Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Selling Without Bragging



By Guest Blogger Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Photo credit:
 
http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/7570

Most of us grew up knowing it’s not polite to brag about ourselves. Not just ourselves, but also our work / our family / our home / our good fortune. And when we have the good fortune to complete a book worthy of publication, all too often the reminder of “Boast not thyself” stops us from bragging about what we’ve achieved.

Maybe our inner promoter argues that it’s NOT boasting if we’ve created a book that other people will love. If that’s the case we’re doing the world a favor by making it possible for them to read our book, right?

Even so, pitching an editor or agent is still something a lot of writers dread.

Of course there are ways to avoid ever doing a face-to-face pitch, and for anyone who can’t stand the idea of meeting an editor or agent in person -- “I’d just be too nervous!” -- contests and queries and Twitterfests all work fine.

But for writers who are going to a conference where editors and agents will be actively looking for books they can make into best-sellers, pitching is an extremely useful tool.

Are you thinking about it?

If so, you already know the basics. You want to tell them about your work in a way that’ll convince ‘em “I absolutely must read this person’s manuscript the minute I get back to work!”

But there might be a few things standing in your way.

Photo credit:
http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/1075

1. FEAR OF THE PITCH


This is far and away the biggest problem. Writers aren’t known for being the most extroverted people in the world -- otherwise how could we possibly spend so much time alone at the keyboard? -- so sitting down with a Big Important Person who has the power to Make This Book A Bestseller can be a scary prospect.

There are seven techniques for dealing with fear, both during the actual pitch and also before you ever show up at the conference. (We’ll go over all of those next month in my Perfect Pitch class.)

2. NO COMPLETION DATE


Photo credit:
http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/15139
If the book is still in your mind but there’s nothing on your hard drive yet, it’s a bit harder to convince the editor or agent that you’ve created exactly the story readers worldwide have been waiting for. Conversely, if it’s ready to send the minute they say “okay,” or if you can confidently say it’ll be ready to send as of two months from today, the pitch is a whole lot easier.

And if you’re not sure WHEN the finished manuscript will be ready, you might want to just use the time for getting a feel of what this person likes. You can spend your appointment time asking for advice on your query, discussing your favorite of the books they’ve been involved with, and leaving them with an impression of you as someone they’ll enjoy hearing from again once your book is complete.

3. UNDEFINED AUDIENCE


Photo credit:
http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/9551
For writers who are specifically targeting a certain type of reader-- those who want cozy mysteries featuring a chef, or inspirational Regency romance, or middle-grade adventure, or whatever -- it’ll be no problem defining who’s gonna love your book.

But what if the answer to “who’s this book for?” is something like “uh, well, everyone who can read English,” that’s a clue it’s time for some homework.

Sure, a few writers will say it’s the AGENT’s job to know that -- THEIR only responsibility is getting the story down on paper. Still, an agent will be much more impressed with a writer who’s willing to help them do their job by explaining right up front what audience will be interested in the book.

4. TOO MUCH INFORMATION

Photo credit:
http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/15349
We’ve all heard four-year-olds trying to describe the plot of, say, The Three Little Pigs. “So the pig had a hammer. And there’s some wood. There’s another pig who’s eating popcorn. One of the pigs had a hat on. Oh, and the wolf comes! They made a house out of wood. The pig with popcorn doesn’t see the wolf.” And so on.

Clearly these four-year-olds haven’t spent much time analyzing the characters or the plot or the resolution, and there’s no reason they should. But all too often, we authors wind up in the same boat. WE know the story so well, and we love it so much, we can’t help wanting to tell the listener all the most wonderful details.

And the listener is baffled. That’s why it’s crucial to outline your answers to the Four Big Questions -- which, again, we’ll cover in class -- before ever sitting down to describe your story.

5. RUNNING OUT OF TIME


Photo credit:
http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/16756
You might have a fabulous description in mind already. Your critique partner loves it. Your family loves it. The lady behind you in line at Costco loves it. But none of them was keeping an eye on the clock while they listened.

If you’re guaranteed all the time you want with an editor or agent, this won’t be a problem. If you’re at a conference where appointments are limited to a specific duration, though, make sure you time yourself during the “rehearsal.” For what it’s worth, the average person speaking aloud can deliver about 140 words per minute -- so keep that in mind as you plan. And don’t forget to allow time for the listener to ask questions!

AND SPEAKING OF QUESTIONS...

Here’s one for you: What are some helpful “Do's or memorable “Don’t's you’ve heard (or experienced yourself) when it comes to pitching?

Share those with whoever’s reading, and you might be the winner of free registration to Perfecting Your Pitch, coming up from June 3-14.

I can’t wait to hear some useful -- and entertaining -- advice!

http://romanceuniversity.org/ru-contributors/laurie-schnebly/

ABOUT LAURIE


After winning Romantic Times‘ “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular novel in her classes. With 43 titles there so far, she’s always hoping for more.

144 comments:

  1. Hi Laurie:

    How about this for a pitch

    "Would you invest a few minutes to look over this ten page outline which caused five hundred people to sign this petition (holding it up) saying they can't wait to read this book once it is written and plan to buy it as soon as it becomes available? According to your interview on Publisher's Weekly May 2nd 2018 this is exactly the kind of book your publisher is always looking for. How about a look?"

    If I was that editor I'd give that outline a look.

    Vince

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    1. Vince, that's a memorable visual aid! If the pitch is happening at a conference, it's better to send the 10-page outline later rather than expecting the editor to carry it home or to read it on the spot, but I'd be surprised if they DIDN'T want to read it once they got back to work.

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    2. Hey, Vince, that's a new method I never thought of! :)

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    3. Hi Missy:

      This approach is more common in nonfiction where you present evidence of your 'platform' as well as the numbers of people who would likely buy your book. For example: you give seminars and have over 5000 people who have attended your classes on your active mailing list. You might also show that you sell an average of 100 books yourself at each weekend seminar. A publisher would like to know that you have enough of your own customers to cover the costs of their publishing the book. The real profit will come from customers from outside your platform. The less risks for the publishers the more willing they are to publish the book and wish for outside sales to take off.

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    4. Yeah, I hadn't thought of non-fiction being that way. Very true.

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    5. Hi Laurie:

      If your book was really that good, I believe you would be expected to enthusiastically play the part out. That is, I would expect the agent or editor to say, "Give me that thing" and grab it out of my hands. Unless she gets offers like this all the time.

      I like your point of being helpful and considerate of the other person's time so I would add this to the pitch:

      "I thought you might want to see the outline right away but I'd be happy to send a copy by email if that would be more convenient for you."

      Yes, I believe that would be much better.

      BTW: I'd also want to know, as an agent, how you got so many people to read your ten page outline. I might want to know that right away.

      Vince

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  2. Laurie, welcome back! What a great and colorful post in all meanings of the word. Sweet! This is jam-packed with great advice, exactly what you're noted for... besides wonderful books.

    I brought coffee!!!!

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    1. Ruth, thanks for the coffee -- what a perfect way to wake up! I had one of those can't-sleep moments during the night and was relieved at finding only one comment to respond to, so now a jolt of caffeine will be a great start to a day full of fun. :)

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  3. Well I always heard to keep it concise. But I would say it's more important if you're pitching in person, remember these guys are human too. They love stories and even if they're tired they're likely to let you send your first 3 chapters even if your pitch was less than perfect. I know because at a pitch I bungled it every which way but loose and they still said I could send my chapters.

    Also be aware of if you are at conference and you're talking with your writer friends and there are strangers with your group and said strangers ask you further shop top about your story and upon your answering they say 'Why haven't you submitted this to an agent?'don't reply flippantly that 'westerns are dead. I can't write anything marketable' because you may then find out that said stranger is an editor for a small press and they ARE interested in westerns. Be aware of your audience and don't end up running down your story before anyone can do it for you. Lol

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    1. Fran, that's some great advice!! You're so right. Once I was with my editor when she said she'd just had a pitch session where a writer had come in and burst into tears. The editor felt terrible for the poor writer. So yes, they're people, too!

      I also love your advice to be cautious. You never know who you might be talking to at a conference!

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    2. Fran, talk about great things to remember -- you're right that we never know WHAT kind of experience / background the editor is coming from; and phrasing things diplomatically (even among friends as well as strangers) is always a good safe practice. And your story about the Request After Bungled Pitch is wonderfully encouraging!

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    3. I'm only speaking from experience. *LOL* Limited as it is. I think I spent the rest of the talk at the bar apologizing for my hoof & mouth disease as my BFF writer laughed at me. Fortunately the agent/editor was very gracious here as well.

      I think I've only pitched a few times and they let me send my chapters, despite my ability to pitch. I think the only time they'd really go, "Um, maybe not" is if you were pitching to an agent who does not agent your kind of work. That's where doing some homework on your agent/editor helps. If your agent/editor does NOT do erotic, do not be shocked if the conservative small Inspirational press you're pitching to turns down your pitch for 50 Shades Hotter. But if you're in the ball park, I've found agents/editors to be very gracious about the whole thing.

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  4. Such great advice. I am not at this stage yet with my writing but hope to be at some point. I think about this all the time.

    I hope everyone is doing well. I haven't washed away yet. The rivers have risen and coming close to washing over the roads. We have had 4 1/2 inches of rain since Friday night and it is still raining. (by the way I used to live in Nevada where the annual rainfall is 4 inches.) You can imagine the culture shock when I moved back to North Carolina.

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    1. Wilani, I hope your rain stops soon! Right now I see a bit of sun in Georgia. But there's more rain coming later.

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    2. Oh, Wilani, I don't think it's possible to make a more culture-shocking move than Nevada to North Carolina. Or, for that matter, North Carolina to Nevada. Good for you on surviving both of those...with experience like THAT under your belt, surviving a pitch will be easy by comparison. :)

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    3. Whoa, Wilani, hoping you stay safe! And find time to write.

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  5. I have heard approach agent/editor with confidence. Tell them your name and if you have an agent tell them first thing. Follow that with “I’d like to talk to you about MISSING which is a 95,000 word single title contemporary Christian Romance. I heard an agent interview in which they spent half of the appointment time trying to figure out what the author had written.

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    1. Mary, I've heard that same thing. Editors and agents want to know first thing where to slot this story in their mind. Then they can focus on the rest of the pitch. Thanks for sharing that!

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  6. I have a definite "don't": Don't forget the tone of your story.

    Just days before I had the opportunity to pitch my romantic suspense to an editor at a luncheon, I had written an amusing scene for it. This was going to be my first live pitch, so I was terrified, but this editor made it easy. She was warm and approachable and we wound up chatting comfortably for a moment before she asked about my book. Though I had a tight pitch ready that I believed would convey the tension of the story, our friendly conversation threw me off track and I started my pitch with the funny scene. She loved it, laughed with me and then requested a partial of the story. I sent it immediately and she rejected it soon after. What she had requested wasn't even remotely similar to what I had sent because instead of taking a moment to regroup and pitch my romantic suspense, I pitched a romantic comedy.

    So...know what you're pitching and make sure the mood of your pitch fits the tone of the book so you're not misleading the agent or editor.

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    1. Debora, that's a great lesson to share with us! Really good advice to have your pitch match the tone of the overall book. I think that's great advice for opening scenes as well. Don't do a slapstick (or whatever) first scene if the rest of the book doesn't fulfill the promise.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Debora. I love when we can help each other along this journey!

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    2. Debbie, I'm so relieved at knowing your books ARE available to us readers even after a botched beginning like that. Come to think of it, though, I don't think I've read your latest one yet -- could you tell me where to find it? Thanks!

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  7. I suffer from extreme blender brain in these situations. Suddenly I can't come up with the name of any author who's writing is similar to my own, and my mind starts second guessing the appropriateness of my word count. Forget about having the ability to speak about the plot or character conflict. I'm pretty sure I should stick to query letters and written pitches. But even those need to be polished. I don't think many agents/editors would be impressed with "The characters are really loveable, and the story's really good. Are you sure you don't want to just read it?" Just sayin'

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    1. LOL, Cheryl! I can really relate to this. I used to get so nervous that I could barely form sentences. After my first terrible experiences pitching (see my comment below), I learned to write my pitch down. Note cards are my friend. hahaha

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    2. Oh, Cheryl, "blender brain" is a wonderful phrase. :) As wonderful as Missy's recommendation of writing down the pitch -- which, whew, you already know how to do thanks to your experience with query letters and written pitches. In fact, a pitch IS quite a bit like reading your query later aloud!

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  8. Welcome back, Laurie! I saw myself in a couple of your pitch problems. The main one being TMI. At one of my first pitches, I went on, and on, AND ON. It was like I knew in my head that I should shut my mouth, but I just couldn't stop. It was a train wreck. The editor finally had to just stop me. I was so embarrassed!! But I was so nervous I couldn't function normally. That poor editor. She was kind and probably understood the nervousness.

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    1. Thanks, Missy -- it's always a treat to be at Seekerville, where I know it doesn't matter if I sleep until 7am because the day's hostess will see to it everyone gets a friendly response right off the bat. And, shoot, your train-wreck story is a great example of what writers CAN ultimately overcome. :)

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  9. Hello Laurie! I sold my first Harlequin Heartwarming book via a pitch at RWA Nationals, so this post is timely and helpful to all the new writers who are thinking about pitching soon. My biggest advice is to do your homework. I'm always amazed at how many people waste their time pitching to editors and agents who don't accept their genre or know nothing about who they're pitching to or what they're looking for.

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    1. LeAnne, that's great advice! I know sometimes the editor or agent we may be targeting isn't at a conference, so we try to take advantage of having ANY agent or editor appointment. But we can't pitch something the A/E would never in a million years buy or represent. We need to do lots of research.

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    2. LeAnne, you're coming to Nationals this year too, right? Talk about a nice sentimental journey to walk past the pitch area and remember How It All Began...I feel like that at the Desert Dreams conference, nostalgic for the days of such major excitement!

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  10. Welcome back to Seekerville, Laurie! These are WONDERFUL tips, Especially with an active conference season ahead of us.

    For a group pitch to an agent at a Desert Dreams conference, I'd written mine on a notecard to review and rehearse. But when she got to me just as the session was concluding and people for the next round were starting to pour in, I READ IT straight from the card. :)

    I still haven't sold that particular book, but I'd written the pitch well enough that the agent DID ask to see a full proposal for it -- AND about a year later she DID become my agent and eventually a dear friend as well!

    So, wonderful things can happen at those pitches...even if you can't do it perfectly! Following your valuable tips can give a writer a LOT of advantages in that pitch session!

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    1. Glynna, I love how that story ended up happy! It does show that we don't have to do everything perfectly. We just have to do our best. (And do our research beforehand, as LeAnne said.) :)

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    2. Glynna, wow, just a minute ago I mentioned MY pitch at Desert Dreams and now here's your mention which arrived an hour ago -- talk about a small world! And congratulations on using that pitch to land the perfect recipient; it's lovely when an agent winds up becoming a dear friend. :)

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  11. P.S. Please tell Lisa how much I enjoyed "The Journal of Sedona Schnebly" about your great-grandmother! I gave some copies as gifts, too!

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    1. Oooh, how cool! I'm going to check it out now!

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    2. Oh, she'll be delighted to hear that about both of you -- there's nothing like good word-of-mouth among book lovers!

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  12. For me (seriously introverted, not good at talking to people I've just met) preparation and practice would be essential. That way I'd have a good idea of not just what I wanted to say, but how much time I'd need and what essential story dynamic I'd be presenting as a hook.

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    1. Michael, I'm the same way. When I used to pitch regularly at conferences, my roommate and I would practice our pitches and time each other. We'd work and work until we had it going smoothly. Then I would usually also hold that notecard in my hand (and usually read it!) to keep from rambling. :)

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    2. Michael, you nailed it -- all those essentials you mentioned are exactly what you'd need for a successful pitch. That's defining "successful" as "one you survive even if the listener doesn't request the book," which is a whole OTHER issue...but with the steps you laid out, you'll know you've done absolutely everything you can do.

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    3. Thanks. I've really got to work on overcoming the "no completion date" stumbling block, too. That, more than anything else, is my Big Issue.

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    4. Well, heck, there's always the option of pitching something you finished a few years ago (even though of course NOW you can do better work) just as a practice session...that'll take off some of the pressure. :)

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  13. Laurie, I think I've made every one of those mistakes. There is no place to go but up! Couple of things from my perspective:
    1. I think we need to detach ourselves just a smidge when talking to an agent or editor that we don't know. Yes, you're putting your "baby" out there, but it's also a potential business deal. Like everything else, this calls for balance. If you're going to cry, do it back in your room.
    2. "Selling" is hard for me so I can relate to that part. I was raised in the 50s, in traditional Catholicism, with parents from the immigrant community. It's hard to push myself forward. The Lord is my strength.
    3. One thing NEVER to say to an editor or agent (or anyone else) is, "I got this straight from the Lord and I'm not changing anything." The good thing is if someone's gotten as far as reading this blog, you wouldn't say that in the first place.
    Kathy Bailey
    Pitch perfecter in New Hampshire

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    1. Kathy, I love your "what not to say" observation...Seekerville is probably the only place you COULD say it and not raise any eyebrows. :) Good calls, too, on keeping a professional perspective for balance and relying on God for the strength it takes to do tough things -- it helps knowing He's got your back!

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    2. Okay, what I meant was that we need to revise things and tweak them and self-edit and change stuff, and not just to say, "The Lord gave me this." Of course He gives us everything, but then it's our responsibility to make it readable. Sorry for the confusion.

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    3. Oh, no, you made perfect sense -- I figured the "don't" was to tell an acquiring editor "Not gonna make ANY changes." Of course if what they're asking would ruin the entire book that's a legitimate thing to say, but the little tweaks and revisions and self-edits? Absolutely!

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    4. Thank you, Laurie. BTW, I communicate even worse in person.
      This experience is fresh for me because I just sold an Oregon Trail Christian romance to a publishing house. The acquisitions editor asked for a couple of major changes, including NOT killing off a couple of characters she'd fallen in love with. It was flattering to me that an acquisitions editor LOVED two of my characters, and I complied. I also had to trim it to a two-person POV instead of the rich sprawling saga I'd envisioned. But the changes she suggested did not mess with the central love story, the central salvation story, or, well, the point of the book. So I guess this book did not come word for word from God and could not change a word. I guess I'll live, ha ha.

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    5. Kathy, I laughed at #3. :) No, we can't make it sound as if we're not willing to edit. :)

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  14. I have to admit, Laurie, I have never been to a conference nor have I ever "pitched" my book to an agent. I've done the query letter route only; but I find all your suggestions right on target and will implement them when/if I get around to doing a pitch session.. Thank you.

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    1. Patricia, it's okay if you never DO attend a conference; there are plenty of writers who've sold books solely by email (or even snail-mail, which less than a generation ago was the only option). But it's always nice to have the option of a face-to-face pitch, because a lot of the tools will work for either method.

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    2. Patricia, it's nice to learn to pitch for in-person and online pitches both. Learning to do a book summary (blurb) is a huge skill!

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  15. What great advice!

    I always freeze up at pitches. Last year the editor I planned to pitch had advised to relax and just to talk about the story. So I purposely didn't rehearse. We shook hands and I took my seat across from her. It took a minute, but I did manage to relax and got the main idea in front of her.

    I also struggle w/tmi and not being able to stop talking when I know better.

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    1. Connie, isn't it a treat seeing all this advice come in from people who've been in the trenches? Just like yours, giving the idea of "just relax and tell the story" a try...and spotting what to plan ahead for next time, which'll make you a better pitch-er every time you do it!

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    2. Connie, I'm glad you were able to relax! The hardest part for me is boiling down the story--especially if I don't have it all figured out. If we have the plot nailed down to a one-liner or a blurb, then we should be in good shape.

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  16. Great post, Laurie. I haven't had the experience of giving a pitch yet, but maybe sometime soon. I know I would be incredibly nervous, so these are great suggestions as well as the suggestions that everyone has made in the comments.

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    1. Sandy, it sounds like you might have a possible pitch session in mind -- if you do, I'm betting you'll come through better than you think. Just the fact that you're looking for helpful advice, and recognizing that everyone has different areas they need to work on, you're already ahead of the game. :)

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    2. Sandy, I hope you're able to have that opportunity to pitch!

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  17. MADE MY DEADLINE for this draft of the sequel to my Oregon Trail story. Didn't get anything else done this month, but What The Hay.

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  18. Hi Laurie,
    You nailed the biggies. That's why I like to read your posts and take your classes. Taking a cue from your post, you hit the highlights. I'd do the same by opening my pitch with an 8-10 word big picture line. Hopefully, the editor's eyes lit up and I'd go from there.

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    1. Gina, isn't it wonderful to see the editor's eyes light up! And your 8- to 10-word blurb is even more efficient than my 20-25 for someone in line at the grocery store or in an elevator...it's a lovely thing to be able to deliver your hook / teaser / premise just pow-pow-POW and know they'll get it all. :)

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    2. Gina, I think your suggestion is the best thing we can do: come up with that logline.

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  19. First, a really funny DON'T that I heard at a conference. One poor agent had someone slide a manuscript into the stall while she was going to the bathroom. Who on earth would think that was a good idea?! :>)

    Anyway, I had something that I encountered during one pitch session I had led me to this piece of advice. If you have something in your manuscript that might be considered "overdone" (in my situation it was a dystopian setting not too long after Hunger Games came out) or might be something the agent might not like (as I found out, the agent I was pitching didn't like characters with psychic abilities), don't be afraid to ask them up front what they think before going all the way through your pitch. It can also help you be a little less nervous since you'd be coming into the pitch from a side door as it were. And if what you're selling has something in it the agent wouldn't consider representing, you can use the left over time to ask them other questions rather than wasting everyone's time going through your pitch.

    Unless you want the practice, of course!

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    1. Heather, I love that manuscript-under-the-stall story...I've never known whether it was an urban legend or something that actually happened, but either way it's a fabulous DON'T! And asking up front how they feel about potentially tricky elements is a great idea; good way to save wasting time.

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    2. Heather, that's some great advice. Once at a conference, I had an appointment with an editor who was from the publisher I was targeting but not the particular line. So I ended up just talking about general writing stuff. It was nice. She took my card and told me she'd give it to another editor at the house that bought my type story.

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  20. Another great post Laurie. Lots of info that is very helpful. When I did my first pitch, which was successful, the point that got me through it was that this was nnot the end if it was unsuccessful. I see my writing as a journey and the pitch was the next step. If unsuccessful I've still learnt from it and there are other ways to promote the book. cheers Tracey

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    1. Tracey, talk about words of wisdom -- you're so right that the pitch is only one step along the journey. Just look at all the people who've reported horror stories regarding an earlier pitch, and who are now happily publishing after that initial debacle. Very good thing to keep in mind when it all seems overwhelming. :)

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  21. You not only have to worry about selling to an agent or editor, but eventually...CUSTOMERS! When a reader asks what your book is about, it helps to have something short and sweet (and hopefully hook them to want to know more!). I just wish I was good at the short and sweet! :)

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    1. Stacy, the short-and-sweet can be every bit as tricky as the full pitch...although, fortunately, not QUITE as tricky as actually writing the book and/or synopsis. (Whew.) The good news is, it doesn't take nearly as long to write practice drafts of the s-and-s as it does the entire novel!

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  22. Lots of great advice here.

    A New Year's pact I made with three of my friends pertains to fearing the pitch. We decided that in 2018 we would not self-eliminate and that we would give other people the chance to say "Yes!" to our work.

    Maybe editors and agents don't want our work in the end, but if we don't get it out there, we don't get a chance for people to say yes. One of the problems I have is thinking my work is never ready. And I need to change that. This doesn't mean that I put out unfinished work, but that at some point I need to admit it's the best I can do for now. And no matter what the outcome, putting it out there will help me make it better next time.

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    1. Lori, your observation about this work being "the best I can do for now" is golden -- because you're right; we often DO compare our current level of expertise to where we imagine we'll be a year or two or 20 from now, and that makes it so easy to think "not yet" and never actually put anything out. Ulp.

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  23. Great post, Laurie! As a reader, I enjoy learning about the writing/marketing process.

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    1. Caryl, the advantage to being a reader is never having to worry about HOW all those great books made their way through the pipeline from the writer's brain to keyboard to acquisition to publishing to the review site to the book vendor to you...you just get to enjoy the story!

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  24. Good morning, Laurie! And welcome back to Seekerville!

    You've given some great advice, and I know from experience that your classes are worth the time and investment!

    My first pitches at a conference were nerve-wracking, but fun. The biggest thing I learned was that I could actually do it! Another thing I learned was that editors are wonderful people.

    One of the editors stopped me part way through my pitch. She knew my story wouldn't fit their publishing house, so we spent the rest of the time talking about whether I should change the story to fit that publisher or look further. She was very nice and gave me some great advice.

    And yes, that story did sell to another publisher!

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    1. Jan, I love the story of how the editor walked you through the question of whether to change your story or find a different publisher...she's the kind of person who gives editors a good name, and YOU get credit for recognizing that at the time instead of fleeing in tears. Good job, both of you. :)

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    2. Jan, I like that editor. She really looked at the bigger picture of how to support authors, instead of just what you couldn't do for her.

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    3. Jan, that sounds like a great appointment!

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  25. I remember ageas ago reading some great advice (I think it was from Agent Kristen from the Nelson agency)that basically said quite a few writers believe they have to condense their whole novel into a one paragraph pitch, when all they really need to do is look at first couple of chapters or so, focus on the crucial event that kicks off the story and put it into a one paragraph blurb. And also to remember not to reveal the ending.

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    1. Janet, I'm intrigued with the advice to NOT reveal the ending -- that reminds me of when we used to give book reports in fourth grade, and the teacher cautioned "Don't conclude with 'If you want to know how it ends, you'll have to read the book' because then I'll assume you haven't." But probably an editor won't assume that!

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    2. I guess if you try to include the ending, you'd be tempted to tell the whole story in between. :)

      I think ed/ags mainly want to know a little about the characters and also the main conflict. And if it's a romance, she'll want to know what keeps them apart.

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  26. Keep in mind that, especially at conferences, editors/agents are there hoping to find reasons to say YES, send it. At one meeting, some editor/agents were telling stories about nervous writers fainting, throwing up, dropping their note cards, etc. They know you're nervous and 95% will be nice and reassuring. Remember it's all subjective, and what is loved by one may be hated by another--sort of like book reviews, but on a higher scale. Just because it's not for that editor or publishing house doesn't mean there's not someone else out there waiting for it. Think of rejections as a lesson learned, and move to the next name on your list.

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    1. Rowan, "move to the next name on your list" is stellar advice -- sometime it's easy to fall into the belief that this one single person has the power to make your career or to ruin it. Which might've been true in the old days of Hollywood casting, but not so much for publishing books. :)

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    2. Great advice, Rowan! Keeping perspective should help the nerves.

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  27. There's also knowing when to shut up, not one of my strongest assets. This was back in the eighties, and I was on the phone with the owner of a small publishing house. I said "I'm almost finished with an edited collection of coming-out letters and...." and he said "I'll publish that. Can you have it to me in a month?" Huh? The most articulate response I could manage was, "Uh, sure." Keep the faith. Sometimes your book will fit a niche your publisher didn't know needed filling.

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    1. Meg, you gotta love a publisher who knows what they want from just one great descriptive phrase! It'd be fun to have a recording of that phone conversation...although, heck, you could hand-write a transcript and have the whole great memory on a business card!

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    2. Yeah, sometimes our work lands on a desk (or at a pitch session) at just the right moment. So we should always be prepared! :)

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  28. Best advice in no particular order:
    Read up on the agent and be SURE they are the agent for you! Keyword searches might find a blog post they wrote on what they love and hate when people pitch them. That allowed me to admit, during my pitch, I hadn't yet figured out comparison books--and the agent kindly suggested several for me to read!

    Remember the agent is a human being. As scared as you are, introduce yourself. If you read up on the agent and know he and his wife are expecting a baby, spare a moment to wish them good luck. BE HUMAN. And coffee. At the end of the pitch, see if they'd appreciate you bringing back a coffee from three floors down, since you noticed they are empty and they are hearing pitches for the next few hours.

    Wait, did you notice a theme? I want agents to know the type of writer I am--I care about the comfort of others. And that I know how to treat writing as a BUSINESS.

    I've done one practice pitch in a workshop, and one real one. I plan to pitch a different book in the fall, to a different agent.

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    1. I love this advice, Shari! Thanks so much for sharing!

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    2. Shari, your instinct to list those tips in no particular order was right on target, because if ever there were two key elements to a pitch, it's remembering they're human AND treating the business professionally. Good luck with your pitch this fall...I hope Third Time's The Charm. :)

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    3. Thanks, Laurie. If I make it to an August conference, the agent plans to be there, too. It'll be a hard push to get the third draft done and to my beta readers by August, let alone Sept., but if I feel its a strong example, I'll pitch it even if I haven't.

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  29. Hi Laurei, took me three tries to figure out how to comment. How dumb can I be? Pitching your work is an important skill to have; to learn. Gotta join this class on the next round 'cause I should not be using the computer at all right now. All that, just to say I have zero experience with pitches...but sure am glad I was able to read and respond to this blog. missed the last two because of medical downtime, but I'm back in the saddle again--I hope.

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    1. Elaine, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you were able to comment. Sometimes Blogger can be a pain to use.

      I'm glad you're back into writing!

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    2. Elaine, I'm so glad you're back in the saddle -- here's hoping that continues. And you're smart to NOT schedule computer activity while you're supposed to be healing; that's the kind of thing too many people "forget" and wind up paying for later. You're doing it right from the start!

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    3. Prayers for continued healing, Elaine!

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  30. Catherine HollissMay 30, 2018 at 2:33 PM

    At film grad school we were told to channel our biggest fan (perhaps a parent) and write the pitch as if they drafted it - thereby helping to sidestep an attack of "the humbles." They also suggested that we have a two-to-three sentence summary of each idea memorized as the "elevator pitch" in case we were standing in line at Starbucks next to the perfect person... :) Worst case scenario: the mini-pitch helped to boil down the essence of the idea -- and that can be so important to keeping a story on track.

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    1. Catherine, I love that advice to channel our biggest fan!! I'll have to remember that next time I'm telling someone about a new release. :)

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    2. Catherine, I like the "describe this from the viewpoint of a loving & enthusiastic parent" advice even more for creating a pitch than for creating a villain -- there's a lot to be said for the blind perspective of someone who KNOWS their child is wonderful, no matter what.

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    3. Great idea on the "biggest fan" angle. I'm gonna try that!

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  31. Laurie, You are so right about the concept that pitching our work is bragging. That's how I was raised, too. The first time I pitched at a conference, I held a sweaty index card in my hands and prayed I wouldn't forget my own name. The agent was kind and encouraging. I think we sometimes forget agents and editors are not out to get us. They want to hear about our stories and that might feel like bragging. Be brave and brag.

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    1. Jacquolyn, I smiled about the sweaty note card! I've had plenty of those! :)

      Yes, we do need to remember the editor or agent is looking for the next best seller!

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    2. Jacquolyn, isn't it amazing how the "don't brag" habit is SO ingrained that we often don't even think about it? I remember attending a workshop by screenwriter Blake Snyder who openly basked in the applause, which made all of us applauders feel good...showing such pride was a lovely gesture!

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  32. Wonderful post, Laurie! And oh, so timely in my little neck of the woods. I received some good advice recently in terms of pitching. I was one of those people who tried to clutter too much information into a two sentence pitch. But a friend recently said, "Pick one plot line to follow, whether it's the romance, the mystery, the emotional arc, whatever...pick one and stick with it when crafting your pitch. I think it has helped me create a more concise elevator pitch.

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    1. Good advice, Alicia! I think it would help to pick the main conflict and talk about that.

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    2. Alicia, it's SO handy to have a concise elevator pitch! And you're gonna need that during RWA this summer, for sure...I don't know how far in advance they start scheduling appointments for Golden Heart finalists, but it seems like that ought to be happening pretty soon now. :)

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  33. At my first pitch opp, I was terrified and arrived early--and the first two "pitchers" came out crying (rejection DOES hurt). The first thing the agent said when I sat down was, Nice shoes! And she smiled. I am not a shoe person, but honestly, the warm-up conversation around her compliment made a huge difference to my ability to actually speak. So now I have my "speaker's shoes" picked out before any event.

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    1. Kathleen, what a wonderful illustration of how a nice comment can make an enormous difference! You've got me wondering whether the crying pitchers had seen a different agent, or whether she realized "time to behave better" but either way keeping your lucky shoes ready is a fabulous outcome.

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    2. What a great story, Kathleen! :)

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  34. Hi Laurie, so good to see you in Seekerville today. I enjoyed the workshop you presented to the Georgia Romance Writers...was it two years ago? Excellent!

    I'm sure your Pitch workshop is packed with great info. I always tell writers to pause so the editor or agent can ask a question or two. Also if the conversation has come to a natural conclusion, shake hands, offer your thanks and leave ahead of schedule. The editor/agent will remember how nicely you handled the pitch with time to spare...giving her a chance to make a note about your story or to catch her breath. I also tell folks that sometimes the editor/agent is as nervous as the writer!:)

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    1. Debby, I'm amazed that the GRW workshop was already two years ago, and glad you enjoyed it...it's always such fun meeting online people face-to-face. :) And your advice to remember the listener might be as nervous as the pitcher is a great way of keeping the "only human" perspective in mind!

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  35. Wow! Both the blog and the comments. Thanks, Laurie! This is great! -tc

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    1. Tom, isn't this a wonderful blog site? People are so great about participating and sharing their experiences...I'm relieved at not having left out anything in next month's lectures, and also delighted (although no longer surprised) at how well writers express themselves when it comes to memorable advice!

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    2. Tom, we're glad you came by!

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  36. Hi, Laurie and welcome to Seekerville. Sheesh! Where has this day gone?

    Pitching has always terrified me. At least with a proposal I don't have to talk and can think on my words, therefore avoiding the inevitable foot-in-mouth syndrome. You have all kinds of interesting info here, though. One of those must-print blog posts. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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    1. Mindy, there's a lot to be said for just sticking with the proposal -- that can work every bit as effectively in terms of acquiring an editor or agent; and you can get to know them as a person AFTER they've taken you on. But it's nice to have both options available; there are times when extra tools come in handy. :)

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    2. I actually met one of my editors in person for the first time after she'd judged one of my unpubbed contest entries (but before they bought my book). I was a nervous wreck. :)

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  37. As always GREAT advice and input, Laurie. I have a double degree in PR and Communications so I always thought pitching would come naturally to me. It does when I'm trying to help others but pitching my own work is by far the most difficult aspect of this industry to me. I'm now trying to take a break from one project to separate myself from it a bit, work on something else and then see if the pitch of the first project comes to me. I'll let you know how that goes :-)

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    1. Natalie, isn't it bizarre when training goes right out the window for our OWN stuff? I like your idea of gaining some perspective by working on something else for a while...that seems like a good way of making it easier to view the earlier project the way you would that of a client instead of yourself.

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    2. That's interesting, Natalie! So funny how our minds work. :)

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  38. Hi Laurie (waving from Las Vegas)!

    I’m one of those people who freeze up when nervous, and speaking in front of other people definitely makes me nervous. One thing I’ve learned (and has not failed me in my pitches) is to bring a calling card, a 4x6 notecard, and a pen with me. One side has my pitch written out, and the other side has questions I want to ask the person I’m pitching to. If I know ahead of time who I’m pitching to, I make sure to research them and their agency/publishing house/imprint ahead of time so I know what to ask.

    Like others have mentioned, editors and agents are people and understand that writers are (generally) good at storytelling and terrible at public speaking—especially when it comes to our book babies. Having notes in no way diminishes your chances of success. Remember, they’re not judging your public speaking ability, they’re interested in the story you have to tell.

    The calling, networking, or contact card is something I came up with, and found it helps with networking in a big way. It’s a business card that coordinates and matches my actual business cards on the front (with my name and website), while the back includes my email address and a place to write in where we met—event, date, location, and a line for notes. I usually write the title of book title I pitched.I find these work better than a regular business card in these situations since the information on it will help the editor/agent recall the book I pitched along with my name and main contact information.

    Hope this helps someone else!

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    1. Christina, picture me waving back from Phoenix. :) And bringing along the questions as part of your notes, rather than trying to remember what you wanted to ask while you're actually there at the pitch, is a great idea -- not so much for a job interview, maybe, but among writers it looks just fine!

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    2. Christina, I love that idea of having cards printed!

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  39. Laurie, Great article with common sense tips. I appreciate the straightforwardness of it.

    I've mostly practiced at conferences so far, but at that point I was still thinking about magazine articles rather than novels. I was in group pitches with editors and listened closely to the way experienced writers pitched their stuff, some even bringing a well-prepared notebook/ binder with samples of previously published articles.

    The editors were kind and willing to let me practice on them after I explained I was new at it and came to learn how.

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    1. Sarah, good for you on letting the editors know right up front you were there to learn the business rather than to make a regular pitch -- people DO tend to be nicer when someone says flat-out "I'd like to learn this business you're an expert in." Although I'm sure you said it more smoothly than that. :)

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    2. Sarah, I love the idea of just sitting in on a pitch session to learn!

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  40. Melissa Endlich reminded me once that we'd met two years before she bought "Winter's End". I was in a hallway, offering moral support to another writer and they introduced us... I remembered it but I had no idea SHE would remember it. A casual hello, a smile, a handshake... and then a contest win put me on her radar and it's been a wonderful ride ever since.

    Sometimes it's not what you "say" in those meetings but in the simplest of greetings.

    Be nice. Be friendly. Be kind.

    Because you never know who they're watching! :)

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    1. Ruth, talk about wonderful advice for every minute of life -- aside from God always watching, we never know WHO we're gonna run into that might we might be involved with later on. Or who might know other people we'll be involved with later on...especially in the small-world writing community!

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    2. So true, Ruthy. Also it's a small industry. Don't burn bridges.

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    3. Ruthy, I've always been amazed at how much editors remember!

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  42. Hi Laurie. Great post on pitching. Hi Laurie. Thanks for this great post on pitching. I have been told that a great elevator pitch is one where you can tell your story in less than 3 minutes. And the only way to do it is to have your story boiled down to one sentence. The pitch for Liar Liar (the movie)was short, succinct and got the writer a movie deal. And it went something like this: An attorney can’t tell a lie for a day…

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    1. Adite, the "one sentence" idea is a perfect way to avoid the risk of too much information -- I'm already wondering how that might work with The Three Little Pigs! Which, come to think of it, could be a great practice exercise: doing one line for various books we've loved. Hmm, possible homework... :)

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    2. That's a great example, Adite!

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  43. Adite, love the elevator pitch you shared. Perfect, isn't it! I believe it was Michael Hauge who talked about the title, Legally Blonde, being a good pitch as well. It says what the movie is about.

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    1. Gotta like knowing what the movie is about!

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  44. I had an appointment with an editor at a conference last year. I pitched a novel with a plotline dependent on specific time periods in history. The editor told me she loved the premise and was very intrigued, but she'd only like to see it if I changed the setting by 20 years. I chose not to send it to her because I couldn't figure out how to change the years in which WWII and the Holocaust had taken place. (And it's not a time travel.) I do like pitching, though, because it forces me to boil down the plot to a few powerful sentences to try and hook the listener.

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    1. Laurie, talk about a handy way of knowing whether an editor is someone you can work with. :) Congratulations on a hook that obviously intrigued the listener enough to want everything about your story EXCEPT the events taking place at the same time. Which is a big "go figure."

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  45. Great advice to those of us who get tongue tied before those acquisition editors every time. Thanks for pointing the way!
    Donna Wichelman

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    1. Donna, you're sure not alone in getting tongue-tied...it's amazing how, even though authors are incredibly good with the written word, we're not always so good with the spoken word. :) And you did everyone who posted a BIG favor, because since you raised the total number of commenters to 40 there'll now be TWO winners of tonight's prize drawing!

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  46. Laurie, your post was so helpful. Thank you.

    Thanks, too, to everyone who shared experiences, lessons learned, and advice in the comments. Seekerville folks rock!

    Nancy C

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    1. Nancy, you're so right -- these folks DO rock! And I'm glad you found the post & comments helpful...isn't it a treat coming across people who've been exploring the same kind of things that interest us?

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  47. First off, thanks to everybody who posted about pitching – I’m always bowled over at how great Seekerville people are about sharing!

    Next, since the free-class prize begins Monday and I want to make sure you have time to get enrolled on the Yahoogroups loop, congratulations to random-dot-org’s picks of #20 and #34, which is Lori Ono and Mindy Obenhaus...hmm, a parade of O names.

    Both of you, contact me directly at Book Laurie Yahoo Com (all tightened up) with whatever email address you’d like to use, and I’ll get your class invitation out right away. Or if you’d like to donate your prize to a friend, just let me know THEIR email address!

    And for anyone else who might like to join the class, contact me at that same email up above and I'll give you the scoop. :)

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    1. Laurie, thanks for generously choosing two winners! Since Mindy is a regular blogger here now, we'll pick another name for her spot.

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    2. Oh, that's fine -- just have 'em contact me; thanks!

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