Thrillers, Part 2 of 4: Heroes

HeroHeroes in thrillers can be anyone: male, female, any walk of life, any level of expertise in solving crimes, spying, or thwarting villains. Heck, in the long-running television series Dexter, probably the single best example of genre-bending fiction, the hero was a serial killer. (If you haven't binged this series, I submit it is among the top ten indispensable for any aspiring thriller writer.) In my own series of books starting with Rogue Agenda and continuing this fall in a title yet to be announced, the protagonist and heroine is a phone-sex girl.

A common trope of the genre is the washed-out, disgraced ex-professional, usually an ex-cop/detective/soldier. Usually a guy, he is usually an alcoholic heavy smoker with a harridan ex-wife, an embittered child, and a long-suffering girlfriend. He's wracked with guilt and self-recrimination, all of which usually eventually turns out to be undeserved. I see the attraction of the trope; these can often be great, complex, layered characters to write. The problem is it's been played and played out. I would encourage aspiring thriller writers to reach deeper, find other ways to make your protagonist interesting and complex.

Some scholars of fiction will tell you that the hero must have some personal stake in the outcome of the conflict. It isn't enough that he/she is just doing their job, investigating a crime or seeking to thwart a villain. They must be under threat themselves, seeking to clear their own name from suspicion, prevent the death of a loved one, etc. It is the only way, they argue, to justify the hero moving forward against obstacles and resistance. Otherwise, why would they bother? Why suffer through depredations, torture, and possible death for the sake of something less? I agree that this often makes a compelling plot, but I think it is extremely dogmatic and cynical to try to maintain that this is the only way to impel a hero and their story forward.

I think it is just as compelling to witness a hero risk life and limb for higher ideals than self-preservation, to read about the patriot soldier willing to stake his life for his country, experience the conviction of an advocate undergoing agonizing trials in the name of just doing the right thing. To me there is no more noble sacrifice than one that saves the day in such a way that no one will ever know, for which the hero will never gain notoriety or gratitude.

What makes the hero compelling is conviction and the lengths to which they are willing to go to defend their ideals. These can be every bit as personal and precious as his/her life and limb if written in an engaging, interesting, and exciting way.

Who are some of your favorite heroes in fiction, thrillers or other genres? What is it that impels them through the story? I'd love to read your comments below.

Checklist for Business Cards

Conference is just seven weeks away. Do you even need business cards? Now’s the time to decide and start designing them so you can take advantage of those great printing deals…and ensure that your card will work hard for you.

Over the years, I’ve shared my business cards with editors and agents during appointments and while circulating during programs and hallway conversations. I’ve also collected cards from graphic designers, editors, cover designers and other service providers.

Will you meet someone at conference and wish you had prepared one? Will you miss a connection with another writer that may prove useful and eventually enhance your support team?

Business cards can be useful well past conference time, too. I’m in two tennis leagues, and the Evergreen tennis team we played became very enthusiastic about my books. They all wanted a business card so they could look up my books on Amazon and iBooks. Because I spent the time preparing one for last year’s conference, I was able to distribute them.

I could have just as easily given them a bookmark, for example, or a postcard with my latest release on the front. Personally, my preferences have changed since I became an indie publisher. I no longer need postcards or bookmarks, as I did with my first two big book signings when I sent large mailings promoting them. I have found the business card to be a more convenient size throughout the year.

Should you decide it’s a good idea to have them at the ready, here’s a quick and dirty checklist.

Just the facts, Ma’am. Name, genre, website or Facebook page—make your card point to your strongest landing page.

Go first class! A poor quality card shouts poor quality writing or services. Upgrade your card stock, and remember that quality starts with you. Proof, proof, and proof again. Words are your business, so make every effort to get them right. Always put another set of eyeballs to your copy to catch errors like website URLs and email addies. Home printers are notorious for faded colors and colors that run if exposed to moisture, which also sends a bad message.

Strut your stuff! Same rules apply to cards as with book covers. Reveal your genre or service, which involves colors and hues. This includes your brand. If your website landing page and newsletter masthead features red, white and blue, design your card to echo the color theme for consistency.

Make a promise. If you provide service/s, don your “clever” hat and give them one good reason to contact you.

Send ‘em to your website. This will help you avoid a cluttered card with 6-point type that no one can read without strong reading glasses. It will also remind you to have your website or Facebook page up to date and operating properly, with all links working.

Be ready. What good is all this preparation if you don’t have your cards at the ready? Store them in your purse, pocket, car glove compartment, and briefcase.

Include a call to action. "Click here." Can't do that on a card, but include it in some way. "See my website for rate schedule/more info/free book offer--whatever entices them to act.

Research = inspiration. Play the information game. Give and collect cards. Check the free tables this year to see how other authors position/brand themselves, and what they include on their cards. This is not to promote copying them, but rather to give you inspiration to develop your own message and layout.   Research printers, too. There are some great deals out there, and if you order early, your odds for getting them in time are much higher.

"Do you have a card?"

Protecting Your Merchandising Rights in a Publishing Deal

In publishing, “merchandising” refers to the right(s) to create, market, and sell products (merchandise) based on a book or its characters and settings.

A good example is Bertie Botts’ Every-Flavor Beans, which appear in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and also on many convenience and candy store shelves. Since Rowling invented the candy in her books, she also owns the right to control who can (and cannot) produce them, through licensing agreements.

However, many publishing contracts contain a license of "merchandising rights" that takes control over merchandising away from the author and gives it to the publisher instead. Granted, the contract requires the publisher to pay the author a royalty on merchandising licenses--but smart authors should retain complete control of merchandising rights instead.  

Authors often don’t realize (soon enough) that their contracts contain an exclusive license of all merchandising rights to the publisher. This is yet another reason why it's important to have a publishing lawyer or agent review and negotiate your contracts--to ensure you keep these (and other) valuable rights.

Authors have no legal obligation to license merchandising rights to the publisher.

Obtaining the right to license merchandising rights is a potentially significant windfall for publishing houses, which can also limit the author's ability to profit from his or her creativity.

However, authors who retain the merchandising rights to their works can either create the merchandise themselves or license those rights to third parties--without obtaining a  publisher's consent or approval.

Grants of merchandising rights are usually found in the “subsidiary rights” paragraph (along with grants to license film, TV, and similar secondary rights to the work). The language you're looking for is “merchandising” or “product” rights - and if your contract grants them to the publisher, you should ask the publisher to remove that section entirely, replacing it with language that states the merchandising rights remain the sole property of the author.

Sometimes, publishers try to insist on obtaining the merchandising rights. While you, the author, have the right to grant that license if you wish, consider the following before you sign a contract that licenses merchandising rights to the publisher:

1. Is the grant of rights exclusive?

Granting a publisher exclusive rights to merchandise licensing means the author cannot license those rights to anyone else or create his or her own merchandise without the publisher's consent--and the publisher has no obligation to consent at all.

2. Is the publisher capable of profitably exploiting merchandising rights? 

Don’t license merchandising rights to anyone who cannot use them effectively. Few (if any) publishers have sales departments capable of licensing merchandising rights effectively.

Merchandising normally becomes important after a book becomes a bestseller and manufacturers approach the author (or publisher), seeking permission to make a licensed product. If you’ve given those rights to a publisher, you lose the chance to control that deal yourself, and you also lose a significant percentage of the income. 

3. Does the publisher have a history of successful merchandising deals?

If so, and if the publisher can show you a plan that will guarantee you more money than you could get on your own, it might be worth sharing the profits. That said, don't license merchandising rights to anyone who hasn’t got a viable plan to produce or license products.

4. Is the author’s royalty (or license percentage) fair?

I've seen contracts giving the author less than 50% of the "amount the publisher receives" on merchandise licenses. Given that any merchandise is based on the author's creativity--not the publisher's work--this isn't nearly a high enough percentage. Also, be aware: 50% of the publisher’s receipts is not the same as 50% of the profits on the products.

Normally, merchandising rights have little value at the time an author enters into a publishing contract. That said, managing rights properly now will help avoid future regrets.

5. Is it worth abandoning a publishing deal to retain your merchandising rights?

Only the author can make that call, but I’m empowering you to make it any way you choose. Don’t feel intimidated if a publisher pushes back on the issue of merchandising. They’re your rights, and you, the author, get to decide whether or not to license them, and on what terms.

Make the decision you believe is appropriate for you and for your work.

Once you’ve signed the rights away, you generally can’t get them back as long as the contract remains in force, so treat this as a business decision and always get professional advice before you sign.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve already signed these rights away. It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it makes business sense to license merchandising rights (at proper percentages) to make a deal. Other times, it’s better for the author to walk away. The key is making an informed decision based on your personal situation.

Have you licensed merchandising rights? If not, do you feel better prepared to manage these rights when the time comes?

The Big Wait: What to do when you have nothing to do

So here we are. As of the writing of this post, I've found myself in a strange place. Limbo, some call it. That place of infinite waiting caught inexorably between supposed and longed for happiness, and that of dejection, unrequited feelings of elation and acceptance. "But Josh," you may say, as I place these words in your mouth by way of my head, "These other places, are they heaven and hell?" "You might think that," I replay with a reverent whisper, definitely not talking to myself in this dark and lonely room. "But, no. For these places are known well among our kind. They are: Published, and unpublished."

DUN, DUN, DUH!

I know, right? Never saw that coming.

So, okay. I may have gone a little overboard there, so perhaps I should move onto the actual point of this post as it reflects my own current state of affairs in my writing career in a way you might find useful. The Big Wait, referring to the period of time as you wait for your manuscript, sent out by your agent, to be picked up by an editor for a publishing deal. It really is a sort of limbo, biblical references and spirituality aside. So here I sit, thumb firmly up...somewhere. Why? Because I'm waiting. Waiting to see what happens next with my book as publishers pour over it, judging it, and probably saying mean spirited things about it like the cool girls in highs school. Sigh. So I continue to wait, the fate of this thing I've spent far too many uncertain hours stressing over. And so the question remains...what do I do now?

Now, this isn't some personal existential crisis, but a real thing, easily applicable to other similar situations during your writing career, such as: After you've finished a draft on a novel. After you've queried agents and are waiting for a response. While your agent reads and re-reads your novel, giving you suggestions for changes. And, my current rent-free apartment in hell, while you're waiting to hear back from publishers to see if you will finally receive the external validation you so desperately, and perhaps foolishly, crave in the form of a publishing contract. So...now that you've got all this time, what now? Well, here's a few things you can do in that terrifying meantime:

Start a new project:

I think this one explains itself. Don't sit on hind quarters, waiting for your one little baby to sprout its wings and fly as only a mother knows it can. Do something! Write the next book in that series. Write the first book in a new series. Write a short story. A novella. Anything! The sky is the metaphorical limit in the finite ways the publishing industry works.

Take a break from writing:

Some people might disagree with this one, but I find it useful. Sometimes you just get burnt out. This can be especially true after completing a big project. Don't let yourself drown ever so slowly in the white hot mud of mental exhaustion. Not cool, bro! Take a break. Don't think about writing...if that's possible. Do something (and this is key)...else! Find something that completely absorbs your mind that isn't writing related. Then come back fresh and ready to burn the sweet smelling oils of midnight.

Read (many) something(s):

Books. Fiction. Non-fiction. Play a video game (with good writing). This blog (ha!). So, ya know. There's a lesson there...somewhere. Writers read. So do it.

Attend a conference:

Conferences are great for people in all different phases of their writing careers. Beginning. Middle...not middle. Whatever. Attend a conference. Learn some things. Meet some people. Have drinks. Comport yourself in the ways of a fool. I hear Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers throws a pretty mean conference (Teehee)! Check it out.

All of the above:

There you have it. Laid out all nice and neat, and possibly even semi-presentable. As craftsmen (and craftswomen), we have a lot of tools in our belts. Or purses...or knap-sacks, or fanny-packs, or handkerchiefs dangling from the ends of our hobo sticks. And it's our job to utilize them to keep our writing (and ourselves) sharp. So if you're in a similar spot as me, don't just wait around slowly strangling yourself in the brittle spider-webs of solitary hope, uncertainty, and self-loathing. DO. SOMETHING. ELSE. Now get to it.

 

After the Editing: When an agent says it’s ready!

Not that long ago I put up a post about what it's like editing with an agent. Well it's time to take that a step farther. Because Deity Six, my very first completed novel, has since transitioned from 1) finding an agent. And 2) going through and finishing edits with said agent. To step 3) searching for and acquiring an editor and a publishing deal. With steps 4) and maybe even 5) to be determined at a later date. So let's explore Step 3 and those smaller steps in-between.

Developmental edits:

Before this post I talked about the beginning steps of agent editing. Now here's the ending. While you're editing with your agent, unless you're book is perfect (Ha, ahahahahahaha!!!!!), you'll likely go through what are called developmental edits. These are basically how they sound; edits that address any issues with plot, characters, or things like theme.

Being as close to your book as you likely are, you probably can't see some of its problems. And even if you can, you may not know how to fix them. This being the case, your agent will go through and identify (often line by line) some of the problems that require adjustment, or even removal before the book is ready to move onto the next phase of its life.  This can go on for... a while.

For me it lasted about three months from the time I signed the contract with my agent. Yours could be faster, or longer. Either way it will be different according to the needs of your story, and how dramatic of a tantrum you feel like throwing when your agent tells you cut an entire five pages (or chapters) out of the book!  After you've made the necessary changes (and note that these are generally optional and not required by your agent, but advised before moving on), hopefully your story is in much better shape. And it's time to move on to...

Copy edits:

So far, my experience with copy edits is thus: "Hi Josh, doesn't look like we need to do any more developmental edits. I'm performing some copy edits, then it'll be ready to go out." The book didn't come back to me again, so my assumption is that whatever changes were made to the story were all so minor as not require either my attention, or my approval (such as typos and minor re-wording). So...whoopie!

Submission time:

The next part is perhaps the worst for many. This is where your agent embarks on putting the book into the "real world." And by "real world," I mean editors currently acquiring works like yours, for publishers who publish books like yours.

So here's the process as I understand it: Your agent identifies editors looking for ideas similar to yours, or enough like yours to be interested in taking it on as an editing project in order to then publish the book, and/or offer you, the author, a publishing contract. A partial submission goes to the editor. If the editor isn't interested, they reject it (duh). If they do like it they request a full manuscript, which your agent sends to them.

Now for that pie in that sky. If the editor likes the book the process doesn't end there. They then give it to some of their peers (other editors). If they like it, it then moves on to the editorial manager. If the manager likes it and agrees with the acquiring editor that the publishing house should represent it (i.e. they think they will make money off of it), then you will be offered a contract.

**Note: I have no details on this just yet and may cover it in a future post when I can offer firsthand experience. As of the writing of this post I have been updated about three occurrences following the release of my book to acquiring editors. Two rejections, as it did not fit into a specific category they were looking to use it for. And one request for the full manuscript. So... fingers crossed.

The Big Wait:

For now, this is the line in the sand. As me and my agent wait for the editor to read the full manuscript and either reject it, or send it on for approval from their higher ups. It's all about waiting now. So when you get to this part remember...this can take months. Months, and months, with a chance that you will only get a rejection. But this is the world we live in. This is the altar to which we pray, sacrifice, and divvy up an unhealthy portion of our souls to these gatekeepers of traditional publishing bliss. So settle in, buck'o's. It's going to be a long winter.

What is it worth to you to be published?

Is it worth a Saturday and about $75? Is it worth having great food, sitting amidst lots of excited (and exciting) writers, and listening to interesting, informative, amazing presentations?

If it’s not, then you should stop reading now. And maybe think about how badly you really want to be published. Because on April 29, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will be holding the Annual Education Event in Golden, at the Table Mountain Inn. The website has more info, but here’s why Pub-Con (catchy, right?) is such a fantastic opportunity:

We start with breakfast. Always a good sign.

The morning session has an Editor whose publishing house was just purchased by Simon and Schuster, the Owner/Agent of a multi-agent literary agency, and a multi-traditionally published author. This panel will give you tons of information, stuff you REALLY need to know, about getting traditionally published. The before, the during, and the after. The dos and the don’ts. The whys and the why nots.

Then we have lunch. Another good sign. And even better, we have an Editor-in-Chief of a small Denver-based publishing house to talk about the different publishing options out there and how you can determine what might be best for you.

 The afternoon session will include a multi-self-published author, a best-selling author who started a publishing house and works with self-publishers, and a graphic designer who specializes in book cover design. They will give you as much information as you’ll be able to absorb on the process of self-publishing. They’ll help dispel notions of how hard, or easy, it is and you’ll have the advantage of knowing the mistakes they made and shortcuts they found, to save you from yourself. And we all need that, right?

So, is it worth $75 give or take? Can you give up 8 hours of your precious time? Only you can decide, but if you want that WIP to see the light of day, this might be the best time and money you can spend to make that happen.

I hope to see you there. Here’s the link to the page on RMFW site: http://rmfw.org/pubcon/ . Seating is limited and I do expect to sell out with this kind of presentation lineup.

In the meantime, Write On! and get your WIP done. You’ll want to take lots of notes at Pub-Con so you can get that puppy published!

 

Kindle Scout—What Happens When You Win?

Coming soon from Kindle Scout!
Coming soon from Kindle Scout!

If you haven’t heard the news by now, my Kindle Scout campaign was a success! My book, Call Me Zhenya, was chosen for publication by Kindle Press. I received just under 700 page views, with a surge at the very end in both views and in time spent in "Hot and Trending." The page views necessary to get into Hot and Trending dropped significantly at the end--I'm not sure why, or if that's built into their process to get last-minute votes, or how that works. As with most Amazon algorithms, there's no real way to look under the hood. But I kept up the promotion to the very end, as anybody who follows me on social media can attest, probably with an eye-roll at my multitudes of posts. I got the notification only a couple of days after the campaign ended. Everything has happened a bit faster than their materials indicate--in a day or two rather than a week or two, for example--which is cool.

So what happens next?

Basically, what happens next is that the contract as printed on the website goes into immediate effect. I was asked to look over my full manuscript and my cover art, make any changes I wanted to make, then reupload them. The next step is to fill out financial information so they can pay me my advance. (This isn’t going as smoothly—it looks like I might have broken their site. Typical of me and my weird electromagnetic field.)

The letter I received indicated that, if they feel it necessary, I’ll receive a letter with recommended edits. After that is all settled, they’ll give me a date when the book will go up for preorder. Also, I’ll presumably receive notifications when the book goes up for special promotions. So far, I’ve heard about people getting .99 deals for a period of time, special Kindle Fire deals, and other promotions directly through Amazon. Based on what I’ve seen from other Scout winners who’ve talked with me, promotions aren’t guaranteed, and of course the success of any individual promotion isn’t guaranteed, either. But a number of people seem to be pretty happy with the results they’ve gotten.

As far as the overall experience so far—for those who like personalized communications from their publishers, this won’t fulfill those needs. Most of the communication has been via form letters, though I do have an individual I’m talking to about the problems with Amazon Payee Central. You can also request a phone call if you have any questions, which I haven’t done as of yet.

Overall, it continues to be an interesting process. I’m learning a lot of things, and have discovered a whole community of Scout winners who offer help and guidance to newbies on the block. There’s a great group of people there that I wasn’t even aware of until the announcement went out about my book, so it’s cool to know there are even more resources to delve into.

As the time comes closer to publication date, emails will be going out with information on preorders, and those who voted for the book will receive their free copies. Hopefully, I’ll get some good reviews from the Scouters, and things will be off and running.

Thanks to everyone for their support, and if you have any other specific questions about Kindle Scout, the process, or anything else, feel free to ask, either here or via email.

Next month, I’m going to chat about Thunderclap/Head Talker and the pluses and minuses I saw from those platforms.

Current Climate in Publishing: The Sky Didn’t Fall, So Now What?

After the recent Colorado Gold Conference, I found myself wondering about indie/self-publishing and traditional happy-b-day-picpublishing. When I joined my first Gold Conference back in 2008, I/S publishing was the DEVIL. No, really, like the actual end of the world four to five horsemen. (I first typed horsemint, which is, according to word, any various coarse mints. Thought you might enjoy my overeagerness about just how bad it once was to I/S publish, that or my fat fingered typing ability).

This past conference, the vibe was MUCH different, and in fact, most of the I/S pub workshops were filled (I should know, our Rejection Panel went up against Nathan Lowell’s Amazon workshop Saturday morning. Thank you to the five people who joined us). Also, for the first time, iPAL the independently published version of PAL, was awarded a Writer of the Year (Lisa Manifold, who deserved it greatly for a) successfully writing and marketing great books, but more so b) being a leader in our community).

So my question to you, dear readers, and for once, comment dang it!, how do you feel about publishing these days? When you think of your current WIP, is it slated for traditional route or a more indie one? Have you come to the dark or maybe light side (depending on who you ask) of publishing?

Right now I publish with both. I see good things and bad for each. Nothing is ever going to be simple or perfect in publishing. Yet this is the first time I see I/S publishing tipping in favor to traditional. Or maybe just with my tribe. So let’s hear it. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. What say you about today’s publishing format climate?

It’s About Who You Know: The Truth About Successful Publishing

Word Cloud "Social Innovation"I won’t claim to know what makes a successful writer. I do know what it takes to be a working one. Let me start this post by dropping a little knowledge: A working writer is a writer who works. I know, right? Who knew? A working write writes. They often write a lot.

I’m a working writer.

I don’t write every day.

I don’t outline.

I don’t do many booksignings or other promotions.

I get sick of writing.

I get even more sick of publishing.

I am a bad working writer.

I still write.

This past weekend me and about 400 of my new closest friends spent three days revealing in A) workshops and B) the fact we aren’t alone. No, dear writer, you are not a freak of nature…okay, you might be, but the rest of us surely aren’t.

There were so many fantastic workshops. I learned lots of things. I pitched to an editor. I met my agent in person for the first time since 2007 when I signed with her. I hung out with people I don’t spend enough time with. Met so many more who I now adore.

And in the midst of the madness, it came to me. THIS IS WHAT PUBLISHING IS ABOUT. Being part of a tribe. Being a part of something bigger than my writing cave, bigger than my isolation. If I sold a million books tomorrow, I’d know, while the money and fame are nice, it’s about the people I consider my tribe.assassins_kiss

Don't believe me? Fine, buy 10 copies of my latest book, and then tell 10 friends.  ----->

You never know when that person you meet today, turns out to be the very reason you become rich and famous. Thank you to all those I met this conference. To those I hold dear until next year, when you forget to buy me a whiskey.

Hope you had a lovely conference too. Tell me what you enjoyed most--Who you met? What you learned?

Pitch Like a BOSS by Angie Hodapp

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Pitching your book to an agent or editor is daunting. How are you supposed to cram the essence of your entire novel into a pithy couple of sentences? (Hint: You’re not.) Here’s a formula for a concise pitch that will set you on the right track. Ladies and Gentlemen, James Scott Bell‘s “three-sentence pitch”:

First Sentence: Your lead character’s name, vocation, and initial situation. Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high-level merger negotiations between computer companies.

Second Sentence: “When” + the main plot problem. When Will celebrates a recent merger by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.

Third Sentence: “Now” + the stakes. Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC, and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology that can be used for mass destruction.

Boom. Three sentences. The first introduces the protagonist in his ordinary world. The second presents the inciting incident. The third is what your character stands to lose if the antagonistic forces prevail. Here’s another example:

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the likes of town busybody Miss Gulch. When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is transported to a land of strange creatures and at least one wicked witch who wants to kill her. Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

Give it a try, but keep each sentence brief. Having taught this formula at pitch workshops, I know how tempted writers are to pack those three sentences full of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building. Resist that urge!

Now, can you boil your three-sentence pitch down further to create an even more concise pitch? Conversely, can you expand it to craft an evocative query letter? Whichever way you go, start here: with three sentences.

#

Above, we looked at a quick three-sentence formula that will help you start to craft your pitch. Did you try it? Yes? Awesome!

Did you thwart the temptation to squeeze in a bunch of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building? No? Alas. Go back to those three sentences and whittle, hone, refine, and polish. Until you do, your pitch probably isn’t ready.

Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Excellent. Then let’s get you ready for your pitch appointment:

Ditch the idea that your pitch is supposed to be a complete summary of your novel. It’s not. Your pitch is a conversation starter. Pitch appointments at writing conferences tend to run about ten minutes. Deliver your pitch, then let the agent you’re pitching to ask you questions about your novel. About you. About your writing in general. Relax and have a chat.

Focus on character and plot. Ten-minute pitch appointments fly by, and many are wasted by the author who spends…way…too…much…time…explaining (1) his protagonist’s backstory, (2) his world-building elements, or (3) all the cool historical facts he discovered when researching his novel. Seriously. I once listened to a pitch during which the author never actually told me a single thing about her plot. Even when I asked questions about the story itself, her replies remained focused on backstory and setting. The agent wants to know if the story you put down between page 1 and page 350 is something they can sell. That’s what’s on the table, so focus on that.

Be prepared to respond to feedback and questions. Things I’ve said (gently, I hope!) to writers during pitch appointments include: (1) You’re pitching this as YA, but it’s coming across as a middle grade. What makes it YA? (2) How will your novel stand out among current bestsellers in your genre, or how will it appeal to readers of those bestsellers? (3) What are the last three books you’ve read in your genre? (4) What is your novel’s inciting incident, and how far into the manuscript does it occur? (5) In the story you just described, it concerns me that your protagonist isn’t actually the one who solves the plot problem. (6) The conflict you describe is very internal to your character. What is the story’s external conflict, and how does it get resolved and/or relate to the internal conflict? (7) Has your manuscript been critiqued by a critique group or beta readers?

Bring a copy of your query letter. If the agent stops you in the first minute of your pitch appointment with something like “I don’t represent that genre” (or anything else that feels like a shutdown/letdown), then politely ask if she wouldn’t mind giving you her quick impression of your query letter. After all, it’s your ten minutes. You paid for the appointment. And her input on your query letter just might help you land a different agent—one that’s right for you, your genre, and your project.

Understand that a disappointing pitch has zero bearing on your future as a writer. There will be other conferences, other pitch appointments, other opportunities. Keep pitching. Keep sending out query letters. The more doors you knock on, the more likely one (or more) will open.

And above all, keep writing.

 

AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.