Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to get requests from agents and editors

I'm spending my morning speaking at  my old middle school's Career Day. This is my third year doing it, and I always go in feeling a bit queasy. Of course I once wore pleather pants in those hallways, so maybe the nausea is unrelated to public speaking. And Tweety Bird shoes. And-

Let's shift the conversation away from my bad fashion choices. Filling in for me today is a writer from our community, Leah Good, who... Okay, I'll just let her tell it:



Hello! My name is Leah Good, and I’m a seventeen year old author. I recently attended the 2012 Writing for the Soul conference where I had the opportunity to pitch my story to an editor and an agent. Stephanie has graciously agreed to let me share a bit of what I learned about getting ready for a conference and pitching.

Conferences are a great place to learn, network, and make contact with editors you would never be able to reach with a query letter. For the learning side of things, all you need to do is pack a notebook, pens, and a teachable spirit. Getting ready to pitch your book to an editor or agent takes a little more work.

Know Your Editors and Agents
There should be a list of attending editors and agents on the conference website. Start researching them by looking up each editor or agent’s submission guidelines. You will be limited in how many appointments you can have (my max was three), so this should help you weed out the editors and agents who don’t fit your book. When you finish this step, start learning as much as you can about the remaining professionals. If they have a blog, read as much of it as you can and take notes. Surf the web for interviews, and professional profiles. Try to make contact with authors the editor or agent has worked with.

When I decided on the agent I wanted to pitch to, I started reading through the last three years of her blog posts. It was a gold mine. In her posts she outlined what she wanted to hear in a pitch, what questions she was likely to ask, what her favorite books were, who her favorite characters were, and even when she got married! When I sat down to talk with her, it was exciting and satisfying when she asked one of the questions she had mentioned on the blog.

There wasn’t as much information available for the editor I pitched to. So instead of sifting through old blog posts, I started reading books she had edited. When I arrived at the conference I still didn’t know much about her personally, but I knew what writing style and themes she and her publisher were interested in.

Know What to Bring and What to Have Ready
Before you leave for a conference, know what the editors and agents you plan on pitching to want in a proposal. They probably won’t be ready to take a partial, synopsis, etc. at the conference, but if they ask you to send one you’ll want to do so as soon as you get home. Create your proposal and have it ready to go before you leave. (And bring a copy with you too. Just in case.) If they ask you to send them a proposal, you’ll probably have to tweak it based on what they tell you, but having it put together will save you a lot of time and stress.
A picture of the room where I pitched. This shows about half of it.
What editors and agents will take during an appointment is a one-sheet. A one-sheet is a single sheet of paper containing a synopsis of your story, a brief bio, and a picture that represents your story. Rachelle Gardner’s blog post on one-sheets helped me a lot.

And the Pitch
At the conference, I was lucky enough to have a session with a pitching coach before my editor/agent appointments.

(Stephanie cannot resist interjecting. Pitching coaches exist?!?! I had no idea! Okay, back to Leah.)

McNair Wilson taught me several important things. When you pitch, sit on the edge of your chair and make eye contact. You want to appear alert and professional, not bored. Don’t speak too quickly. You’re going to be nervous and nerves make you speed up. Concentrate on slowing down and speaking clearly.

Give your elevator pitch first and try to get the editor interested enough to ask questions about your story. In that elevator pitch, don’t give your characters names. At this point, names won’t mean anything to the editor. Instead, focus on the character’s relationship.

My pitch (post-coaching version) is, “What would happen if a childhood friendship between a slave and his master’s son continued into their teen years despite being forbidden? My story, Forever Freed, explores this question and shows what happens when friends are separated by an auction block.” Instead of using my main characters names, I called them “the master’s son” and “the friends”. Finally, pause before and after saying your title for the first time. Give the editor time to absorb it.

Getting ready to pitch is a lot of work, but it pays off. When you are waiting for your appointment, knowing that you have prepared to the best of your ability will help give you the confidence you need.

If you have questions, leave them below or feel free to pop over to my blog!

20 comments:

  1. Your book looks good! How neat that its centered on friends being seperated, not romantic partners. :)

    Good advice for those who plan to go a writing conference. :)

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  2. I learned a lot from this, thanks Leah! I never knew how much it took to prepare.
    I agree with Allison, I like the book being centered on friendship. It sounded like a good book. :)

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    1. Thank you both! I personally enjoy a break from boy/girl books every now and then and good friends are really special, so it made a good topic for me to write about. You can read an excerpt of the story on my blog.

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  3. Umm, what's a "proposal"? And what's the difference between an "elevator pitch" a regular "pitch"? What do you put in a regular pitch, anyway? I'm hoping to go to a writers conference this summer or next (by which time I hope my story will be ready) and want to be prepared. Thanks!

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    1. The components of a proposal vary depending on the publisher/agent you are submitting to. "From First Draft to Finished Novel" says that if you can't find specific guidelines a solid proposal would include a synopsis, partial, and query letter. A partial is the first few chapters (usually about 50 pages) of your book. I could get into the details of a synopsis and query, but that would pretty much be another full post. You can google both and find some good advice. (The archives of Rachelle Gardner's blog are extremely helpful!) If any of that is unclear, feel free to ask me to clarify! (I'll answer your second question below.)

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  4. Cool. Someday, I would like to be a publisher for teens, so reading this material teaches me a lot, even though I plan to self-publish. Thank you, Leah!

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  5. Great post, Leah! This helps a lot, though I'll still probably pester you a bit with questions before the Workshops this summer if I get one of the slots with a mentor ;)

    Chazak!
    - Hannah Mills
    www.swordofink.com

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    1. Glad you liked it. You know you're free to "pester". :)

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  6. I second Anonymous's question, what is the difference between an elevator pitch and a regular pitch?

    Super helpful post though! I need to read this blog more often, I'm slacking... :P

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    1. An elevator pitch is your story in about 30 seconds. A "regular" pitch is the full time(about 15 minutes)that you have with an editor or agent. My elevator pitch is what I included under "And The Pitch".

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  7. This is a super helpful post, Leah! I'm going to a conference this summer and I needed to read this! It'll help me be that much more prepared. :) Thank you so much.

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  8. Leah this was a great post, thank you! I wish there was a pitching coach at every conference...I could definitely use one.

    Stephanie- did you wear the pants & shoes together?! Lol!

    Leah or Stephanie or both- at conferences is there TONS of walking and standing? Or is it a big room with lots of chairs?

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    1. I've been to two conferences and I spent most of the time sitting down for both of them. You'll stand and walk between sessions to stretch and meet people and to get to different sessions (they're not all in the same room), but during sessions, you're sitting. In my experience anyway.

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    2. Lol, Tonya. I think the Tweety Bird shoes were 6th grade and the pleather pants didn't happen until 8th.

      And regarding standing/sitting, it just depends on the conference facilities. The ACFW conferences are really big, so we're always in big hotels and it can be a hike from your room to the classes. But I've had friends there before who have just had surgery or something, and the conference director is very accommodating about placing them closer to the classes.

      Other conferences are done on college campuses, so that can involve some walking too. But again, many conferences are committed to accommodating attendees who have mobility or dietary issues.

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  9. How do you find good conferences or workshops to go to? I'd like to go to one, but I don't know how to find a good one.

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    1. I'd say you want to figure out what you want out of the conference to start with. Some conferences are more geared toward beginner writers than others. Some focus on children's writers or Christian writers. If pitching your book is a big goal, you will want to go to a conference that will attract agents/editors who would be interested in your kind of book. (Just google "Christian Writing Conferences" or something like that.) I have been to an SCBWI conference and the Christian Writer's Guild's "Writing for the Soul" conference. Of the two I would rank "Writing for the Soul" higher, but both were good.

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  10. Oh! What with the picture and all your helpful tips about pitching, I felt nervous and excited and pumped for life! Even a rejection! (How weird. Maybe not.)

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    1. *laughs* Rejections are a part of the writing life. If you let them be, they can be exciting. A sort of badge of authenticity. ;)

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  11. Love this succinct post! You did a great job highlighting all the important points, Leah, and that pitch is great. :) My first writer's conference, I didn't pitch, but I hope to go to ACFW one year in the near future. :)

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    1. I didn't pitch at my first conference either. In fact, I learned what a pitch was at my first conference. Good luck with your's whenever you get to go.

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