Virgin Author Ch 6 Pitchy Pitches, Lit Agents, & Writing Cons
Pitchy Pitches, Lit Agents,
& Writing Cons
You’ve been there. You’ve done that. You’ve written the book on it. Now, it’s gonna get hardcore. I’m talking specialty items for a, hem, discerning clientele. Whether you want to submit work on www.fundsforwriters.com or figure out first hand how your story fits in what publishing hole, you’re going to have to learn this essential skill: the art of the pitch. Wait, what is a pitch? A pitch is a specific oral request by a writer to a literary agent or publisher to have their work represented. Likewise, a query is a specific written request… etc.
Pitch? What Pitch? I don’t need no stinking pitch, you might be tempted to say. And yours truly and the rest of the more traditionally-inclined writing world are going to stop you right there. Learning how to pitch your work – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, genre, whatever – is make or break. Again, this is where being an active member of a professionally-minded writers guild helps. Chances are, they’re going to have at least one guest speaker a year cover pitching – and on the off chance they’re not, there will be other authors there who can give you pointers. Can I be perfectly honest with you? (Wait, are you suggesting I wasn’t before?) I’ve always been frustrated and intimidated by pitching and querying. The thought of trying to cram all the meat and juice and raw-emotive power of a story I’ve slaved over into a few paragraphs is daunting. It is. Most writers I’ve talked to about this feel the same, too. So if you’re arriving at this point in your writing career for the first time and the girth of this challenge unsettles you, don’t take it too hard. You’re not alone. Just about everything I learned about pitching and querying I learned from Googling respectable online sources, Write Pack Radio podcast, and St Louis steam punk author Brad R Cook (Hi, Brad!). While I still don’t like writing queries or prepping for pitches, I can at least say I can muddle through it enough to get the job done. I don’t really want to rehash their pointers… because if I wrote about the specifics of pitching and querying, that’s exactly what I’d honestly end up doing (note the honesty again). Regardless, I highly encourage you to pop online and read up on what Brad has to say on it, or catch the numerous aforementioned podcast episodes on the subject. On to literary agents! Already known far and wide as those mythical unicorns of the writing world, a good literary agent is the professional who can get you past the otherwise unassailable fortress doors of significant publishing companies. And while, yes, there are always exceptions out in the vast wilds of the indie publishing realms, actually getting picked up by a legitimate publisher remains painfully rare. BEWARE random publishers who approach you, brave writer. All that glitters is not gold. http://www.writerbeware.com is an excellent guide, barring a Google search, on random approaches. Like the immortal bard once wrote, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles.” Remember that. But literary agents, real honest-to-God literary agents are champions in the night. And their help can be secured. In my personal experience, here’s the two best ways to pick one up: UNO:
If you’re pitching, I.E. physically pitching your work (and you as a writer), find a respectable writers convention where agents actively looking for the genre you write will be at. Then, go! I recommend Gateway to Publishing Conference and Convention in St Louis. Come ready with a fat stack of professional done author business cards. Once again, yours truly would be happy to help design them for you (*Cough, shameless self-promotion: http://www.ryanpfreeman.com/authorservices). If there’s going to be multiple agents looking for what you write (lucky you!), don’t be afraid to pitch to all of them. Make friends, relax, enjoy yourself. Cons are a wonderful thing.
Querying is what can take the longest. It’s the older way of getting represented, but it still checks out. The biggest thing to remember is persistence. Don’t go into querying mistakenly believing you’ll have your book out next Fall, because the stacked odds are… well, let’s just say they’re heavily against you. Books, traditionally published, take time. They just do. I said it before, and I just said it again. I’m sorry. I wish I could just wave my magic writing fingers… but the only thing these fingers do now a days revolve around typing and daily diabetic blood sacrifices. If your heart is still set on querying, I highly recommend http://www.querytracker.net – it’s an active online database of every literary agent in the United States, Canada, and the UK, searchable by genre. It shows who is looking for what, when, and who they’re with. It really is a beautiful thing. A word of warning before you jump down the rabbit hole with wild abandon: research the literary agencies of the agents you’re going after first. Consider their track history. Look at the types of genre your desired agents actually were able to successfully represent (these are excellent rules of thumb for both querying and pitching in general). Basically, try to know who you’re trying to get into bed with before you offer to sleep with them – and use protection, no matter how smokin' hot they are. Other more modern querying opportunities can be found on your friendly neighborhood Twitter. Annual online events like #PitMad and #PitWars are awesome ways you can both attract your favorite literary agents while showing off how media savvy you are (and hopefully snag a few likes and retweets, too!). Again, do your research. Learn who you’d like to represent you first – scope out their Twitter handles (that’s whatever @(Insert User Name) is on their profile is). Play the field – you never know who might bite. On a final note, currently Twitter is the platform of choice for professionals in the writing industry. That makes it the place to be to get noticed and make social media connections. Pay attention to trends – actually interact with other writers, publishers, illustrators, and agents – even if you’re just posting cat gifs. Queries & the Art of the Pitch
It’s important to realize how querying and pitching are not the same as patronizing your local strip club. It’s not even like procuring high-end escorts, either. This is a formal business arrangement you’re seeking. It’s more akin to getting a cute date for the high school dance. You can’t find out what might happen later unless you’re dateable. So if you’re pitching, I suggest dressing business casual. Try to be confident. If you can’t be confident, pretend. Remember that pitching to an agent is just talking to a person. That person often times has just got off a plane, might be missing their family, and is stuck in a small room all day listening to suspiciously similar pitches from eager writers hoping to hear the magic words ‘full manuscript request’ at the end of their seven minute time. This being said, the following are a few best-practices guidelines from first-hand experience… Don’t pitch to people in the bathroom. Just don’t. It’s weird, ok? Don’t be that person. If you do strike up the nerve to approach an agent outside of your allotted pitch session, talk to them like another person. Be cool. Also remember that even if you do secure a business card from them, it’s not the card you’re looking for. Let me explain: literary agents often carry not one but two different business cards. One is just a general one with information you could find any day of the week on their agency’s website. The second card, now… that’s the ticket to pleasure town. That’s got their actual direct contact info. That’s what you’re hoping to secure after a successful pitch session – often times with handwritten instructions on what to title your email so their interns know what to look for. Another thing to come ready for is what happens after the con officially concludes for the evening. Alcohol is a hell of a drug, and most literary professionals enjoy a hotel bar as much as the next jet-lagged traveler. All I’m saying here is that it wouldn’t hurt to be around for that – even if you just make friends in the end (real relationships with others is what makes the world turn. It’s the single most important thing you can do with someone else). Another oft-overlooked opportunity to rub shoulders with literary agents and other networking opportunities is over breakfast. Whichever writers convention you end up going to, do yourself a favor and make a point to stay in the hotel hosting the event. Not only will the hotel and con organizers appreciate it, but it’s a damn sight convenient. Be a social butterfly. Eat with other people. Talk writing shop. Share each other’s company just because it’s a pleasant mark of being a decent human being. Not everything is about doing the deed, you know. Make friends, especially with the outcasts and lonely. Listen to what’s going on in other writers, illustrators, editors, bookstore owners, literary agents, and publisher’s lives. You just might learn a thing or two. You just might walk away from the con with just a couple manuscript requests – you might even leave a better person. On querying, you basically enter the world of online etiquette. Research first. Ask questions. Do your utmost to really nail your query letter. Consider timing, too. Since your query is likely being sent as an email, pay attention to how they want you to present your information. Agents tend to not like attachments (due to the ever-present risk of viruses). In as limited a non-stalkerish fashion as possible, consider finding them on LinkedIn and read up a bit on them. Know who you’re dealing with – don’t just mass spam agents because you’re excited or impatient (as hard to resist as that might be). Also, be aware of when NANOWRIMO and Camp NANOWRIMO falls (July and November). Why? Well, you just tell me what all those dolts who didn’t read this handy primer are going to do first thing after they write their raw, unedited 50k word story at the end of the month? That’s riiiiight. Prime querying season tends to be in the Spring and Fall. Try and send your emails so it’s the first thing an agent might read when they open up their loaded inbox. (Consider sending on Sunday night). If you’re already sending out mass email newsletters to your fans (look at you marketing yourself!), note when people actually open your emails in your analytics, then adjust your querying strategy accordingly. Be smart. Also, realize that this is a waiting game. Yes, you can query multiple agents at once – just don’t make it super obvious you’re doing it. Flirting with multiple people at once is fine – just don’t let all the rest know they aren’t the only one in the beginning. If you haven’t heard back in two weeks or so, you’re likely being passed on. It’s not a personal slight on your daughter, cow, mother, family, or your book. It’s just not what they want at the moment. Breathe. Relax. Query on. It’s not you, it’s them (Hopefully). If you do get an email back (oh, and seriously, you don’t need to use snail-mail anymore… that’s just exacerbating the already excruciatingly slow process, you know), congrats! Even if it’s a no or however it was politely worded, that’s still awesome! In a day and age where professionals from HR to Agents ‘ghost’ people by never responding, it means someone in the agency took the time to consider your request. I know that seems like a hollow victory, but it’s not. I mean, remember back only a couple chapters ago when you were just some kid with a wild-eyed dream? Learn to appreciate each little thing. Each small step of the author process. You’ll be a happier person for it if you can manage it. If the email response allows, say thank you. You’re not an animal, for pete’s sake. If, on happy occasion, they offer advice or a revision request, oblige. You’re both professionals here. It shows interest. In this sort of business, if people want it by Monday in triplicate, you get it to them first thing on Monday in triplicate (with a smile on your damn mouth). I’ve always felt that it’s important as a writer to at once be able to a smooth operator in the writing industry while also being a die-heart literary artist, true to my craft. One of my late fantasy heroes, Ursula K LeGuin knocked it out of the park over this at the acceptance of an award at a previous National Book Awards. You can find her speech on YouTube – hers, along with Niel Gaiman’s are definitely worth your time. Who Do You Want to Rep You
& How to Contact Them
I include these two seemingly innocuous questions because for most virgin authors, they’re often overlooked. Once you begin to realize just how big and detailed the publishing world is, things can psych you out. Writers already have enough things bouncing around in their heads to worry about performance issues. Besides, I remember what it was like when I realized I had to somehow mount and ride this publishing thing for the sake of my stories. It can be intimidating. It is intimidating. Even small stumbles can throw off your entire game. Again, I relied on the St Louis Writers Guild, writer podcasts, and well-established literary industry newsletters like Poets & Writers, The Masters Review, and Publisher’s Lunch, just to name a few (BrainPickings doesn’t hurt, either – but it’s more on the literary side of things). Another way of finding literary agents who might be up your alley is by taking a stroll down the aisle of your very own home library. Who do you actually like to read? The chances are, that if they’re living, they have an agent. Check out the thank you sections in backs of books where agents are often thanked by name. Then hop on over to your trusty internet search engine of choice and have at. By reading through those previously mentioned industry newsletters, talking to authors at your local writers guild, checking http://www.querytracker.net, and combing the bookshelves, you’re bound to come up with a running list of potential candidates. Off the get-go, since I’m a hybrid author (both independently and traditionally published), my agent is Patty Carothers of Metamorphosis Literary Agency (Hi, Patty!) – so there’s one you can jot down right now. (See, aren’t you glad you’re reading this!) Contact literary agents either in person at cons or online as requested through proper, official channels, preferably not in July, August, November, or December (Yes, there ARE always exceptions to the rule). If querying, consult writing podcasts like Write Pack Radio and specialists like Brad R Cook’s posts/talks first until you feel more or less comfortable writing your query letter. Then, write your next book while you wait. You’ve Got the Con: How to Pick ‘Em
Especially for those virgin authors not living the slick fast-paced high life of the city-dwellers, finding, let alone attending a major writing conference and convention can seem daunting. I get it. There’s the cost of even going – figuring out where you’re staying (if not the hosting hotel) – travel – traffic…! It’s enough to give a small-towner a heart attack. If you’re lucky enough to already live in a major city, appreciate your geographic location for once, will you? While those living in a small town or even rural location might have one or two small literary events once a year to look forward to, cities like St Louis, Denver, LA, Chicago, Portland, and NYC have dozens spread throughout the year. Take advantage of them. Any mid-size to large writers group is inevitably going to have members who know how to hook you up with what you’re looking for. But wait, what are you looking for? (I’m so glad you asked). You’re looking for a writers convention sporting panels, masterclasses, and networking opportunities that are up your alley. You want cons that do more than just pander to an unspoken desire for safety or genre niche. Writers want to try and invest their precious dollars into conventions that have significant industry names. It’s ok if you don’t actually know or appreciate any of those names in the beginning. You’ll pick up who’s who as you go along – promise. And while you don’t need to only try and attend talks from the latest, greatest or most vaunted, do what you can. If possible, attend a conference and/or convention as a regular attendee first so you can scope things out. Watch the social media of the cons you’re interested in throughout the year, too. Ask other trusted writing industry folks (besides me). Listen to them. If you start hearing a consensus, take note. This may all sound like common sense advice, and it is, however, trying to tackle forming your con tour the first time around can be daunting. Remember that’s it’s going to be ok. Keep your writer ears open. Build your professional network. Make friends. Consider car-pooling and sharing hotel rooms to help keep costs down. – I’m a devoted fan of Archon, Gateway Con, Penned Con, Dragon Con, and the Big River Steam Punk Convention (all in and around the heart of the Midwest where I live; and generally -although not exclusively - focused on my particular genre).
Sorry it was another long haul there… but hopefully, you’re learning! Making that big old bulging writer brain of yours heave with professional desire… Next up we’re talking catch and release! No, not the fishing kind… nor the dating kind – although, they can be similar. Book launches and debuts. Before, during, and after… all this and more, coming up next!
Miss the last Virgin Author ch? How DARE you. (Pssh, I gotchu, fam)