Tag Archives: getting published

Is It Worth Your Time to Pitch Your Book?

Book in dramatic sunset landscapeOver at Indies Unlimited not too long ago, I ran across this comment from multi-award-winning author @MJBowersock:

[A]nyone who has not already been published, who is not a name that people recognize and that will draw sales, will not win a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. It’s like winning the lottery. It could happen, but the chances are, it won’t.

That’s not quite the kiss of death to our dreams of one day breaking into the publishing big time (the big houses call themselves “legacy” publishers now, Bowersock says). But it’s close.

Books as stairs to publishing success

So my question is, what about all those conferences that bring in rafts of agents and editors who claim to be starving for new talent (like you and me)? Are they scamming us? Do they consider a day at a conference listening to pitches some sort of paid vacation?

If Bowersock is right, I guess so. And our chances of coming away from a conference with real hopes for a contract are nil. Conferences aren’t cheap. Pitching is scary. Why go through such an ordeal?

Here’s one answer: because there are benefits from pitching to actual editors and agents that you can’t get any other way.

I’m not suggesting that any writer invest thousands of dollars in conferences. But I am arguing that a judicious choice of conference at the right moment in your process can be worth at least as much as what you’re paying for that cover or that expert to format your text—

—Because pitching gives you several kinds of feedback you won’t get from any other source.

Publishing success is like a sunny day

You know what you get from query letters: “Sorry, we’re not the right agency for this book.”

What about your writing group? I consider writing groups essential. But the members of your writing group read as friends and colleagues. They don’t read as business people, charged with making money out of your book.

And therein lies all the difference. They hope to make money off of you!

I’m not plugging for any conference, but I’ve been to quite a few, and I’m sharing my experience. I’ve learned things from pitch sessions that no one else ever told me. I’ll do it again.

If you do decide to pitch, be sure to make your investment count:

  • Be ready. Don’t rush to a pitch session with an unspellchecked draft while you’re still trying to figure out whether your main character’s hair is black or red. Exhaust your writing groups and beta readers first.
  • Review the faculty to make sure you can pitch to people who work with your genre. Make sure they work for good agencies and aren’t just somebody’s Facebook friend.
  • Get one-on-one critiques as well as pitches. If at all possible, pay extra to have the right person at the conference read a query letter or a first page and meet with you so you can ask follow-up questions. Pay for “pitch practice” if you possibly can.

Your words fall into your book!

Here are the kinds of questions you can get answered even if there’s scant hope of a contract. They’re the questions you would pay an editor to answer, and Lord knows good editors aren’t cheap.

Do I know what my book is about?

You can muse all day with your writers’ group about your story question, your main character’s goals, why she can’t achieve them, how her journey ends, and so on.

In a pitch session, you have five minutes to lay it out. Five minutes with a steely eyed editor daring you to make him buy it. Get tongue-tied with that agent smiling ever-so-sweetly at you?

Then you haven’t figured it out.

Seeing that stare glaze over or that smile turn to a frown tells you that it’s time to take a good look at your structure so next time you’ll know what your book is about.

What’s derailing my book?

When was the last time you got a response from a query that said, “Sorry, here’s why we don’t want your book.” [Interject sound of strangled laughter from author]

In contrast, you’re three minutes into your pitch, and Steely Eyes says, “I don’t understand why anyone would do that.” Sweet Smile says, “That sounds like a really unpleasant character.” They both say, “I’m lost.” (Often followed by a specific hint as to where and how the road signs got turned around.)

Yeah, I know, if they’d just read the darn book, they’d get it. But the fact is, you’ve just recited part of the back cover blurb that will make readers buy the darn book, and now you know a few things that can turn readers off.

And you have specific issues beyond just-not-good-enough to consider before your next submission: motivation, characterization, style.

Is my idea the high-concept, totally original, million-dollar gem I think it is?

Agents and editors see hundreds of ideas in your genre. You may well be asked, “How is this different from all the other books I’ve seen recently about crazed werewolves in New Jersey?” That five minutes will tell you whether you know the answer to that.

How does my work stack up with someone who is not my friend?

Really, it all comes down to this one: An agent or editor at a conference does not need to make you feel good.

They don’t need you to be in the mood to give them friendly, constructive advice at the next writing group meeting. They don’t need to keep you happy so you’ll hire them again the next time you need an editor.

They’ll give you your five minutes, but after that, they’ve got twenty other people lined up, one of whom might have THE BOOK they came to the conference to acquire.

So the instant they know your pitch isn’t clicking, they won’t string you along.

Pitching at a conference isn’t the way to learn how to make your structure work or how to make your concept a stand-out. But it’s one sure method of finding out fast how close you are to those goals. The day the frown is accompanied by a business card and a willingness to take a look, you’ll know you’ve finally managed to answer the questions that will sell your book.

Book publishing success

Do you have advice for making the most of pitch sessions? Share!










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The Kind of Writers’ Conference I’ll Pay For!

What’s not to like about writers’ conferences? They offer terrific opportunities to learn about the craft of writing and the business of publishing from people who know what they’re talking about (as opposed to the neighbor who figures your book can’t be any good since Barnes and Noble didn’t display it on that table right inside the front door).

Of course, there’s the expense. A conference means registration, travel expenses, motels, and sometimes meals (and in my case, board for a rather large dog).

For some, the workshops and lectures and a chance to get autographs on mint copies of presenters’ books may justify those costs.

But if you’re interested in becoming traditionally published, it’s worth stretching your budget for a good conference. A well-chosen conference can give most of us developing writers what no cold query can:

  • A chance to sell ourselves and our work face-to-face, where we can slip a memorable impression into a busy agent’s or editor’s mind.
  • A block of time all our own, instead of the few seconds a hurried intern can spare for that laboriously written letter.
  • A hard-nosed reaction from a publishing professional unfettered by the need to make the writer feel good.

If, like me, those perks are the ones you want from a conference, here are the top five things I look for before I send in my registration form.

1) Location

I don’t want this to come first, but for many of us, it has to. The good news is, you probably don’t have to travel a thousand miles to find a good conference. In the past two years, I’ve attended two within a two-hour drive of my home. Search online, read writing blogs, and network with writers’ groups in your area to get on email lists. Conferences within your range and budget will turn up.

Of course, if you DO travel a thousand miles, make sure it’s someplace fun, since you can deduct the expenses from your taxes if you can show you’re really writing to sell.

2) Pitch sessions*

The right kind of conference for this stage in your writing must offer a chance to meet face-to-face with agents and editors. Most conferences charge a moderate fee for these sessions, but that ten minutes will garner a lot more attention to your work than the dozens of hours you spent honing a query letter that may never get read.

Many conferences offer “pitch practice,” usually also for a fee. Some will allow you to send in a written version of your pitch to be critiqued. Take advantage of these opportunities if possible. With luck, you’ll get voluminous and often painfully honest comments that will propel you into feverish revision the night or morning before your pitch. But that’s the point, isn’t it—to move you to a new level? You’ll get there faster with a push.

3) A chance to submit actual pages for critique

You really have one immediate goal as a writer seeking publication: to be read. Maybe once in a while your query letter elicits a request for pages, but the ultimate response, more often than not, will be “We’re not the right agency for this book.” No reasons. No chance to ask for reasons. (Okay, maybe it will be different for you.)

But at a good conference, you can submit part of your work and then meet with your critiquer to follow up on what worked and what didn’t. Good conferences will assign real agents and editors, empowered to ask for more, to this task.

Yes, you’ll pay extra. And no, your readers might not agree in their assessments, leaving you confused and frustrated, just like your critique group at home. But you’ll hear truths that no warm-hearted “supportive” writers’ group friend will ever tell you! Put on your thickest skin and sign up for as many of these critiques as you can.

4) A range of agents and editors

Conferences will publish the credentials of their faculties beforehand. Follow up on agents’ and editors’ web pages. Go to Amazon and read the first pages of books they have handled. Be sure that at least two or more of the people you can pitch or submit to like the kind of thing you write.

5) Opportunities to socialize with the conference faculty

Some of us are really good at button-holing people we hope to impress. I’m terrible at it. Still, I’d like the chance! A good conference will require its faculty to show up for receptions and banquets. Show up yourself, this time in your bravest skin. You may find that the agent who sorta-kinda-seemed-to-like your pages is also a fan of that obscure Korean horror director you adore. When you send your follow-up query letter, he’ll remember that long chat you shared over wine.

You can’t always tell ahead of time whether this criterion will be met. If it isn’t, make a note for the future, and by all means, include your disappointment on your evaluation form.

It Worked for Me!

I met the agents who sold my first books through the conference process, and since my return to writing after a hiatus, I’ve received far more requests for partials from conference pitches than from written queries. And I’m not even very good at the conference process! But conferences provide me with the best chance to see how people who actually make buying decisions react to what I’m doing.

So once you and your writers’ groups have tweaked your manuscript as much as humanly possible and once you think you’ve done what all those books you’ve read say you should, pick a good conference to see what you’ve achieved.

*A “pitch session” doesn’t call for a synopsis or an elevator pitch. It’s a five-to-ten minute talk (usually breathless on my part) whose sole purpose is to tell the agent or editor what your book is about. The conference will specify how long you have. Maybe you’ll have time to throw in the extras from your full query; maybe not. The hook is what counts. Before you plan yours, search online—advice and examples abound. And if pre-conference pitch critiques or on-site practice is offered, sign up.

What about your experience with conferences! Share!

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Author Beware … Publishing Predators Are Breeding…

Thanks, Chris, for another important article. Here is my comment on this article at The Book Shepherd:
I’m amazed that so many people will pay these sums to be published when CreateSpace will do it for free. All you need is a Word file and a cover. Sorry, my CreateSpace book looks just fine. I suppose there are genius cover designers out there who could have done a better cover than DigitalDonna.com did for me, but I’d be surprised to discover them at a reasonable cost.

I went with Ingram first; again, nothing wrong with the 22 books I purchased at cost ($168). At Ingram, you will pay $49 for publication, and you must, indeed should, buy your own ISBN, since if you choose CreateSpace first, they will own the ISBN. Three hundred dollars for 10 ISBNs you can use for your entire series is a lot less than the numbers being discussed in these comments.

I formatted my own interior, which cost me $20 a month for my subscription to Adobe InDesign. On my blog [this blog!], I’m doing a series on how I conquered InDesign.

Believe me, it’s not that hard.

I hope writers will use the funds they are paying for these services to find good professional editors and cover designers. And I second Judith’s point that being traditionally published does NOT mean that you will get stellar marketing. In the end, you will do that for yourself. Why not do it all?

(And I second a comment that recommended Smashwords. Not only will Mark Coker walk you through the ebook-creation process, he will publish your ebook absolutely free!)

What about you? Do you have any tales to tell about your publishing adventures? Help us all “beware.”

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog


Article extract from Judith Briles on The Book Shepherd site:

Oh, what a tangled web they weave … publishing predators are breeding with the surge of authors now by-passing traditional publishing. Over half of books published today are by the self and indie publishers. Traditional publishers are taking notice and are now gearing up to offer their own “self-publishing” opportunities. Some, like Simon & Schuster, Hay House and Penguin, have had a “vanity press” relationship for years in place via Author Solutions (ASI). Expect to see all of this push into a higher gear–after all … there is money in wannabe author’s pockets.

It’s a never-ending story … the emails, phone calls, postings within the Author U Group on LinkedIn and my personal group on Facebook: Publishing with The Book Shepherd (join it) … and I’ve worked with several private clients and fielded numerous phone calls/emails from authors who have…

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What To Do When You Sit Down To Pitch Your Novel In-Person

Good practical (and empathetic) advice on pitching from agent Carly Watters! I’ve had good luck recently from listing about eight plot points to keep me on track. No one seems to mind if I use a page of notes. What about you? What techniques do you use to make your pitch sessions work?

Carly Watters, Literary Agent

After attending conferences around North America for the past 6 years I’ve seen an array of pitching techniques. Some good. Some…not so good. I get it. It’s not easy to pitch your book (your creative project that’s been on your mind for months if not years) to someone sittingin front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.

Agents can sense thedetermination and fear in the room during pitch sessions. It’s honestly palpable and we can feel your energy.

I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizingat thesame time. Having a new project pitched to me every 7-10 minutes is a lot to wrap my head around and sometimes they bleed into one another. And depending on how conference organizers set things up I could be sitting there for up to 2 hours at a time.

When you sit down:

Relax. Then tell me why you’re sitting…

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Language Warning! But You Better Read Anyway!

alarmed smileyAs usual, Chuck Wendig has his own way of saying things. So put your fingers in your ears so you won’t hear the bad words, and read! 25 Reasons I Stopped Reading Your Book!

I’ve posted my own reasons more than once. Here’s what I wrote on Chuck’s post:

I’ve posted more than once about my own answer to this question. Lack of voice is way up there. Too many characters and scenes feel pasted out of the Universe of Stock that we all have access to. No surprises, not in the characters’ actions, not in the diction, not in the rhythm. All stuff I’ve seen a thousand times (and don’t subject myself to any more).

What I call “illogic” fits several of these points: When something a character does or something that happens serves the prefabricated plot and not the story that wants to emerge from the characters’ interactions. I got into trouble myself once making characters do something they were screaming that they didn’t want to do. Ruined a potentially good novel, and boy, did I pay. Nothing in this post is truer than that the characters write the story. Listen to them.

And gosh, pages of exposition (and no, that’s not “literary fiction”). And too much info, too many characters, on page 1. And books that start with action before I can understand the conflict. And . . . and . . . and . . .

This post could easily be required reading in every “creative writing” class or critique group (though it would require a language warning in most settings, i fear).

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Are You a Romance Writer? Here’s Help!

Magic book

You might want to check out this list of 31 romance publishers who accept unagented work from Authors Publish!

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» 15 Publishers of Mystery Novels That Accept Submissions Without an Agent

Exl pointA list I’ve been looking for a long time! As is so often the case, found it through Chris the Story Reading Ape. Hope you find it useful!

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Source: » 15 Publishers of Mystery Novels That Accept Submissions Without an Agent

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A Good Review on Basics: Avoiding Writing Scams

This piece from Just Publishing AdviceBlue computer distills some important basic considerations to attend to for those of us trying to learn the book-publishing and marketing process. I get “requests” to submit manuscripts quite often and have usually wondered who it is that’s so desperate to see my work when traditional agents turn down hundreds of submissions each week. This article helps to put the situation in perspective.


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Victoria Strauss: Small Presses to Beware of!

Victoria Straussworried smiley of Writer Beware reports on three small presses that have run into trouble in various ways. Sharing the word!


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World-Buiding: Not Just for Fantasy or SciFi!

world building photo

I recall being asked about my enthusiasm for Patrick O’Brian’s 20-novel series about British sea captain Jack Aubrey and his eccentric friend Stephen Maturin as they navigated the Napoleonic Wars. Why would I keep returning to these books, beginning with Master and Commander (in 2003 a movie starring Russell Crowe)? I’d answer, “What’s amazing about these books is that you enter such a complete world!”

This memory has come back recently as I’ve traveled through new reading experiences: sampling indie authors, returning to old favorites, and meeting new traditionally published and often best-selling authors. Like all readers, I’ve found books that work for me and books that don’t. A writer myself, I’m always interested in what makes a book spring into gear or stall out, even if only for me, since I want to sort out strong and weak strategies in my own work.

I know that “voice” can override glitches that try to pull me out of the story. I’ve enjoyed books with plot flaws because I enjoyed hearing the writer talking to me through characters, description, and style.

Image of earth planet on hand

But there’s another important quality akin to voice: the writer’s ability to build a world.

In fact, I’ll take a big chance here: the ability to build a complete, believable world may make a difference if being traditionally published is ever a goal.

What builds such a world?

The quality that makes a book impossible to put down is our total immersion in its reality. That metaphor implies that when we enter a book’s world, we lose sight of our familiar world in which we have to clean house and go to work and wash the car. For that to happen, this new world must be divorced from the mundane. It has to provide us with a set of eyes that see differently, that notice things we would not have noticed until the author seized our gaze.

Writers of historical fiction may find monopolizing our imaginations easier to achieve; even touches of daily life illuminate corners of a universe that takes us out of our own. For example, in Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests, there’s the sound of shillings clunking into the gas meter, there’s the slog across the yard to the outdoor WC. But modern stories should also be flush with such mind-capturing details. In Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes me into a Trenton, New Jersey, hair-braiding salon, an atmosphere completely alien to me but starkly evocative in the world she invites me into. I had never seen this corner of a modern city. I walked with her, across the divide between our worlds.

globe concept of idyllic green world

But the trust that sustains that journey is fragile. It can be shaken in many ways. Somehow, above all, a creator of worlds must convince us that her world really could exist, really does exist, even if only in mind.

A sense of accuracy is essential. Creators of worlds in sci-fi and fantasy have more leeway than authors in other genres; details need mostly to be consistent. True, in historical novels we are at the mercy of an author’s research. Patrick O’Brian never sailed on one of the ships he wrote about; how can we trust his depictions of 1800s British naval life?tall-ship-silhouette-1449207-639x931

He seduces with details: How the ship’s company had to tap their biscuits to knock the weevils out before eating; how the men at the cannons had to arch their bodies to avoid being killed by the guns’ recoil. If he knows these things, surely he knows the rest. Again, we’re sucked out of our daily worlds into his by the precision and clarity of what he puts before us. We’re too busy absorbing all the surprising pieces of his universe to look away.

Accuracy is especially vital if you’re writing for a specific community that knows its own contours well. I felt kicked out of a horse book when, among other glitches, the writer had a teenage girl galloping up on one of her farm’s “yearling thoroughbreds.” Now, they do back late yearlings on Thoroughbred farms, since the young horses will all officially turn two on January 1, and these babies often run their first races before they actually turn two. But if this is a real farm, training real racehorses, no teenage girl will be galloping around pastures on a newly broken baby destined for the track. When just a few pages later, a character attached crossties to a bridle. . . !

But this need for convincing accuracy lies at the heart of the world-builder’s dilemma. Immersion depends on strangeness. The details that capture me cannot be details I could have supplied myself. Want me to stick with you on a spring morning in the countryside? Don’t tell me about the bright blue sky or the fluffy clouds or the green fields. I know about those without your help. No, tell me something I wouldn’t have noticed or cared about until you opened my eyes.weird bleu world Depositphotos_12196361_s-2015

Yet if we are to believe, we must be able to connect these new worlds to landscapes where our usual compasses will work. The minute a reader says, “Oh, that would never happen!” or “People wouldn’t act that way!” or “I know that’s not true!”, the trust is gone.

So world-builders must construct double journeys: along a mysterious new road that keeps us gasping, yet one that parallels the world we do know. For example, Bev Pettersen’s Backstretch Baby showed me specifics of racetrack life I hadn’t witnessed myself, but the details that did match what I’d seen for myself prepared me for what she wanted me to accept. I felt I’d entered her version of a world I’d been in before, a version that was going to show me something I’d never have guessed.

In dialogue, this essential double journey shows clear.

Dialogue must be accurate to its time and place. Our characters need to “talk like real people.”

And yet nothing can be deadlier to our immersion in a story’s world than characters who talk like real people. All the little “hellos,” “how are yous,” “fine, thank yous,” with which we coat our exchanges have to be mercilessly expunged. Dialogue has to sound “natural” to the worlds we know while obsessively, ferociously, devoting itself to building the one we don’t.

flipped comma1   flipped comma1              small comma 2     small comma 2

Rereading National Velvet recently showed me how dialogue contributed to the world of this stunningly realized plot. Here’s Mi Taylor (the Mickey Rooney character in the movie) to Velvet early on—he’s just given her money to put down on the raffle ticket for the Piebald:

“. . . And see this, Velvet, I’m a fool to do it. That piebald’s as big a perisher’s the fellow that tipped me the five. ‘M going up to look at him this afternoon and likely I’ll be sorry when I see his murdering white eye.”

“Can we come too, can we come too?”

“You got yer muslins to iron.”

“MUSLINS!” said Velvet, outraged.

“Yer ma’s just wrung ’em out of the suds. I seen ’em. For the Fair.”

“I’m not going to wear MUSLIN,” said Velvet with a voice of iron.

“You’ll wear what yer told,” said Mi placidly. “I’ll slip up after dinner. Nearer one. I got them sheep at twelve. . . .”

If you’ve read the book, you know that its world forms around families and dreams and how they play out or fail in the environment of a small English village in the 1930s. The detail of what the Brown girls will wear to the fair and the distinct voice in which Mi delivers that detail become, in this dialogue, a demonstration of how authority functions in this world, warning of the challenge to that authority from the magical horse with the “murdering white eye.”

bay arabian horse runs gallop

World-building is a little like trying to catch skittish mice. We want to entice readers along the paths we’ve laid with tiny bits of carefully laid-out cheese. If the cheese is stale, they’ll turn up their noses. If the tidbits are too far apart, asking for too much empty wandering between offerings, they’ll venture off the path. If the cheese isn’t recognizable as cheese, if it’s too alien, they’ll be too wary to bite.

When I read your book, I want to follow that path without looking back or aside. I want to be captured. I want to find myself helplessly enclosed in your world. You have a double journey to accomplish; I want you to keep me pressing toward the vista straight ahead.


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