Which pitch has the most potential? Slush pile, in-person or online contest?

I get asked this question often. Writers want to make the most of their time and talent. Querying is a part in your writing career that is fraught with stress, expectation, and worry–oh wait, this sounds like the entire length of a writing career! Jokes aside, the decisions you make to start your career have a huge influence on the trajectory of it.

So what’s the best way to pitch an industry professional? In person at a conference? In the slush pile? Or in an online contest? 

All of these have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go over them.

Pitching At A Conference In Person

Advantage: We get to know a slice of your personality (even if it’s only for 10 minutes) and whether we could see ourselves working together. Establishing a personal connection is beneficial for both parties.

Disadvantage: We haven’t seen your material yet! It all depends on the writing. So even if we get along well there is absolutely no guarantee anything will come of it. And if you’re nervous in those 10 minutes we might not get to see the best version of your presentation.

Slush Pile Pitching

Advantage: You can passionately explain why you think an agent is the right fit. You can get lots of advice on how to write the perfect query letter. This targeting is one of the most effective ways of hooking an agent who is right for you. I find more clients in the slush pile than anywhere else. I’d say it’s a 10:1 ratio. For every 10 clients I sign up 10 are from the slush, 1 is from elsewhere.

Disadvantage: Agents get hundreds to thousands of emails a month and you only get one chance to impress them.

Blog Contest Pitching

Advantage: You know you have 3-10 agents actively looking at your material, depending on the contest. There are many success stories floating around from these selective types of events.

Disadvantage: There might be a few agents interested, but often the speed of which the interested agent offers puts off the other agents because we don’t always have time to drop everything and read. Sometimes this speed works out in people’s favor and sometimes it doesn’t. Competition is definitely healthy, but writers have to make a tough decision without the hoopla getting in the way.

Twitter Contest Pitching

Advantage: It happens a few times a year and agents looking to build their list are actively observing it. Plus it makes you practice how to pitch and write a hook in one sentence.

Disadvantage: Agents want to work with authors who select agents for a reason. Writers pitch blindly on Twitter and sometimes the agent that wants to offer rep isn’t on that author’s “top agents” list and there can be bad blood and also a waste of time for everyone when querying would have been a must more beneficial use of time for both parties.

Q: Do you have a success story from one of these methods? (Or, more unfortunately, a horror story?)

Advertisements

Guest Post: The 4 Platform Elements That Catch an Editor’s Attention

Headshot for Stonesong websiteEditor-turned-Agent Maria Ribas has a guest post for everyone today! It’s a small world in publishing and the story of how Maria and I know each other is a reflection of that. When Maria was an editor at Adams Media I sold her a cookbook called THE WELLNESS KITCHEN. She left Adams Media a couple years ago now and is currently at agent at Stonesong Literary in NYC. Maria represents non fiction and specializes in lifestyle and cookbooks. She has a great post about platform that I think you’ll all learn something from. You can also check out her site for more great information: www.cooksplusbooks.com or follow her on Twitter @maria_ribas.

I started out in publishing as an editor. And about once a week, I would get rejected. Our acquisitions meetings were on Thursday afternoon, and I’d spend much of that morning preparing a pitch for why everyone should get excited about that book I was so excited about.

The meetings would go something like this:

Me: !!!!

Everyone Else: …..

Me: !!!!!!!

Everyone Else: ????

Me: !!!!?

Everyone Else: No.

Having your excitement be met with disinterest is terrible. I know it’s something writers struggle with every day, and it’s a thing agents and editors have to battle through, too. But after some comically sad flops, I finally started figuring out what I needed to say so that people’s ears would immediately perk up.

And what got the most ear “perkage” (that’s not a word, is it?) from acquisitions teams? A platform-savvy author.

Any great agent or editor will tell you that you don’t need a platform to get a book deal as a fiction writer—a wonderful book is all you need. But any great agent or editor will also tell you that you can only avoid these platform-building initiatives for so long. A wonderful book may get you in the door, but only a strong publicity and marketing campaign will get your book back out the door and into readers’ hands.

That’s exactly why coming into the publishing process with those skills and networks in place can make you extremely appealing as an author. I’ve sat in many strategy meetings where an author’s editor, publicist, marketing manager, and agent put all their expertise together to formulate a strong marketing and publicity campaign. Yet the author’s lack of familiarity with the online landscape, and most often, their discomfort with putting themselves out there, crippled their ability to execute the campaign. The worst part is that this makes for a miserable, lie-awake-at-night book launch, because the author is forced to battle the fears and anxieties of platform-building at a time when they can’t afford to stumble.

Don’t let that happen to you! I know I sound like a scare-mongering PSA, but I’ve seen too many incredible books be completely ignored because the author struggled with the foundational skills of publicity and marketing.

If you’re overwhelmed about where to start, here are the 4 platform elements that most stand out to agents, editors, and acquisitions teams:

1. Connections

It’s true that you don’t need to be well-connected to break out in publishing, but it’s even truer that having connections will help you. Editors and agents know how hard it is to get even an ounce of attention for a debut book, so working with an author who has access to the megaphones of tastemakers is a huge advantage.

But remember that this doesn’t mean you need to live in New York City, attend all the right writing programs, or rub elbows with the literati every day. This isn’t necessarily about knowing celebrities, bestselling authors, and high-profile journalists. It’s about forming real connections with the people who are right there with you in the trenches. Get out and meet writers in your neighborhood; join online communities; reach out to that writer you admire just to say hello. Remember that it takes a tribe to launch a book, and it’s a whole lot easier to make real friends when you’re not plying them with information about your book.

2. Press

Similar to connections, press mentions are a way to get attention for a book, and they’re the foundation of a publicity campaign. So when a book comes in to an editor or agent and the author already has press experience ? That’s a big, big plus. Publishers think of it as a two pronged advantage: 1. The author already has a relationship with gatekeepers in other media (reporters, producers, bloggers, etc.) and can call on those connections to get coverage for the book, and 2. The author has already proven that he/she is comfortable with being a public figure and understands that pitching and public speaking skills are essential to the successful promotion of a book. This shows editors that you know how to position yourself and your work in a way that receives favorable attention, and that is always a good thing.

3. Analytics

Ten years ago cold, hard numbers had no place in the acquisitions conversation for a debut author. Today, they can be the #1 reason why an author and agent hears a “yes” rather than a “no” from an editor, particularly in the practical nonfiction world. Again, this is something that’s make-or-break for nonfiction, but still a big plus for fiction writers, too. These numbers are a concrete way of showing editors that you already have a readership—that you’ve spent years building relationships across different online channels, and that those people think what you have to say is worthwhile.

Analytics can be anything from traffic on a website or blog to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media followers.

4. Email List

Yes, you could put this under analytics. But I’m breaking it out for a reason—it’s a breakout number. That means that even if your social media numbers are middling, having a significant email list can get an agent’s or editor’s attention. This is because sending an email is the most direct way to reach potential readers, and it’s also the only way you can (nearly) guarantee that the recipient will see an important announcement. With so many changes to social media algorithms lately, it’s hard to guarantee that important updates (like a launch announcement!) will actually make it to the people who want to know about it. That’s why I preach the gospel of the email list to all my authors—it’s the best thing they can focus on building, because it’s the only channel they can themselves own.

I know platform-building can be overwhelming, fraught with emotional pitfalls, and overall more pleasant to ignore than to face head-on. But the business of publishing, in any genre, always hinges around sales, and the sooner authors can build marketing and publicity skills, the sooner they’ll find their readership. And the less often that their exclamation points will be met with a cold, hard “No.”

Maria Ribas began her career on the editorial side, first at Simon & Schuster and Harlequin Nonfiction, then at Adams Media, where she was an associate editor before moving to the agency side in 2014. At Stonesong, she specializes in practical and narrative nonfiction from authors who understand how a thoughtfully produced, proudly promoted book can grow their brands and their businesses.

She also writes about writing, platform-building, publishing, and cooking her way through books at www.cooksplusbooks.com

 

5 Steps to Internet (and IRL) Safety and Privacy for Writers

There are many ways to think about internet safety, but with the fall publishing season book launches coming up I wanted to take the time to share my thoughts about staying safe when you’re used to interacting on the web. I consider safety physical or intellectual.

I definitely think everyone clearly knows how dangerous the web can be, but sometimes we all think we’re immune to it and take risks when we don’t know we’re doing so. It’s the thing that happens to *someone else* not us.

5 Steps to Internet (and IRL) Safety and Privacy for Writers:

Tweet or post when you’re leaving somewhere, not when you’re getting there. DM the people you’re meeting up with at the book launch instead of broadcasting it to the world. Instead of tweeting on the way to an event, why not tweet after you’ve gathered your thoughts and maybe taken a picture or two? If you are going to post in real time, don’t take pictures from the same location all night. It seems silly, but if you’re prone to over-sharing make sure you’re keeping people on their toes.

Think twice about geo-tagging. (This is when your location is attached to your social media post.) Especially if you pair it with photos. It’s easy for anyone to connect the dots if you’re posting every day or multiple times per day. When in doubt (like me), follow tip 1: geo-tag after you’ve left. I don’t need to recount all the horror stories about geo-tagging for you to get my point. Don’t forsake safety for social currency.

Check your settings. Do you know your privacy settings on all your devices? Believe it or not uploading from your phone vs. uploading on your computer require different privacy settings on Facebook. Knowledge is power. Don’t regret things later; get ahead of your privacy issues and learn where you might have cracks.

Keep your book ideas close to your chest. One of writers’ big worry is that someone will steal their idea. Journalists know to keep their stories to themselves, so writers need to think carefully about this too. If you’re doing book research keep it to private messages and open ended social media questions. I’m not saying people will steal anything, but why give yourself the opportunity to worry? Share your ideas with people you trust: writing circles, agents, and editors. Ideas also change; slow down on blogging through the details of your latest book. Give yourself freedom to make changes and add a little bit of mystery.

Remember: the trolls only win if you feed them. The internet breeds animosity. There are many opinions out there, some of which it’s hard to agree with. It’s tempting to fight back at the trolls, but all it will do is make you mad. It’s hard to change anyone’s mind, especially when you add in limited characters and a social platform. Internet fights can follow you around for a long time. Not all of us will get our Twitter spats featured in major news outlets, but blogs live on–and bloggers don’t have to fact check. It’s best to let things breeze by. No one wants to be Googled and found that their online fight has followed them around for years.

***

I love social media for the way it brings us together, but be wary about your privacy. Most book publishing people are great people! But social media is available to everyone.

Your life belongs to you, not the web. So be careful about what you decide to share. Privacy is important and you control the message. Even if you’re not thinking “privacy” at the time of posting, remember that people can connect the dots across social media platforms and days or weeks at a time. Patterns are there whether they’re intentional or not.

Lastly, if you’re into Cons, or all things amazing, grab Sam Maggs’s book FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY where there is information about staying safe at big fan events.

Q: What do you think about when you’re planning your internet safety as a writer?

The 4 Platform Secrets No One Has Told You

Platform.

Platform.

Platform.

It’s all anyone in publishing wants to talk about! Writers are feeling this top down pressure to check all the boxes publishers and agents are looking for. Including platform. But we’re talking about platform for a reason. (Need a platform primer? Try Jane Friedman’s here.)

Let’s be clear: non fiction authors understand that platform is non-negotiable; it’s a must. However, fiction authors don’t require one–but we won’t be sad if you have one. Now that we’re all on the same page. Let’s breakdown the secrets to platform that you probably haven’t discovered how to leverage. Ready?

The secret to a meaningful platform is engagement. It doesn’t matter how many tweets you send or pins you post. If there is no engagement on the other side you’re wasting your time speaking into a black hole.  You don’t always need to go searching for more, more, more. Try focusing on the small fans you’ve cultivated this far and work with them. What does your current audience require to be more connected to you? Be authentic, be honest, learn from online greats like comedians, authors, and journalists. See how they’re doing it. Guess what? They’re out of their shells and interacting with people, tweets and memes. Platform is not self promotion, it’s engagement.

The secret to building a platform is following other people. It goes against our desire to be “cool” when we follow other people hoping to get followed back, but guess what: it works. Following other people is a signal to the world that you exist. You’re not a satellite circling alone, you’re a compass pointing visitors to your brand. A vacant platform can be a sign of fear: are you afraid to follow other people because you’re afraid you won’t be any further ahead? It’s also a sign of disinterest: are you too “busy” for your brand? Then a publisher isn’t going to make time for you. Many of today’s success stories revolve around authors who have understood what their fans expect and want from them. Never before have you had a water cooler at your fingertips. A missing platform is a sign that you don’t understand technology and that scares us: how can we expect you to market your book if you don’t have time for social media? So to build that platform you have to tell the world that you are here and you have something to say.

The secret to platform isn’t just primary social media sites. Everyone thinks Twitter and Facebook are the only platforms that matters. Guess what (depending on what you do) there are many platforms for you to leverage: YouTube, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, blogging, journalism, podcasts, or online TV. Where can you show your voice, expand your brand, and engage with like-minded people best for your message? That’s where you need to be. There is no right or wrong way to develop platform, but the success comes from the most authentic way to share your voice. What do YOU want to say? And how or where can you say it best?

The secret to platform is numbers. Do you know yours: Followers? Impressions? Shares? Sales? Subscribers? As soon as you learn to quantify your platform you know how to transition to leveraging your engagement. How many people clicked on your links? How many people signed up for your e-newsletter? How many people do you speak in front of per year? Numbers means audience. Audience means sales. Sales is what business is all about–even publishing.

Experiment: take a week and follow a few hundred new people (and engage with them!) and then report back to me how many new followers it got you. Deal?