Newsletter Update

When Marcy and I decided to stop blogging at GWP and only blog at our own sites, we offered everyone here the chance to subscribe to a GWP style newsletter we planned to write.

Plans change.

Because I miss hanging out with my writer peeps here, beginning Monday May 28 I am launching The Candid Writer, a weekly newsletter that will bring you GWP style articles with a few extras. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Marcy is unable to join me in this venture.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have decided not to automagically subscribe everyone who thought they had signed up for a newsletter from GWP. I have been blogging about writing weekly, but after this week my writing posts will appear in The Candid Writer only. Half of the great articles here at GWP are mine, so I hope you make the switch and subscribe for content available exclusively through this weekly newsletter especially for new and emerging writers that will always be free.

If you enjoyed GWP, I encourage you to subscribe to The Candid Writer.

Lisa

Don’t forget you can subscribe to our blogs too!

Marcy Kennedy’s blog

Lisa Hall-Wilson’s blog

Do Writers Deserve to Be Paid for Their Work?

Two great discussions of interest to writers flew around the internet this week. So great in fact that I couldn’t choose between them to highlight for you.

Do writer’s deserve to be paid for their work?

This debate blew up after Seth Godin was quoted as saying, “Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage.”

You can read the original argument-inspiring article Godin to Authors: You Have No Right to Make Money Any More, and also literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s respond on her blog with do Authors Have A Right to Be Paid?

Should writers avoid controversy on their blogs?

Kristen Lamb wrote an excellent post called Deadly Doses – Politics, Religion, and Our Author Platform suggesting that unless you’re a religious or political writer, you should avoid talking about religion and politics on your blog (or at least be very careful about how you do it).

This ended up sparking responses both in the comments and on other blogs about not just politics and religion in blogging but controversy in general. My favorite reply came from Amber West in her post The Controversy Over Controversy.

Marcy

Marcy’s Posts This Week

What Do We Mean By “Strong Female Characters?” – Do female characters need to deny all traditionally feminine qualities to be considered strong? The first in a series Marcy is starting.

Yoda Was Wrong – At the risk of a nerd lynching, Marcy argues that Yoda was actually wrong when he said “there is no try.”

Lisa’s Posts This Week

Mare-Milkers and War Lords – The Scythians aren’t a well-known people group, but their innovations revolutionized ancient warfare. In their day, they were the boogey-men of the Greek world. These guys were downright scary.

Reminder: As of the end of this month, Lisa and I will no longer be blogging here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

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Reblogging Etiquette

ReBlogging EtiquetteLately I’ve seen a lot of bloggers wondering what the etiquette should be around reblogging (blogging something previously posted on another blog).

Before I get into the tips, let me say that I think re-blogging can be useful. If you’re being reblogged, it’s an honor that someone found your content worthy of sharing with their followers, and it can extend your reach and bring people back to your site without the effort of guest posting. If you’re the reblogger, it can sometimes be a lifesaver in terms of getting content up on your site when your week has fallen to pieces. Plus, you’re providing your readers a service through vetting material for them and bringing them the best.

If done incorrectly, though, reblogging flirts with the line of plagiarism. You don’t want to flirt with plagiarism. She carries some really nasty diseases.

So how can we reblog in a professional, mutually beneficial way?

Ask First

Unless you know that the blogger doesn’t mind others reblogging their content, always ask first.

With all the social media options available, it’s not that hard to reach a blogger anymore. If Lisa or I don’t respond to a comment on our blogs right away, you can usually catch us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or through email. I know that we’ve entered an age of instant gratification, but patience is still a virtue.

You should do more than just ask permission though. Not all reblogging is created equal. Find out the format the original blogger prefers. Are they alright with you copying the entire post onto your site? Or would they prefer you copy only the first couple of paragraphs with a link back to the full article?

Why does the format of the reblogging matter?

Comments – While I can’t speak for every blogger, I like to try to reply to comments on my post. If my post is appearing in full someplace else, chances are good I won’t be able to monitor the comments there as well as on my own site. With a guest post, you’re able to plan in advance. With a reblog, unlike with a regular guest post, I haven’t planned the extra social media time into my day to be able to check and reply to comments on two (or more) sites where my content is appearing.

Site Stats – If you’re a writer who’s blogging as part of building a platform, your site stats matter. They can influence whether you get an agent, whether people take you seriously, and (if you choose) whether you can eventually sell ad space on your site. The click-through rate for a post reblogged in full is much lower than for a partial repost with a link.

Common Courtesy – A good blog posts takes me 1-3 hours to write, depending on the complexity of the topic and the amount of research necessary. While I’m happy to share and to help, I’ve made significant sacrifices to produce my content, and I believe that still gives me the right to decide when and how it’s used.

Credit the Original Source

If something goes viral and you find it four people down the chain, go back and reblog from the original site. It’s respectful to the owner of the material, and it’s kind to your reader who won’t want to go back through a chain of sites to find the original source to see if they have more excellent content to read.

What if you follow the chain to a dead end? Part of being a responsible writer is doing your research and exercising due diligence. Run a Google search, and see if you can locate the original poster on your own.

Add An Introduction/Conclusion

If you end up reblogging the content in full, add an original introduction or conclusion telling people not only where you found the content but also why you thought it was worthy of reblogging. What’s the point that resonated the most with you? What do you disagree with?

Have you tried reblogging? What other pieces of etiquette do you think should be observed? Do you think reblogging is a great new trend that can benefit everyone or no better than plagiarism?

Marcy

**Remember that next week will be our last full week of posts here at Girls With Pens, so be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter (space is limited) and subscribe to Marcy’s blog and Lisa’s blog to continue receiving posts on writing, marketing, social media, and all the other goodies you’ve come to expect from us.**

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The Pinterest Problem

How many of you are on Pinterest? How many of you are thinking of joining the newest social media trend?

I joined only two weeks ago and fell instantly in love with the beauty of it. I’m a very visual, hands-on person. No other social media site lets you collect and share images in the same way. For writers, it provides an opportunity to create inspiration boards for our novels, promote each other’s books, and drive traffic to our blogs. It seemed to be the best of what social media has to offer in that it was both fun and functional.

Unfortunately, Pinterest’s terms of service have caused some concern across the web this week. According to the terms of service, if you upload your own work, you’re giving Cold Brew Labs complete and irrevocable rights to use, sell, or modify your work as they see fit. Without compensating you. Anytime someone wants all rights to my material, I get nervous. Especially if they’re not going to pay me for it.

But I don’t upload any of my own pictures or artwork, you say. This is an equally big problem.

Check out what you agreed to in Pinterest’s terms of service: “Neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.”

What this means is that if you don’t have the express permission of the person who does own the copyright to the images you pin and they decide to sue Pinterest, you’re 100% responsible.

If you want to do a little more reading on this (and believe me, I will be) here are a couple helpful articles I’ve come across.

Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards

Why Pinterest Is No Longer of Great Interest

Now, for a happier note, what have Lisa and I been up to this week…

Marcy’s asking Do You Believe in Second Chances? Tolkien did.

Lisa shares her recipe for Soldier Cookies, the ones she used to send to the troops in Afghanistan.

Marcy

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

And don’t forget to subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

The death of genre?

New writers and authors are told to know what genre they’re writing when querying agents or editors, but how many of the recent mega-bestsellers lately seem to defy genre categorization?

When Marcy and I were at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference, super-agent, author, and writing teacher Donald Maass gave a short talk promoting his soon to be released book Writing in the 21st Century. Maass made 2 primary statements that had me sitting up straighter.

1. There’s a significant rise in cross-genre fiction

2. There’s a decline in straight genre fiction

One claim logically seems to follow the other, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Maass pointed out the enormous surge of novels that seem to defy genre categorization. Is it literary fiction, women’s lit, romance, popular fiction – maybe a little of two or three.

I haven’t personally done the legwork of verifying this (feel free – let me know what you find out) but Maass claims that historically books were lucky to spend a month or 6 weeks on the bestseller list. That was a phenomenal showing as far as publishers were concerned. But within the last 2 years or so, there’s been these blips on the list – books lasting weeks and months at the top. Now, Hollywood has long poached the bestseller list for books to turn into screenplays, but being turned into a movie later doesn’t explain how debut books immediately shot to the top of the list, and stayed there long after the movie was released.

The following stats were taken from the USA Today’s Bestselling Books site:

Water For Elephants – 194 weeks

Twilight – 220 weeks

The Help – 144 weeks

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 145 weeks

The Hunger Games – 130 weeks

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 273 weeks

The Lovely Bones – 223 weeks

The Notebook – 215 weeks

And you contrast those numbers against well-known bestselling authors:

44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel – 12 weeks

The 9th Judgment by James Patterson – 25 weeks

11/22/63 by Stephen King – 15 weeks

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks – 55 weeks

Now – don’t get me wrong. If I had a novel on the bestseller list at all I’d be doing a happy dance right now. Maass’ point was to look at what made books last so long on readers’ lists and minds? He drew 2 conclusions:

1. In the 21st century, the concept of genre is dying

2. Genre is being replaced by high impact fiction – beautiful storytelling and powerful writing that touches your heart and changes how you think about things.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a thriller about a reporter and his assistant chasing a grisly serial killer. It’s about a girl who’s gotten the short stick all her life, but has managed to survive and live life by her own rules despite what society says. It’s about one man’s integrity and his stand against a bully.

The Help isn’t just a period novel about racial inequality, it’s about Skeeter taking the biggest risk of her life to achieve her dream, about Minny breaking free of an abusive husband.

Harry Potter isn’t just about a boy training to be a wizard.

According to Maass, that’s what sets these novels apart. I’m eager to read his new book and see what else he has to say.

Do you agree with Maass? Have you read any of those mega best-sellers? What do you think?

Some great posts this week from around the web:

Amazon-Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Kristen Lamb

13 Ways To Impress An Agent by Rachelle Gardner

Author Websites – Layering yours with sticky extras by Roni Loren

Share some writerly love with Book Pregnant

Lisa

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Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

A lot of people put ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Thanks to Amazon, Smashwords, and fee-based publishing companies, having a book with your name on the spine is easier than ever. There’s never been a better time to be an author, never been more options, but simply being published means very little now.

When everyone is special, then no one is.

The Author Is Now In Control
Authors are entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of the solitary writer holed up in a writing cave never interacting with readers. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing, the stigma is attached to books that do poorly. Your book must earn respect now with sales and Amazon rankings determining value, not the name of the publisher on the spine. Indie and self-publishing avenues (digital especially) have leveled the playing field. But with privilege comes responsibility. For the first time writers have choices – you can traditionally publish or self publish or both, but either way the burden of responsibility for success rests with the author.

A Leveled Playing Field
Traditional publishers have always offered distribution, something authors couldn’t get anywhere else. The cover art, editing, interior design are all services that many publishers are outsourcing anyway, but with digital there’s no longer any need for distribution. Barry Eisler made publishing news a few months ago when he turned down a BIG (I mean, never have to write again big) deal from St. Martin’s Press. He was then approached by Amazon to publish with them first digitally and then in paper at a much higher royalty rate. He didn’t need either St. Martin’s or Amazon for distribution – he already has a substantial platform, but Amazon offered direct to consumer marketing he could tap into. At the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York, Eisler claimed he’s made more on the book published with Amazon, than on any of his traditionally published books. Self-publishing was the smart business decision for him.

Writing Is A Business
Traditional publishers typically offer 17.5% royalty rates, but with self-publishing authors keep upwards of 75% royalties. Writing is a business and the business is connecting with readers. Traditional or self-published doesn’t matter because the self-published or indie author can hire an editor and the same cover designer as the big publishers, and put out a comparably packaged product. But not all books are created equal – and whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, failing to connect with readers will be reflected in customer reviews and sales numbers. Just putting a book out there doesn’t mean anyone will buy it – or find it in this crowded marketplace.

Read more about The Business of Writing with this exclusive GWP interview with author and writing teacher James Scott Bell.

A New Business Model
A new business model is emerging. Previously, a traditionally published author would put out 1 new title a year (or less than that), and then build a speaking and teaching career beneath the writing career. Indie publishers are telling new writers to publish 3-5 books a year to keep readers coming back. Writers must be entrepreneurs. Many of the successful independent authors have a team of writers writing for them – their name has become a brand – almost like a fashion label. But this also opens up markets where previously there were none – like short stories and poetry.

In Summary
If you don’t have a top-notch product (book), don’t have great packaging (interior design, cover art, binding, cover copy), and a social network who will share and recommend your work – you’re playing the author lotto (and the odds aren’t in your favor).

The average self-published title sells 80 copies. You can’t live off that. But the good news is that those are all things you can control through hard work. It’s a lot of trial and error, learning from what didn’t work as much as what did. These authors spoke of testing titles with Facebook ads, and monopolizing a word through Google ads. It’s a serious, purposeful business model being planned up to two years in advance.

Being traditionally published gives you instant credibility with retailers and to a certain extent readers, but that’s overcome with reader reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon rankings, etc. This is a really exciting time to be a writer. Authors no longer need the brick&mortar bookstore, the agent or New York publisher to be a success (whether publishing digitally or not) and that’s changed a lot of things.

Read more about self-publishing from these successful authors:

Debora Geary – paranormal author
LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author

Lisa

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Kodak Shakes the Publishing World

Check out Marcy’s newest post: 3 Lessons on Reaching Your Goals from The Vow – My attempt to avoid Jar-Jar Binks in 3-D turned into watching The Vow, where a woman loses her memory and her husband tries to make her fall in love with him again. The movie was mediocre, but I ended up learning three great lessons about goals and dreams.

Check out Lisa’s newest post: Ever dreamed of going somewhere – your dream destination. You’ve spent so much time looking at photos, planning trips you can’t take, and dreaming you’re afraid if you actually do get to go you won’t want to come home?

Lisa is also being interviewed here today on writing. Pop over and check it out!

Kodak Is Now the Biggest News in Publishing

Last month, Kodak filed for bankruptcy and caused many to start thinking about whether the publishing industry is going to continue to head down the same path. If you haven’t read these posts on what the publishing world can do to avoid the same fate, take the time today. It’s well worth it.

Rachelle Gardner has a three part series asking “Do You Know What Business You’re In?” “Do You Know Your Customer?” and “Are We Ready for Change?

Kristen Lamb talks about Bracing for Impact – The Future of Big Publishing In the New Paradigm.

What do you think about the path publishing is on? What one change do you think would make the most difference?

Marcy

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Tips for Writers Thinking of Self-Publishing – Guest Post

We’ve decided to go the traditional route with our novel and are currently querying agents (as you may have guessed from our trip to the Writer’s Digest conference in New York a few weeks ago), but we know that many of you are considering the self-published or indie publishing route. So when self-published author Darlene Jones asked if she could do a guest post for us here at Girls With Pens, we knew exactly what we would ask. Could she give some practical starter tips on things that writers considering self-publishing need to consider? Take it away Darlene . . .

*****************************************************************************************************************

Darlene Jones self-publishingI did all the things writers are supposed to do: joined a writers’ guild, attended workshops, participated in a critique group, had a few short pieces published, started a blog, sent out queries to agents, received rejections, and built up a thick skin.

At the Willamette Writers’ Conference (August 2011), my writing partner and I heard much rumbling about self-publishing. We agonized during the drive home. Self-publish? Oh, but the stigma. Our pitches were successful, so should we wait to hear from those agents and then decide? What to do? What to do?

I got a two paragraph response from agent number one—to say “No.” I opened the next email, which was from my writing buddy. She’d received a rejection from the same agent. Two different genres and two very different writing styles. Both professionally copy edited. The rejections were identical except for our names.

That was it. Self-publishing here I come.

Tips from my experience:

Make the decision to self-publish.

This is the biggest step, and you must be committed to going that route. Self-publishing is as hard or harder than going the traditional route.

Set yourself up publicly.

I already had a blog and was on Facebook. I joined Twitter and Goodreads since they were the social media sites most often mentioned in my research as good for author support. I also built a website using Webstarts, who I’d worked with before. Be sure to choose a user-friendly platform if you want to be able to revise it as you go without a web guy.

Research.

I spent over a month trolling the Internet, reading everything I could find on self-publishing. John Locke’s “How To” was a must and reading that really inspired me to “go for it.” Many of the sites I visited were ones recommended on Twitter, so follow other self-published authors there.

Make lists.

Make a list of websites to go back to when your book launches—sites where you can ask for reviews or interviews. I’m still adding to that list as I find sites. I also have a long list of marketing ideas and a long list of personal contacts to announce my launch to.

Hire professionals to help you.

I already mentioned I’d had my work professionally copy edited, but there are other professionals you’ll need to hire.

Unless you are a total computer whiz, I think the headache of formatting isn’t worth it. Concentrate your energy on writing and marketing.

You must also have your cover done professionally. Look at the covers of other self-published authors to find a good graphic designer. I was reading an author site and liked his covers. I contacted the artist he listed, and we emailed back and forth discussing possibilities. The deal was cemented for me when she refused a deposit, saying, “You’ve worked hard on your book. You should see my work and decide if you like it before we talk money.” I also wanted to work with her because she could do the formatting as well as the cover

Decide where you’ll publish your book.

By now, with all your research, you should have some idea of who you want to publish with. I went with Createspace for the print version, and with Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for all other formats. I chose these largely based on advice from speakers at the Willamette conference. All three have been very good to work with. The instructions on their sites are easy to follow, and their support people were prompt in answering any questions I did have.

Be patient. This all takes time.

I launched my book a couple months ago. I’ve had wonderful support from family and friends. I’m doing guest blogs like this one, and I have people lined up for reviews. I believe my book deserves readers and hope that I can market well enough to attract those readers. But I don’t expect overnight success. Gaining readers takes time.

Self-publishing tipsWant to know more about Darlene? You can find her on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter, and you can check out her book at Amazon or Smashwords.

How many of you are considering self-publishing and how many of you want to traditionally publish? What’s your number one reason for your choice?

The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell

Marcy and I had the privilege of meeting James Scott Bell at the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference in California last year. He gave us a free critique (part of the conference) and helped set us on a new path to publication that landed us in New York at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And who did we find there? James Scott Bell. He was a guest speaker, so we had a chance to reconnect. Much to our great delight he remembered us. He graciously agreed to give this interview on the business of writing.

Thank you so much, Jim! And to our readers, enjoy. 🙂

Lisa

LHW: You’re a successful author who’s sold a lot of books, but in support of the writing career you speak and teach at conferences, tweet, blog, give interviews <grin>. What myth would you most like to dispel for new writers about the successful writer’s life?

JSB: That it ever gets easier. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. Or should. Your standards go up with each book. You know more, you set the bar higher. And you want it to, if you’re a real writer. I have a number of bestselling author friends, and they all feel this way. It’s nice to have a career doing this, certainly. But it’s work, too. Don’t think it’s ever a fluffy ride on a cloud.

LHW: You’ve stated elsewhere that new writers need to focus on craft first – without a good book the rest doesn’t matter. But, at what point in an author’s early career should they begin thinking about the business behind the writing? How does one plan for that? What are the key items to think through, and consider?

JSB: A writer should think about this being a business from the very start. Know how the business runs, what publishers and agents and readers look for, what sells and does not sell. Learn how to plan at least two years ahead. Set goals for finishing projects and getting them out there. Learn about production–editing, cover design, copywriting and copyrighting. This approach establishes its own momentum. You can be doing things every day toward your goals, and there’s a power in that.

At the same time, never think that business knowledge and marketing can cover a multitude of writing sins. One still has to be able to consistently deliver the goods, and that means learning the craft by writing, revising, studying, getting feedback, and more writing.

LHW: You have a wide range of new ‘products’ being offered through ebooks, traditionally published fiction and non-fiction books (at my count you released 9 books in different formats on Amazon in 2011). You’re speaking and teaching at writers conferences, and Donald Maas just announced that the two of you will be doing a new workshop together in the fall. There’s been a lot of doom and gloom talk about publishing lately. In your opinion, is this a good time to be a new writer/author?

JSB: Never a better time to be an author! Ever. Period. Because of choices. It’s always been hard to get published traditionally. And yes, it’s harder at this moment because of the shakeups in the industry. Not impossible. New authors are getting deals. But we have the independent route now that means there’s a real alternative. There wasn’t before. Yes, you could pay a lot of money to self-publish in print, but 99% of the time you couldn’t sell enough to make any real dough. Not only has indie publishing been a boon for books, but also for short stories and novellas. The latter market was virtually non-existant. Now it’s back, better than ever.

Yes, it’s a great time to be a writer.

LHW: A lot of indie authors are telling new writers they must be prolific and produce new content often, 3-5books a year, to be successful. Not many traditionally published authors can manage that kind of output. Looking ahead, what do you predict will be the key factors for a successful writing career? Being prolific? A wide range of ‘products’? Social media clout?

JSB: I love being prolific, but I don’t think you need to put a number on the speed of production. Consistency is a better word. A writer who wants to succeed at this needs to establish a consistent rate of production (I always use a weekly quota of words), and plan projects out in advance (I have enough for at least five years hence). The “keys” to success are quality and consistency, which is why I advocate a systematic studying of the craft of writing for the rest of your life. Some writers sniff at craft study, but they are fooling themselves and others. Would you want your brain operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t keep up with the medical journals? Make craft study a part of the “quality control” of your business–and all writers are in business for themselves.

Social media certainly has a role to play, but if one gets obsessive about it, the ROE (Return on Energy) just doesn’t add up. Recent studies have shown that books are not sold in great numbers via social media. Create relationships with readers in social media, but always remember the best thing to do is write excellent books and let word of mouth take over. Concentrate your energy there.

LHW: Any advice for emerging authors about the business of writing?

JSB: Learn business principles: goal setting, time management, marketing fundamentals, quality control, pricing, copywriting, sales. You can get good books on all of these and study them when you can. I wrote a book, The Art of War for Writers, which covers a lot of this territory, but you can go deeper into each area.

The most important things a writer can do are, in order of importance:

1. Write

2. Keep improving what you write (study craft, get critiques)

3. Sell what you write (via marketing and business principles)

And try to enjoy the ride. I blogged about a new definition of success for writers, where freedom is the operative word. Freedom and responsibility. It’s exhilarating to hold them in your own hands.

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Deceived, Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear, One More Lie and Watch Your Back. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writers Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Under the pen name K. Bennett he has written the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He lives and writes in L.A. His website is www.jamesscottbell.com

What do you think? Is this a doom and gloom time for writers, or a world of new opportunities?

Crafting Your 90-Second Pitch

Pitching Your NovelWhether you’re pitching an agent at a conference or through a query letter, you need to create the perfect pitch, one that would take 60 to 90 seconds to say and would take up about half a written page to type (leaving you room for your credentials and some personalization for each agent).

(Self-published authors – you need this too. This is your cover copy and Amazon blurb!)

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop run by Chuck Sambuchino, author of the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, on how to write the perfect pitch. Thanks in large part to his workshop, Lisa and I had great success at the three-hour pitch slam in New York. Although not every agent asked us to send them something, every one of them complimented our pitch.

So what does it take to make the perfect pitch?

Don’t start off with your pitch.

I know. This is a post about writing the perfect pitch, but you don’t want to leap right into the body of the pitch. Imagine a meal where you didn’t get to smell or see the food first. Wouldn’t it be weird to take a blind bite?

Give the details of your book first—genre, title, word count, and whether it’s complete.

My co-writer and I have a completed 100,000 word historical fantasy called The Amazon Heir.

(Note: According to Sambuchino, books are titled, people are entitled.)

You might want to argue that the details are boring and you need to immediately catch the agent’s interest, but when you give the details first, it shows the agent that you’re pitching something they represent. When you’re able to name your genre and give a word count that’s appropriate, it also shows you know where your book fits in the market. Finally, it gives the agent a framework into which to place your book so there’s less confusion.

Follow with the logline.

A logline is a one-sentence summary of your book. Sambuchino likened this to the cover on a published book. When you pick up a book, you get an instant impression of the book from the cover. Since you don’t have a cover to show the agent, give them something vivid to hold on to.

(In the workshop, someone asked if they should bring a cover mock-up with them to a pitch, and the resounding answer was NO. You need a written logline, you shouldn’t be handing an agent anything in a one-on-one pitch, and you definitely shouldn’t be including extras with any submission.)

Loglines come in different varieties.

You can compare your book to others that are out there. A comparison logline won’t work for every book, but when it does, instant picture.

Our logline ended up being Xena warrior princess meets Game of Thrones.

We have a fast-paced, action-packed story featuring a sexy Amazon princess (like Xena) that’s also full of rich details, political intrigue surrounding an heir, and a power struggle over two thrones (Game of Thrones-style).

For advice on writing a more traditional logline (character + conflict + stakes), check out this post I did a few months back on crafting a 25-word pitch (a.k.a. your logline).

Introduce your main character(s).

Now you start the meaty part of your pitch. From this point on, you need to summarize your book in 3-10 sentences.

Introduce your main character by telling what they want or by saying something interesting about them (or both).

Zerynthia is an Amazon princess with more man-kills than any other. Tradition says that to take her mother’s throne she needs a female heir from a prince of the nation that’s known as the boogeyman of the Greek world.

Don’t name any characters other than your main character(s). The fewer names you include, the better. You can usually refer to any other characters that need to be mentioned by their relationship to your main character (e.g. her brother, his childhood friend).

Give the inciting incident.

What propels the story into motion and moves everything forward? What is it that disrupts your character’s normal life and forces them to act?

Tell what happens next.

Just tell us what your story is about in an exciting, genre-appropriate way. What do your characters do in reaction to the inciting incident? What are the stakes if they fail?

Don’t include subplots.

If the agent doesn’t need to know it to understand your plot, leave it out. The example Sambuchino gave was “The main character is an elven princess who bids on an alien planet.” You don’t need to give the name of the planet or the race of elves she belongs to for the agent to understand the basis of your plot.

Only name your theme if it’s really, super unique. (Most themes aren’t, and that’s okay.)

Add in complications.

What other bad stuff happens?

When Kaduis’ brother devises a plot to cast doubt on the paternity of their child, their nations are brought to the brink of war.

Avoid generalities like “life gets turned upside down.” You want to paint specific pictures to help the agent get an idea of your voice and to keep their attention.

Don’t give away the ending.

In a synopsis, you always tell the ending. In a pitch, you’re only covering about the first half of your story and leaving them hanging.

Should you pitch a series?

Just pitch one book. If you have to say something, say, “This book could easily be a standalone project, but it could also be the start of a trilogy.” That lets the agent know you’re flexible.

What’s the point of your pitch?

In his book How to Write A Great Query Letter, agent Noah Lukeman writes, “Many writers hope to, in this one page letter, convey all the nuances of their plot, their characters, to convey everything about who they are, and to, by its end, have an agent commit to represent them. Herein lies the problem. Most writers expect too much of a query letter . . . The goal of a query letter is, simply, to get an agent to want to read more” (16).

That’s honestly the point of every step along the way from query letter to published book—get them to want to read more.

Does this make you want to re-work your pitch (the way it did for us)? Or does it give you confidence that your pitch is ready to go?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.