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Category : Conferences
Someone wrote in to ask about preparing for a big writer’s conference they are attending: I’m getting ready for a writing conference, and while I think I have some great ideas for books, I find I always panic right before a pitch. I lose my train of thought (and my confidence), and have embarrassed myself more than once with rambling replies to agent & editor questions. What advice would you have for those of us who nerve out at key moments?
Happy to do this, since I love writing conferences and talking to people. I always get a bunch of writers signing up to talk with me, and they normally have a variety of questions: “Will you look at my proposal?” “Is this salable?” “What advice do you have for me in my current situation?” “Which houses might be interested in my story?” “How could I improve this proposal?” “Would you be interested in representing my book?” I never know what I’m going to see or who I’m going to talk with, so I was interested when I read this question. Here are my ten keys to pitching an agent at a writing conference…
1. Review your book. I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel, since nobody is really taking on new fiction projects unless they are complete (or, if it’s a nonfiction book you’re working on, you’ve at least written a good chunk of it). So go back and look it over. Remind yourself what it is you want to say about your book. Be ready to give me a quick overview at the start of our conversation (“This is an inside look at the biggest crime spree in Nevada history, told by the detective who cracked the case” or “I’ve got an edgy suspense novel — Fifty Shades of Grey meets James Bond” or “Imagine if there was a way you could reduce your chance of getting cancer
I try not to always blog about book marketing, since I don’t want this blog to sound like Johnny-One-Note (though I would say between 60 and 70% of the questions I’m sent have to do with marketing and publicity), but sometimes there are topics that are just screaming to be talked about. Recently I’ve seen a TON of blog posts on various writer sites about marketing opportunities, and many of them say the same things (get into Pinterest, learn to maximize Google ads, etc). I’ve yet to see a single blog post on what I think is one of the great under-utilized marketing opportunities…
Did you know that every fall, all the bookstores in your part of the country get together for a book show? The bookstore owners show up, and there are author interviews, publisher displays, book-and-retail educational classes, and all sorts of exhibits aimed at helping people get to know (and sell) more books. It’s the series of regional bookseller trade shows, and you’ve got one coming to your area sometime in the next two months.
Hey, print book sales have made a comeback, so publishers have renewed their commitments to regional shows. And the movement to support local artists has boosted the interest in the fall regionals. These are unlike BEA, where you have to travel to Manhattan, spend $300 per night on a hotel room, and wander through the massive Javits Center for days on end. There are fewer people, a lot of smaller presses, and an emphasis on authors and publishers in your part of the country. And as an author, you’ll be face to face with local bookstore owners, so you can talk to them about their customers, hand-sell your book, and maybe arrange for an in-store event. Some of the regionals even have smaller wine-and-cheese gatherings (at least one of the conferences is doing meetings in author homes), so that there’s potential for
I had someone write in to say they were attending three writing conferences this summer, and asked me, “What advice would you have for me to get the most out of the conferences?”
I love writing conferences, since it gives you a chance to network with other writers, see what’s going on in the industry, meet editors and agents, and get away from the routine for a few days. As you begin preparing for this year’s writing conferences, I’d like to suggest you keep 10 words in mind . . .
1. READ. Don’t just show up and act surprised at who the speakers are. Read the blog of the keynoter. Read the books of the teachers who are doing workshops. That way, when you get to hear them, you’ll already have a context for their information.
2. RESEARCH. If you’ve signed up to meet with an agent or editor, check out their bio, see what they’ve acquired, and get a feel for the sort of books they like. By doing that, you’ll be much more apt to talk with someone who is a fit for you and your work.
3. ORGANIZE. Before you show up at the conference, look at the schedule and figure out what sessions you’ll attend, which ones you’ll miss (so that you can share notes later), and when you can take a break to see friends.
4. PRACTICE. When you sit down across from me in order to tell me about your book, it shouldn’t be an off-the-cuff conversation. Practice what you want to say, how you want to describe your work, and what your hook is so that you’ll grab me.
5. GOALS. Ask yourself what your goals are for this year’s conference. Don’t just go with vague hopes. Plan to attend with some specific, measurable goals in mind. Write them down beforehand so you can evaluate yourself
Someone wrote to say, “I know you’re going to the Thrillerfest conference next month. Of the appointments you have at a conference like that, how many actually result in your asking for more material? How many result in you giving serious consideration to an author? How many will you actually sign to represent? Just curious.”
For those who don’t know, at almost every conference I go to the organizers ask if I’ll spend some time having short meetings with authors. I usually agree, since I enjoy meeting writers and talking about their books. One of the misunderstood aspects of those author/agent meetings is that “the agent is trying to find new clients.” That’s partly true, at least for newer agents who are looking for salable projects to fill their lists. But for someone who has been agenting a long time (I started working as a literary agent in 1998), it’s rare that my goal in attending is to sign up a bunch of authors. That might happen, of course, but generally at a conference I’m looking to be a resource to authors. Some want my reaction to their idea, others want a brief critique. Some want to ask questions about the market, or about publishers, or are looking for career advice. Others are looking for advice on their proposal, or to ask about marketing and sales ideas. Often people just want to know what is hot and what’s not. So “finding new clients” isn’t the only topic being discussed. Sure, plenty of writers are pitching their ideas, but that’s not the only reason for meeting.
So long as you keep that in the back of your mind, I’ll answer your question directly: When I volunteer to do appointments at a writing conference, I’d say I might have 15 to 40 appointments — some formal, some informal.
Of those, maybe 5 or 6 result in my asking to see more. Don’t
We’re doing a month of “Ask the Agent” here on the blog — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to discuss with a literary agent. Last week someone asked, “If I go to a conference and get to meet with an agent or editor, what’s the best way to prepare?”
1. Do some research before you sign up. If you write westerns, for example, you don’t want to meet with an editor who is going to open with the words, “Um… we don’t do westerns.” Spend a few moments online, trying to find the agents and editors who might be a match for your writing.
2. Think carefully about your expectations before you sit down to the meeting. If you’re expecting an editor is going to hear your idea and announce, “You’re the most brilliant writer since Tom Pynchon! Sign this contract immediately!” then you may be setting the bar too high.
3. Remember that it’s perfectly all right to have a meeting and just ask the editor/agent, “What do you think of my idea?” or “What suggestions do you have for me improving my work?” A face-to-face meeting isn’t just to find an agent or get a publishing deal. I never mind having people set up appointments just to talk through ideas, explore career stuff, lay down a bet, etc.
4. If you’re hoping to get an editor to pay serious attention to your novel, make sure what you show them is 100% done. Most of the things we reject just aren’t ready to be shown yet — the author has brought in something that’s 80% done, or maybe 50% done… but it’s not 100% ready. If you bring in something to show to an agent and you want to discuss representation, it should be so strong that I have no reason to turn it down. (If you’re just coming to discuss it, then you can
On Saturday, March 19, I’m going to be spending the day with a bunch of writers at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center in Omaha, Nebraska. I’m being hosted by the Nebraska Writers Guild, and I’m really excited because I’m going to be spending the day talking about how to create the perfect book proposal.
The fact is, I love talking about this topic, since I think a lot of writers who have spent years learning how to craft their manuscripts begin to struggle when they have to shift from “writing my book” to “selling my book to a publisher.” So if you’re wondering how to create a great book proposal that will get noticed by editors and agents, come join us.
I take the time to make sure everyone knows the purpose behind proposals, and then we go through the details of crafting both a nonfiction book proposal (with all the section-by-section notes that are needed of make it complete) as well as a novel proposal (and the importance of pre-telling your story to the editor). One of the things that makes this workshop unique is that I share some real-world examples of proposals that I actually represented, and that landed book deals at publishing houses. Then, after going through the details, we spend some time on refining the proposal — exploring the little keys that will make your book stand out in a crowd.
We’ll also take some time to talk about how to write a query letter and how to pitch a book face-to-face, so you’ll be ready the next time you go to a writers’ conference and have to sit down across the table from some famous editor. And we’ll talk about today’s market — what’s working, what’s not, and what questions you have about the publishing business.
I love this topic, and really appreciate the chance to spend a day just focused on creating and
I’ve been trying to catch up on all the questions people have sent in, so let me share a handful of queries: “When speaking with an editor at a conference, what is the best way to approach the allotted 15 minutes? Do I focus on the editor and the titles she’s worked on? Do I focus on my novel? Do I bring a one sheet?”
The best way to approach your time at an editorial appointment is to do some research and practice. Check to make sure the editor you’re meeting actually acquires books in your genre. Find out what you can about the editor’s likes and dislikes. Then practice what you’re going to say — sharing your name, your book idea, the conflict, theme, genre,and hook. Be clear and succinct, and rehearse your talk out loud, so you know what it feels like to say the words. Be ready to engage in dialogue with the editor. Dress professionally, and bring some words to show them (many like a one-sheet; I prefer the first five pages). In my view, the focus of a successful editorial appointment is your book, so think through how to talk about your book in an engaging way without sounding like just another pitch.
Another person wrote to ask, “Should I pay more attention to a literary agent’s list of authors they represent, or to their agency’s list of authors? In other words, if a Big Deal Agency has bestselling authors, how much does that mean if the agent I’m talking to doesn’t represent any of those writers?”
That’s an interesting question, since every agency tries to promote their bestselling authors. I was at Alive Communications when we represented the Left Behind series that sold 70 million copies worldwide — and while I didn’t have much of anything to do with that series, I certainly mentioned that we represented it when I was a young
Welcome to what will probably be the conclusion of my “Craft for a Conference” series (unless someone asks a question about an aspect of conference materials that I haven’t addressed already). Through my last four posts on conference craft, I repeated one mantra: that the purpose of any material you take to a conference (including spoken pitches) should be to gain the interest of the person you’re talking to as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd (in a positive way) as much as you can. When I meet with authors at conferences, the thing I see missing from pitches/conference materials more than anything else is that memorability factor– I read a lot of good hooks, some nice one-sheets, but at the end of a day where I’ve taken 20 appointments plus heard pitches at lunch and dinner, I’m often hard-pressed to recall ONE story idea without looking at my notes.
Now, obviously, there’s an element of information fatigue at play there; even a great, memorable story can get lost in the annals of memory if I heard ten forgettable pitches after it, and that’s what my notes are for. But when I read those notes, I want to go, “OH yeah, this one!” because I recognize the unique elements that stood out for me when you pitched it. I want you to have made it easy for me to remember it by pulling out everything that is most unique and most characteristic of that story in your one-sheet or your pitch. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often tells me not that authors aren’t writing memorable stories, but that they don’t always know how to make themselves/their pitches or materials memorable, that they don’t know what elements of their book stand out from the crowd and how to highlight those.
With that in mind, here are some places to start in your quest
Welcome back to my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference. Today, I’m discussing the value of bringing a writing sample with you to a conference and how to make sure it represents you effectively.
Like I said the first week of the series, there isn’t one hard-and-fast rule as to what you should bring to your editor and agent meetings at a conference. Some editors are happy to glance through a full proposal, some agents love to see a one-sheet on your project, and some people don’t want to look at anything on paper, preferring to hear you talk about your project and ask you questions instead. NONE of us wants to leave with a big stack of papers, and word is starting to get around that it’s increasingly difficult to get us to leave with any printed materials you bring us, so the practice of authors carrying around their sample chapters or first 50 pages or, heaven forbid, their full manuscript, has become much less common at conferences.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad fewer authors are trying to send me home with ten extra pounds of paper, but I have been disappointed, on many occasions, when meeting with an author who’s done a good job of hooking me with their story or concept through their one-sheet or pitch, to ask if the author has a writing sample with him and be met with a blank, slightly panicked stare and the stammered apology, “I– I didn’t know– I’ve heard you don’t want– I don’t have–” by which they mean, “No, I don’t have a writing sample, either because I didn’t expect to get this far, or because I’ve been told not to bring a big stack of paper to a meeting like this, or because I thought you would only be interested in hearing about my platform, and now I’m having a heart attack
Continuing my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference, I’m talking more today about the synopsis and how to make sure it’s doing its job for your proposal. We’ll look briefly at format and then look at ways to avoid several common synopsis mistakes.
A synopsis is similar to a proposal in that there isn’t one “correct” way to format it. While there are elements that every synopsis should have in common, rarely are you going to be “disqualified” from consideration just because your synopsis isn’t formatted exactly the way that agent or editor prefers. That said, there are still a few fairly standard conventions you should be aware of:
-Synopses are often single-spaced. This may seem strange, since your sample chapters/manuscript should be double-spaced, but remember, an agent or editor is reading your synopsis to get a complete picture of your story from beginning to end– having all the info contained to a single page (as you should 9 times out of 10 be able to do for any book shorter than 100,000 words– see more below) helps us think of the book as a whole because we literally “see” it all in the same place.
-Names are often written in all-caps the first time they appear in a synopsis. Again, this is a way for the reader to visually track when a new player enters the story, and tells them to pay attention, they need to know who this person is.
–Synopses are always written in third-person present tense. Tense discrepancies in a synopsis (such as switching back and forth from past to present) interrupt our experience of the story.
Common synopsis mistakes and how to avoid them
I mentioned last week the mistake of being too vague in your synopsis (writing that “tragedy strikes,” rather than “Helen dies of the fever”), but here are a few more repeat offenders from the “synopses