Pitching at National . . .

The first thing to know about pitching to an agent or editor is, “Don’t panic.”

I know getting an audience with an agent or editor feels like your entire writing career, your life and those of your pets and children are at stake.

I assure you they are not. A pitch is only one small shot. In your career as a writer, if you write hard, educate yourself on the bizz and put yourself in places where you’re likely to run into agents and editors (i.e. conferences, classes, etc.), you will have plenty of shots. The main thing to keep in mind is that agents and editors want to love you and your work.

They are actively looking for The Next Big Thing. Having said that, a pitch is one of many important tools to help you get the attention of an agent or editor.

1. What is a pitch? It’s a short interview with an agent in which you get to know each other and give a mini-synopsis of your book. It usually doesn’t make or break a career, but it does give you a very important connection to the publishing industry. There are several types of pitch formats, including an elevator pitch, one-on-one, and group pitch.

2. An elevator pitch is often “High Concept,” i.e. Julie Kenner’s bestseller, Carpe Demon, with an elevator pitch of “Ten years after hanging up her pom-poms and wooden stakes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is forced out of retirement as a suburban soccer mom to kick some suburban demon tail.” My elevator pitch for Scoop was, “Janet Evanovich meets the Ya Yas.” High concept elevator pitches are usually a one-sentence description using visual words with icons we already know and relate to. These should be catchy and concise, and will usually lead to, “Tell me more.”

3. That’s where the more extended, or one-on-one, pitch comes into play. My extended pitch for Scoop was: Cauley MacKinnon is staring down the barrel of thirtieth birthday, certain the only things standing between her and certain doom are instinct, pure dumb luck and a kick-ass hairdresser. Starting over after a truly bad marriage and armed with a freshly minted journalism degree, Cauley is disappointed to find that the only job she can get in her hometown of Austin is as an obituary writer—something that only happens to interns who’ve been very good, or reporters who’ve been very bad. Somehow, Cauley’s managed to do both. And of course, being the Obituary Babe wreaks havoc on her already disastrous social life. While on the hunt for a story that will get her off the Dead Beat, Cauley’s life takes a turn for the worse when hapless childhood friend, Scott Barnes, threatens suicide and barricades himself in a dilapidated old shed where he phones Cauley for help. Cauley manages to talk her friend out of the shotgun and the shed. But Cauley is soon devastated when she discovers Barnes dead at his computer with an empty bottle of bourbon and a computer-generated suicide note. Soon, Cauley is up to her eyelashes in dead bodies and everyone wants to know what Barnes said in the shed—the last time anyone saw him alive. Soon Cauley is on the run from an earless homicidal maniac and in search of the mysterious, hot FBI agent who she is certain has all the answers, all the while dodging her martini-drinking mother and her well-intentioned gang of girlfriends. This can be longer or shorter, and remember, save part of your ten minute interview to ask questions about your agent, and to let them ask questions of you.

4. If you discover your dream agent or editor has only signed up for group pitches, don’t fret. It’s often easier, because it takes the pressure off of you when others are in the same boat, and agent/editor will often ask all in the group for a submission. Think of a group interview as an extended elevator pitch or a shorter extended pitch. In closing, remember that if the agent/editor has requested proposals, make sure yours is in tip top shape and ready to go prior to the meeting. Ask how the agent/editor prefers submissions, i.e. via e-mail or *gasp* snail mail.

Make sure you know how many chapters–usually three–how long the synopsis should be, etc. Then, get e-mailed or snailed as soon as humanly possible. When sending in requested material, mark the subject header (or envelop) with “Requested Material” unless other instructions were given. And remember, be sure to send agent/editor a thank you note via snail mail regardless of the outcome. Small courtesies go a long way in this business. Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions! –Kit

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Query Letters that Made Agents, Laugh, Cry & Wet Their Pants (okay, I made that last part up)

As promised, I’m sharing query letters that sold actual, real live books with very little blood shed, and sent lots of people running through the back yard to do the Happy Naked Sugar Dance.

The following is one of the best examples of a query letter with an agent’s critique I’ve ever seen, and I have asked (and received) Mizz Gillespie’s permission (though she now writes as Karen Neches (http://www.karenneches.com/)–go right now and buy her books ’cause she’s snort-sweet-tea-through-you-nose funny).

Dear Ms. Bent,

Yay! She got my name right. You’d be surprised how many people don’t. Although honestly, I don’t hold it against them, but I know many agents who do.

 My novel, “Who’s My Daddy?” took first place in the Sandhills Writers Conference in 2001 and one of the judges, Robert Bausch (author of A Hole in the Earth), called it “brilliant and original.” I’ve read on your Web site that you handle women’s fiction. Good opening. I know Robert Bausch is a respected writer, and so if he liked it, that does mean something. Also, she demonstrates that she has done her research-I do indeed handle women’s fiction.

 Who’s My Daddy? is a farcical Southern novel about Elizabeth Polk, a hairdresser who works at a beauty parlor for elderly ladies called the Cozy Cut. Everything in Elizabeth’s life is “cattywampus.” Her fiancé Clip Jenkins recently shoved a “Dear Jane” letter under the windshield wiper of her Geo Metro; she’s embarrassed by her redneck daddy who blows up ottomans on TV in order to promote his rent-to-own furniture business; and her half-brother Lanier continually gets arrested for stealing lawn ornaments. This is just plain funny. The only word I would have removed is “farcical,” because farces are very tough to sell, but it would be hard for anyone outside of the business to know that.

Given her circumstances, Elizabeth can’t understand why one of Augusta, Georgia’s wealthiest matriarchs, Gracie Tobias, takes such a keen interest in her. Gracie introduces Elizabeth to her grandson Timothy who’s just returned from a Buddhist monastery in California. When a romance between Elizabeth and Timothy develops, Elizabeth is plagued by insecurities regarding her lowly, family background. Here, she’s demonstrating that this novel does have conflict and hence a plot. Plots are good things. Agents and editors like them.

Who’s My Daddy? crackles with more secrets than a midle-school slumber party. Elizabeth discovers a diary that raises questions about the identity of her daddy; Timothy refuses to discuss a trauma that made him abandon his life ten years ago; and Gracie Tobias knows a truth about Elizabeth’s birthright that will change her life. Again, she’s demonstrating plot, plus, that first sentence is so fabulous and shows me that she’s a good, creative writer.

Would you like to see a few sample chapters? I am the editor of The Metro-Augusta Parent a regional parenting publication and have received national awards (Parenting Publications of America) for my nonfiction writing. Good. A very short bio that sums up her experience. Of course, I would have liked to see more awards, etc. for creative writing, but at this point I’ve already decided I want to see the book. She was smart to put her most significant writing award at the beginning of the letter and then put the rest, less significant experience here at the end.

Thank you for your consideration and time. An SASE is enclosed for your reply. Short, sweet, and polite closing, plus a SASE. Who could ask for more?

Sincerely,

Karin Gillespie

(Reproduced with the Author’s Permission, Copyright 2002)

http://www.karenneches.com/

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How to Write a Query Letter and a Helpful Hint: Don’t send nekkid pictures of your personal parts

Once you’re comfortable with your research you’ve done on your Dream Agent, it’s time to get down to business.

Find out whether Dream Agent prefers email or snail mail, and make sure you get address, name and spelling of name correct.

I called the agencies before I started, and asked the receptionists if the agent was still at the agency (some tend to change agencies the way some of us change hair color) and how to spell their names.

No “To Whom it May Concern,” whether it’s email or snail.

And don’t get tricky with your query. Email should include no flash functions, no glitzy colors, no funky fonts. The same with snail mail.

And for the love of everything holy, don’t send nekkid pictures of your personal parts.

It should go without saying, but I was talking with a female editor friend, who told me about this wanna-be author who slipped a couple of pictures of her nekkid self in with a query.

“Was her book about body building or something?” I asked.

“No, she just thought it’d get my attention.”

“Did it?” I asked.

“Yep. Her address is now on my auto-delete list.”

Treat an e-query as you would in any professional environment–no cyber-slang abbreviations, avatars or YouTube links to cute kitty videos.

If you’re going snail mail, make a professional-looking letterhead on regular 8×11.5 paper. No glitter, confetti or cute drawings, and for heaven’s sake, no coffee rings–you laugh, but it happens.

Now–Down to Business.

Think of a query as a back cover blurb—the blurb is designed to get the reader to buy the book. A query is designed to get the editor to buy your book.

A query letter is basically three parts and should be no longer than one page–no cheating fonts or margins. The current preferred fonts are Times or Times New Roman in 12 pt in single line spacing with one-inch margins all the way around.

“If you can’t sell me your idea on one page, how is the editor going to sell it with one back book cover?” one agent told me.

Courier font used to be preferred, but several agents have told me that it looks dated.

Questions to ask yourself before you begin:Do you have a hook? If so, open with it. Your intro should get the agent wanting to read more.

The first part of the first paragraph is an introduction to you (see example below). The second part of this paragraph is why you are choosing this particular agent or editor.  The third part of the first paragraph is genre and word count.

The second paragraph is the Reader’s Digest version of your book. Make sure you include the Hero, the Heroine, and if there is an antagonist, be sure to include that character. Be sure your internal conflict is clear. Always, always, always tell the agent or editor how the conflict is resolved

TIP: Make sure your voice shines through the query letter—if your book is funny, the query should show that humor.

The third paragraph should sell you—any creds, contest wins, publications, in other words, why you and you alone are particularly qualified to write this book.

TIP: Always close by thanking your agent for taking the time to read your query, and close by saying the subliminal “I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

TIP: Publishing is a small business. Never exaggerate, and don’t name drop unless it’s true.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Tomorrow we’ll look at query letters that worked.

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Agent Quest, Cute Kitties, and some of the best advice I’ve ever received

I woke up late last night to an unfamiliar sound–Rain! Not enough to end the record-

Even Ninja Kitty enjoying a drink from a rain bucket is no excuse to not get to writing

breaking Texas drought, but welcome and lovely, and I went outside and raised my face to the thundercloud and let the wind and rain soak into me as it soaked into the dry ground, and I listened to the cracked, parched earth as it sighed beneath me and seemed to relax into the rain. A lovely break, and an excuse to get out of writing. But if you’re serious about getting published, excuses are for sissies.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was imparted from the great Sue Grafton. I had been writing for a major newspaper in Central Texas for 10 years, and squeezed my fiction into the slices of time after work, before supper, and after everyone had gone to bed.

Grafton said “That’s backwards. Use your first, best creativity on your fiction–you’re going to have to go to work, so you’re going to get paid anyway, and besides, if you make enough money from writing, you can afford to send your children to therapy.”

So, no excuses. It’s back to the digital grindstone, because we’re working on our query letters and as my daddy used to say, “We’re burnin’ daylight,” which, for those not accustomed to Southern bits of wisdom, means get your ass outa bed and get busy.

So before you sit your rear-end down to write your query letter, you need to know who you’re writing it to–otherwise it’s like blind online dating–you don’t know what you’re gonna get, and it’ll likely be a troll who lives in his mother’s basement playing video games and eating peanut butter out of a jar.

Let’s talk about researching agents and what to do once you’ve found a few that you like. Agents are so important, and I’ve had more than my fair share of nightmares. Choose carefully, because this person will be getting 15% of your money years after you’ve parted–it’s kind of like having an ex-husband who will never, ever go away, which is why before I got my new agent, I researched her, talked to her, asked questions, even went up to New York to meet with her–it’s that important once you’ve been burned.

So, based on my experience with the Agent from Hell, I researched how to choose wisely, talked with successful author buds, and came up with this advice on how to get a good agent, which I will now impart to you.

The first thing to remember about agents is Aim High. Make a list of your dream agents, start with #1 on your list and work your way down–I did mine five at a time (but wound up with #3, so I didn’t have to move on). A writer pal of mine once said she would never start at the top because she knew they wouldn’t take her. Are you kidding me? That’s like agreeing to a date with Peanut Butter Boy.

The odds are 50/50, so why not aim high? What’s the worse thing that could happen? They would say “thank you but no thank you,” and you know you at least tried. And even better, what if you get a “Yes!”  from Dream Agent and have to recover from a triple-coronary and get your butt back to work, but in a good way.

So, how do you choose your very own dream agent?

There are several ways you can go about this, and it depends on what your version of “dream agent” is.

1. I chose my shiny new Dream Agent by looking at authors who write in similar genre and vein as my writing. I found her on Publisher’s Marketplace. You can sign up for their daily Pub Lunch for free, which keeps  you on top of the latest and greatest news going down in the pub business.

I did a bit more research on agentquery.com (this site tells you a bit about the agent, what they’re acquiring, if they’re accepting queries and if so, email or snail mail preferences). Then I hit up Preditors & Editors then asked the Google-gods what they thought. After that, I asked around to see if my writer friends had heard anything about her, then, happy with what I heard, I sent her a query.

2. You can go the cash route by looking up agents with Top Deal Makers on Publishers Marketplace. These are the top agents, in order, according to 6-figure deals recently, which is what I did.

3. Go to your local bookstore and sit in the aisle and read the acknowledgments page of your favorite authors–many authors thank their agents, especially if said agent got author-girl a heckovadeal. Which I also did.

So you have our homework for the day–tomorrow we’re going to get writing. Happy hunting–Now I gotta go feed the cows.

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JK Rowling was rejected 12 times–Get a good agent & up your odds

My first booksigning at Book Expo, my debut novel SCOOP!

This workshop is an interactive To Do List from agents, editors and bestselling authors on how to get your foot in the door and what to do with your foot once you’re in. It’s the long, arduous journey how I got SCOOP published, which you can buy here . . .

Why am I qualified to talk about this? Because I know from my own experience how important having a GOOD agent is, and what happens when good agents (or circumstances) go bad. Before I started this workshop, I interviewed Super Agents, Wonder Editors, and bestselling authors who are way smarter than me, and I’m here to pass on this information.

Before we begin, you may ask yourself, “Do I really need an agent?” The answer in most cases if you’re trying to get to a major publishing house is, “Yes.”

To this day, agents have lunch (with martinis I hope) with editors, and they sit and talk about, what else? Our books. Most of us will rarely have this kind of access. The odds of getting published are hard enough as it is, why make it even more difficult?

Agents are the gatekeepers to the Golden Door of publishing. Their job is to sell editors good books that will, in turn, sell to readers–agents help weed out mediocre (or outright bad) material, and editors know that agents will bring them the best of the best.

DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THIS PART– it only takes one “yes,” to get your book published.

Remember, JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishing houses until a small publisher picked her up, but told her she probably wouldn’t make much money.

*’scuse me while I snort ice tea on my monitor!*

According to Rejections of the Written Famous (2003) by Joyce Spizer  (“Tony Hillerman’s agent told him, ‘Get rid of the Indian stuff’”), and Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected a whopping 30 times.

So how many of agents and editors are pounding their heads on their manuscript-strewn desks with much biblical style gnashing of teeth and renting of fabric, shrieking, Arrrrghhh! I had her and I lost her!

So–pluck up your persistence and put on your Big Girl Panties and get your book out there.Yes an agent will take their 15% of your earnings until after the day you die, but ask yourself this…is someone taking 15% of something better than you taking 100% of nothing?

“I’m an attorney, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just go over my own contracts and save myself some cash,’” said Bestselling Author & All Around Wonder Woman Julie Kenner. “But after really reading the fine print, I decided I needed someone who did this for a living.”

And, Julie realized she could be making a lot more money (and getting a lot more contracts) when people who negotiated contracts all the time were involved (ie, agent).

“Plus, I realized I’d much rather spend my time writing than reading contracts.”

Some people will insist that if you’re writing category, you don’t need an agent. “Not true,” said Julie. “An agent may not be able to get you a lot more money for Harlequin, but they can get you other things, like inclusion in anthologies, placement, etc.”

“Agents can also help you with things like deadlines and any kind of communication issues that pop up with your editors,” said Award-winning Writer and Super Mom Emily McKay. “It’s so worth it not to have to worry about time and money negations.”

So, that said, let’s get started.

If you’re going to National or any other conference, the best advice I ever got was from Julie Ortolon, and it’s that you need to stop what you’re doing right this minute and shoot a letter of introduction to the editor or agent with whom you are meeting. Mark the outside of the envelop * Conference Material Enclosed * (This will flag the letter and get it to the top of the proverbial slush pile)

Tomorrow, we’re going to write some Kick Butt Query Letters!

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Please, for the love of God, don’t use fireworks this year

I know, I usually try to find the funny side of almost every thing.

Even one stray spark can cause horrific damage--not only monetarily, but, let me ask you this--have you ever seen a bull with his horns on fire?

But I want to tell you, anywhere in Texas, even in usually green, fertile East Texas, fireworks are not funny.

I don’t care who you are, and how careful you think you’ll be, you can’t control the sparks. I know you think one black cat won’t matter–but let me tell you, this is the worst drought we’ve had in more than 20 years. If you’ve ever seen a herd of cattle burn to death, you won’t think it’s worth it.

Join me in putting the fireworks in the closet. We’ll wait til next year and pray for rain.

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Perfect Pitch–How to get an agent’s attention

The first thing to know about pitching to an agent or editor is, “Don’t panic.” I know getting an audience with an agent or editor feels like your entire writing career, your life

My first book hit the bestseller list! You can buy it here . . .

and those of your pets and children are at stake. I assure you they are not.

A pitch is only one small shot. In your career as a writer, if you write hard, educate yourself on the bizz and put yourself in places where you’re likely to run into agents and editors (i.e. conferences, classes, etc.), you will have plenty of shots. The main thing to keep in mind is that agents and editors want to love you and your work. They are actively looking for The Next Big Thing. Having said that, a pitch is one of many important tools to help you get the attention of an agent or editor.

1. What is a pitch? It’s a short interview with an agent in which you get to know each other and give a mini-synopsis of your book. It usually doesn’t make or break a career, but it does give you a very important connection to the publishing industry. There are several types of pitch formats, including an elevator pitch, one-on-one, and group pitch. 1. An elevator pitch is often “High Concept,” i.e. Julie Kenner’s bestseller, Carpe Demon, with an elevator pitch of “Ten years after hanging up her pom-poms and wooden stakes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is forced out of retirement as a suburban soccer mom to kick some suburban demon tail.”

My elevator pitch for Scoop was, “Janet Evanovich meets the Ya Yas.” High concept elevator pitches are usually a one-sentence description using visual words with icons we already know and relate to. These should be catchy and concise, and will usually lead to, “Tell me more.”

2. That’s where the more extended, or one-on-one, pitch comes into play. My extended pitch for Scoop was: Cauley MacKinnon is staring down the barrel of thirtieth birthday, certain the only things standing between her and certain doom are instinct, pure dumb luck and a kick-ass hairdresser. Starting over after a truly bad marriage and armed with a freshly minted journalism degree, Cauley is disappointed to find that the only job she can get in her hometown of Austin is as an obituary writer—something that only happens to interns who’ve been very good, or reporters who’ve been very bad. Somehow, Cauley’s managed to do both. And of course, being the Obituary Babe wreaks havoc on her already disastrous social life. While on the hunt for a story that will get her off the Dead Beat, Cauley’s life takes a turn for the worse when hapless childhood friend, Scott Barnes, threatens suicide and barricades himself in a dilapidated old shed where he phones Cauley for help. Cauley manages to talk her friend out of the shotgun and the shed. But Cauley is soon devastated when she discovers Barnes dead at his computer with an empty bottle of bourbon and a computer-generated suicide note. Soon, Cauley is up to her eyelashes in dead bodies and everyone wants to know what Barnes said in the shed—the last time anyone saw him alive. Soon Cauley is on the run from an earless homicidal maniac and in search of the mysterious, hot FBI agent who she is certain has all the answers, all the while dodging her martini-drinking mother and her well-intentioned gang of girlfriends. This can be longer or shorter, and remember, save part of your ten minute interview to ask questions about your agent, and to let them ask questions of you.

3. If you discover your dream agent or editor has only signed up for group pitches, don’t fret. It’s often easier, because it takes the pressure off of you when others are in the same boat, and agent/editor will often ask all in the group for a submission. Think of a group interview as an extended elevator pitch or a shorter extended pitch. In closing, remember that if the agent/editor has requested proposals, make sure yours is in tip top shape and ready to go prior to the meeting. Ask how the agent/editor prefers submissions, i.e. via e-mail or *gasp* snail mail. Make sure you know how many chapters–usually three–how long the synopsis should be, etc. Then, get e-mailed or snailed as soon as humanly possible. When sending in requested material, mark the subject header (or envelop) with “Requested Material” unless other instructions were given. And remember, be sure to send agent/editor a thank you note via snail mail regardless of the outcome. Small courtesies go a long way in this business.

Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions! –Kit

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