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

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 sitting in front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.

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

I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizing at the same 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 across from me at this moment. I need to know why you selected me from the 3-20 other agents at this conference. Why do you think we’re a good fit? (No need to flatter us, just be honest.)

Take a deep breath. Then get right to the story. We only have 7-10 minutes so use them wisely! We’re here to help you publish your book not talk about the weather/city.

Read my social cues. Am I engaged in your story? Do I look like I want to cut in to ask a question?

Don’t plan to speak for the entire allotted time. Make sure we have time to have a conversation and let me ask questions. If you’ve memorized enough to fill that entire space it makes me feel awkward because I can’t get a word in.

Questions I ask throughout and afterwards:

  • What made you write about this?
  • How long did it take you to write?
  • What are you working on next?
  • Tell me about the crisis moment/climax/when multi POVs come together. (Writers like to tell me all about the themes and I don’t care about those at this point. In 10 minutes I need to know what the book is ABOUT and what we’re working towards.)
  • What did you write before? Do you have a publishing history?
  • Do you have a critique partner?

What agents are asking themselves:

  • Can I sell this book?
  • Can I work with this person for a long time?
  • Does it seem like they have a handle on the industry?
  • Do they understand what I do and how I work?

What happens at the end?

Agents will offer you an opportunity to send your work OR they’ll tell you it’s not for them. The point of in-person pitching isn’t to get representation on the spot! The point is to pique their interest, much like a query letter, and follow up by sending your work. I’ll usually thank you for pitching me and stand up as you walk away. Then you can relax!

Usually agents will ask to see your work unless they’re very clear it’s not for them. Unlike a query letter, an in-person pitch doesn’t come with a sample. It also depends on where an agent is at in their career. More established agents request less material because their client list is bigger.

However, make sure, if you got an open invitation to send your manuscript, that you ACTUALLY send it. So many times writers don’t send it and I don’t know why. Maybe they want to do edits and then they think too much time has passed or they think the agent didn’t really mean it–believe me, if we say send it then SEND IT!

4 Ways To Write Better Dialogue

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One of my biggest pet peeves as an agent reading slush is unrealistic dialogue. This is a huge indicator of skill for better or for worse. For me this is a bigger red flag than any grammatical error and I cringe when dialogue isn’t edited as carefully as the rest of the manuscript (in terms of pace, being concise etc). I will VERY quickly pass on a manuscript if everything else is going well–except dialogue. It’s a more important piece of the puzzle than most writers realize. It’s our link to your characters’ tone, emotion, voice and so many other things. If you want a reader to connect with your characters (which you all do!) dialogue is a huge part of that equation.

So, how can you write better dialogue?

Write the character’s voice, not yours — Debut writers have a tendency to write themselves into their book when it’s not necessary and therefore, they baby the characters a bit instead of treating them separately. There is a divide between you and your characters even if you can’t see the difference when the words flow through your keyboard onto the page.

Don’t strong arm the characters around — It is very obvious when a writer is being a puppet master instead of letting the characters’ dialogue flow naturally. Make sure you don’t try to manipulate your characters because what ends up happening is that the reader can see through it and THEY feel manipulated. You have to trust your reader so you have to create worlds where dialogue flows naturally and makes sense for the plot.

Avoid perfect phrasing and sentences — None of us speak perfectly in real life and your characters shouldn’t either. Have them cut each other off. Let them speak over each other. Allow them to make grammatical errors.

Use dialogue to advance your plot — Don’t let your characters stand around recounting a scene that already happened. We were all there! That’s the quickest way to lose us and waste word count. Instead, keep moving forward. Never let dialogue move backwards. (Use flashbacks to look back.)

Q: What tools do you use to edit and improve your dialogue?

Guest Post: 6 Ways To Make Comp Titles Work For You by Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

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I’m so thrilled to have another great guest post for you! Comparative titles are a major conundrum for many writers. How recent? How many? How perfect do they have to be?

I get more questions about comp titles than many other topics–believe it or not.

How can you make them work for you? Literary Agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock tells us how.

6 Ways to Make Comp Titles Work for You

Comp titles—other works that are comparable to your own book—can be powerful tools to help an agent understand your project. Though you don’t absolutely have to include comp titles in your query, if you choose the right ones, they can get the agent excited: “Oh, it’s like that book? I love that book! I definitely want to read more.” But selecting the right comp can be tricky, so here are a few tips:

 

  1. Choose a comp title that puts your book on the right shelf…and the right table.

Imagine you’re walking through a bookstore—where would your book be? To begin, you want to choose comp titles that are in the same category and genre. Then take it a step further. Say you’ve written a work of women’s fiction. In a bookstore, that might be jumbled up with all the other adult fiction books. But what if they made a themed table—what other books would go on a table with yours? A table with Jojo Moyes (Women’s Fiction to Make You Cry) is going to be very different than a table with Sophie Kinsella (Lighthearted Women’s Fiction to Take to the Beach). And your book isn’t a classic yet; make sure you’re choosing titles that are relatively recent.

 

  1. Be specific.

Your book could probably be placed on more than one table, which is where the classic X meets Y comp title formula comes in. You can be even more specific, though. What about each title makes it comparable to your book? The powerful romance of X with the fast pace of Y tells me much more.

 

  1. But don’t use wildly different comps.

I recently passed on a query that used comp titles so different I couldn’t see how they were talking about the same book. For instance, if you pitch your book as THE FAULT IN OUR STARS meets GONE GIRL, I’ll think you’re not sure what sort of book you’ve written, since those works couldn’t be more different—in category, genre, tone, themes, everything! Specificity can help here, but at a certain point, it’s too much of a puzzle. Choosing books from the same metaphorical shelf will help a great deal. And remember, it’s fine to use just one comp title.

 

  1. Consider a character comp.

Say you can’t think of a great comp for your book as a whole. What about your main character? Maybe you’ve written a protagonist who’s just like Harriet the Spy—but in space. Even though you’re not describing the entire book, helping an agent understand your protagonist will go a long way to her understanding your book.

 

  1. Movies and TV shows can be comp titles, too.

Books are the obvious comp source, but other media can work as well, especially if it’s big and buzzy. I’ve seen comps used successfully with properties like SCANDAL, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, and SERIAL, just to name a few. Only go this route if it’s a popular, recent show and if it truly is the best comp for your book—don’t tell me it’s like the current Big Thing just because it’s the current Big Thing.

 

  1. Strike the Goldilocks balance: not too famous and not too obscure.

If you set the bar too high, it’s hard for your book to live up to the comparison—no, sadly, your book will probably not be the next HARRY POTTER. On the other hand, if you set the bar too low, you risk the agent a) not having heard of the comp, which makes it unhelpful or b) thinking your book will be too small to pique a publisher’s interest. It’s tough, but you have to find the comp title that’s just right.

 

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

3 Differences Between a Demographic and Your Market

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I get a lot of proposals or pitches that say “there are 157 million women in the US, that’s my market” and unfortunately they’re mixing up the difference between a demographic and a market. Publishers (especially publicists) don’t take well to these things because it makes someone seem out of touch from a marketing and sales perspective which is very worrisome considering writers are doing more and more to market their own books–and publishers expect them to.

THE THREE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A DEMOGRAPHIC AND A MARKET:

1. A Demographic is a population which generally unknowable in a marketing sense (without data), a Market is data-driven, tangible, and accountable. A Demographic is a fact and often an unattainable group. A Market is an engaged group of probable book buyers rooted in proof.

2. Do you know how to actually reach that Demographic? If so, you’re starting to get a Market.  If you don’t know how to market to these groups then they aren’t your market–you can’t reach them to share your book news.

Market:

  • Do you have a newsletter with subscribers or mailing list?
  • Do you have an engaged social media following with numbers to back it up?
  • Do you have a podcast with regular listeners?
  • Do you belong to any associations or groups (writing, alumni, or professional)?

3. Can you quantify the number of people that will directly encounter your promotion, marketing, or publicity? That’s your Market. Family, friends, co-workers, social media followers, subscribers, associations, groups–this is your market! They will be the people that you share your promotion with. Your publisher will help with bigger markets: their own mailing lists, their distribution reach, their bookstore promotion, their social media circles, existing customers and more. Your publicist will try to increase your market: getting essays, articles, reviews and interviews in front of more eyes. However, you have to do the work too–by knowing the existing market you have and how you want to grow it.