connealy said...

No, Tina, I'd send it. Yes sending it fast is better but sending it late is better than not sending it at all.

Unless you did something spectacular, like fainted or you know, had to be dragged out by security, chances are she forgot you right away anyhow. :)
that isn't personal, I figure they forget everybody, including maybe their mothers by the end of one of these conferences.

And I feel compelled to say AGAIN of all those oh so quick, good little girl Mary responses I got rejected on all of them but one.

But it only takes one.

Ausjenny said...

thanks Debby i enjoyed your blog today.

I mentioned i am a creative memories consultant and one thing we are told is have a one line answer to what we do as a hook also.
(still working on that) But they also say less is best.

Sounds like some interesting pitching stories. Thanks for all the stories it lets readers like me understand more what goes into having a book published.

Julie Lessman said...

Julie, aren't you glad Joan said no?

Mercy me, yes!!! I am soooo partial to the rich and beautiful heritage of the Catholic Church with its wonderful traditions of mass, incense, confession, the rosary, the saints, etc., that A Passion Most Pure -- and me -- would NOT be the same without it!

Debby Giusti said...

Mary, you know I'm just kidding you!

Tina and Mary, interesting to think not many folks mail in submissions after a conference. You know I was in a joint session with a gal once. The agent was so, so interested in the story she pitched, but the gal never sent it in. I found out later from her critique partners that she was a wonderful writer with three or four completed manuscripts, but she had never submitted her work to anyone. Is that fear of failure or fear of success?

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Ausjenny!
You know we love having you join us in Seekerville! And you know we love readers. Why would we write if there weren't readers like you?

I had a book club meeting this evening, and we discussed THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB. Some of the gals talked about a few points that seemed to fall into place too easily. Of course, I was reading the book from a writer's point of view and all the work that went into creating the story. Guess it's always good to see things from the other side of the fence.

Have a great night . . . or is it morning in Australia? Either way, enjoy!

Debby Giusti said...

Julie, your book was wonderful! I couldn't put it down! And now I'm eagerly waiting for the next in the series!

Debby Giusti said...

Today's been great! Thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment! Great chatting with you. Be sure to come back tomorrow for more fun in Seekerville!

Good luck on your future pitches. I hope what we talked about today helps in some way. Be sure to let us know!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

Ausjenny said...

Thanks Debby,
reading how hard writing is makes me appreciate books more.

Last night on the radio Jeffery Archer was speaking. he was rejected over 17 times before his first book was published and he said about the rewriting how it happens so many times before a book is published.
Also talked about one book that they published 25,thousand books and when they sold in one month he requested they print another 25,000 and the publisher said no write a new book but he convinced them and they then also sold out. This went on for along time.
Talked about how in America its a different senario to England to get to book published. So its was interesting listening till i fell asleep while he was talking.

Missy Tippens said...

Well, dang it. My post from last night never showed up. How frustrating!

I'm not about to tell the whole story again. I'll just give a quick one-sentence summary of my first pitch:

I was scared to death and got diarrhea of the mouth, telling probably half the story, and had to be cut off by the sweet Harlequin editor who is now an executive editor for the company.

I'll add one more sentence: I hope she doesn't remember my name.

Missy :)

Patricia W. said...

Yes Myra and Debby, your questions answer my question. Depends. LOL!

But appreciate the food for thought...

tina pinson said...

Debby asked the following . . .

Tina and Mary, interesting to think not many folks mail in submissions after a conference. You know I was in a joint session with a gal once. The agent was so, so interested in the story she pitched, but the gal never sent it in. I found out later from her critique partners that she was a wonderful writer with three or four completed manuscripts, but she had never submitted her work to anyone. Is that fear of failure or fear of success?


In answer to that, I'd say there is probably a bit of both, but there is also a third factor.

My Agent said that the story as I pitched it probably wouldn't work. Besides editors liked stories that had serial ability.

I should break the three shorts and extend them to make full length stories. I didn't agree, but tried and couldn't seem to extend them to my satisfaction. So I sorta gave up on the idea. If they weren't going to be accepted as pitched, and I couldn't extend and still retain what I was shooting for, why send them out. And I never did.

I have since gone back to my original idea and am cleaning it up some again. I sent it in for a contest and didn't place, but am looking at the comments to see what could be cleaned up and such.