Professional Etiquette for Writers

OR, You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

In their book, Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta lay out the following bit of advice:

“Never, never, ever, never, never, never, never ever be a jerk.”

I’m half tempted to offer a hearty “Amen!” and end this blog post right here, because I’m not sure you’ll ever hear a better suggestion on how to act as a writer, nay, as a human being. But in the interest of hitting my word count, allow me to expand on this idea further by way of a real-world example.

A few months ago, I attended a writer’s conference with my sister, Lisa. In addition to both being published authors, Lisa and I have worked in the publishing industry for many years: she as an editor, and I as a slushpile reader. We had both taught classes at the conference, and Lisa was ending the day by taking pitches from some of the attendees.

At the close of the conference, I found myself waiting outside the room where Lisa was hearing the final pitches of the day. Realizing that the pitches were taking longer than expected, I pulled out my laptop and proceeded to catch up on a few work items as I waited.

Shortly thereafter, a man approached and asked if he could take the seat next to me. I agreed, and we introduced ourselves. He mentioned that he had attended one of my classes earlier, and that he had enjoyed it. I thanked him and asked if he was waiting to pitch his story. He replied that he had already pitched to Lisa earlier, and that he was waiting because he wanted to ask her a follow-up question. He then began to ask me about reading in the slushpile, how long I had been doing it, and how I made decisions as to what I recommended versus what I passed on. They were the sort of questions I get asked all the time from new writers, and I was happy to answer them in a little more detail.

Our conversation was moving along quite nicely when I began to sense that he was inching towards pitching his story to me. He kept bringing the conversation back around to the book he was working on, and while I was trying to remain friendly and supportive, I was also trying to subtly convey the message that I was not the person he should be pitching to, especially when I didn’t initiate a request to hear about his book.

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Unfortunately, my new friend wasn’t picking up on the message. He grew bolder, the conversation became more and more one-sided, and he proceeded to dump more and more of his book on me. I didn’t want to be outright rude to him, but I was becoming more annoyed with him the longer he went on. I kept trying to indicate that this wasn’t the time or place, and that I wasn’t the person he should be talking to, but he wasn’t hearing me. By the time he pulled out a three-ring binder and started showing pictures he’d downloaded that represented what he felt his characters would look like, and launched into a presentation of how his insanely complicated magic system worked, I’d had enough. I faked an incoming phone call, and excused myself to the other side of the room.

A few minutes later, Lisa exited the pitch room, only to find herself face to face with this fellow, who excitedly asked if she remembered him (she did), and if she had any questions about what they had discussed during his pitch session (she didn’t). Lisa looked at me and screamed a silent “SAVE ME” with her eyes. I immediately came back and we excused ourselves from the situation.

As soon as we were out of earshot, we began to debrief each other about our experiences with this person. Not only had his pitch session been a train wreck of infodumping and Internet photos (which Lisa had expressly told him not to show her), it turns out he had been emailing Lisa and other people in the office for a few weeks already. In fact, by the time we arrived back home, we both discovered that we had brand new emails from this guy waiting for us. And we were both annoyed.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for confidence, gumption, and general sticktoitivness in terms of how you present yourself. And it’s good to stand out a bit from the legion of other writers out there. But folks, hear me loud and clear on this point: you want to stand out for the right reasons!

You should practice your “elevator pitch” in case someone wants to know what your book is about. And if they ask, then go for it. But always—ALWAYS—be a professional. Don’t be THAT GUY or THAT GAL. Don’t ambush people with your pitch if they haven’t asked for it. And especially don’t get under the skin of the very people whom you are hoping will read your book and decide its future.

Because if I’m the guy who ends up reading your book in the slushpile, then you want me to be as happy as humanly possible. You want me to be sunshine and rainbows and little animated birds fluttering about as I read. You don’t want me to remember the time you trapped me at a writer’s conference and wouldn’t let me go until I had heard about every single character and plot point. You don’t want me going into your story already irritated with you. In the words of Bruce Banner: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

If you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, then you must act like a professional. Publishers don’t want to work with writers who are self-important divas, who can’t take criticism or direction, or who are just plain difficult.

In short: Don’t be a jerk.

Can I get an “Amen!”?

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

 

Pitch Writing 101: What’s at Stake?

Pitches are hard.

I could just end the post there and you’d all feel super validated, right? And I am all about validation. That dry eyeball feeling you get from staring at the screen too long? Totally normal. The way your fingers curl in on themselves and you’re not sure if it’s because your body wants to end the torture session you call “Pitch Writing” or because they’ve taken on a life of their own and are thinking about clawing your eyeballs right out of your head?

Okay, maybe that’s just me.

But while I firmly believe any author who claims “pitch writing is FUN!” is a couple sentences short of a full paragraph, there are a few tips I think might prove helpful to you. Being a long-time co-host of the annual Pitch Slam contest doesn’t mean I’m an expert, of course, but what it does mean is that I’ve read a lot of pitches over the years.

Here are my thoughts based on those experiences. What makes a pitch work (or not) for me:

Stakes.

94.37% of the time, stakes are the ideal way to hook your reader. What’s on the line for your character? What do they want more than anything in the world? What will happen if they fail?

Start with the basic formula:

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And then refine from there.

Stakes are vital, but so is knowing who they’re happening to. For the love of words, use your character’sNAME. Please. Not all the characters, of course. We shouldn’t have to swim through character soup to get your plotline. But if your story is about a seventeen-year-old gymnast named Steve, make sure those details are in your pitch. Let us know who we should be rooting for.

BE SPECIFIC.

There’s a big difference between intrigue and mystery, but time and again I see people confuse the two. Avoid vagueness at all costs.

For Example:

Pitch #1: When she went to work she had no idea the danger she’d be walking into. Now, she must overcome a dangerous foe, or the worst day of her life might be her last.

 Pitch #2: Twenty-three-year-old bank teller Maria Santos yearns to get home to her infant son, but if she can’t get through to the bomb-wielding psycho robbing the bank, she and the forty-two other hostages are done for.

The first pitch is very mysterious, isn’t it? So mysterious, we don’t know the character’s name, occupation, life situation, who her “dangerous foe” is, why this is the “worst day of her life,” or why her life is in danger. Funny thing? Pitch #2 only uses two more words than pitch number one does, and yet communicates ten times as much information.

Mystery is not your friend. Don’t try to surprise the reader with the secret of what your book is about. That’s what the pitch is supposed to tell them!

USE YOUR WORDS.

As I’m always saying to my children: Use Your Words. Going under the expected word count can do as much damage as going over. Remember Steve the Gymnast who I mentioned earlier? How much more powerful does that character introduction become if I call him “Steve the reluctant gymnast” or “Steve the singing gymnast” or “Steve the blackmailing gymnast?” A single word can make a world of difference.

Strive for perfection (and know you’re still awesome even if you don’t achieve it). Read your pitch out loud. Write it out by hand. Have friends proofread for you. Share it with people who know nothing about your story. If your pitch has only had one pair of eyes on it, odds are it’s not ready yet.

Comp Titles.

Whoo boy, is this is a tricky subject. Some writers just love using comp titles in pitches. They can be remarkably effective in a query (I encourage all my editing clients to use them), because they demonstrate that you know your genre. My personal opinion though? Comps usually don’t belong in a pitch. You have a limited word count, and I think those words should be about your story, not someone else’s. That said, if they’re the perfect comparisons, they CAN work. I’ve seen them work. But only about 5% of the time.

Don’t assume you’re in the 5%. Get second, third, fourth, and fifth opinions.

Back to number 1 on my list. Stakes. All the coolest people are talking about them. They’re missing in pitches. They’re missing in queries. The question, “But what’s at stake?” gets lobbed around a lot, because stakes create empathy.

Knowing the main character has something to lose helps the reader invest themselves in the story on an emotional level. And when you shine the spotlight on “If Main Character doesn’t do BLANK, then DOOM will happen,” the suspense intensifies by a factor of 57% (-ish). Stakes are the match that lights the “What’s going to happen?!” fire.

So how do you figure out what the stakes of your story are?

Try framing it as a “What if?” What happens if your Main Character fails? What if they don’t save the world? What if they don’t let themselves fall in love? What if the bus driver never solves the mystery of why he wakes up with a new tattoo every morning?

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Picture a different ending for these popular stories. Picture Harry failing and Voldemort triumphing. Picture the havoc a functioning Death Star could wreak on the galaxy—the innumerable lives it could snuff out. Picture sweet little Wilbur dead and butchered. Picture him sizzling in a frying pan.

That feeling of unease you’re feeling (assuming you let me boss you around, your imagination is functional, and you have a heart) is what you’re shooting for in your stakes-based pitches, and in your query. Make the reader uncomfortable. Introduce them to your amazing, unique, memorable main character, show them what that character wants more than anything, then make them sick with worry over the potential consequences.

Not all stories have happy endings. Make your reader terrified that yours might be one of them.

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kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

Eight Tips for Pitching your Book at a Conference

Next week I’ll be at the Storymakers conference, where I’m one of the agent liaisons. (I’ve spent more time than I care to think of in the last week scheduling pitch sessions and sending emails about said pitch sessions). As part of my job, I also get to field questions from attendees about how to best approach their pitch sessions.

Most of these tips can be summed up under be prepared and be professional.

BE PREPARED

Do your research. Before the conference starts, make sure you know something about the agent or editor you’re meeting with. What kinds of books do they represent?

Prepare your pitch. Even though most pitch sessions are ten minutes, you don’t want your pitch to take the full ten minutes. Your pitch should be a short introduction to your book—something that will encourage the agent or editor to ask more questions. A good pitch will convey the plot, genre, and tone of the book—as well as what makes your story unique.

There are lots of great tips for elevator pitches online, but my basic rule for pitches is to include character (who is the story about), goal (what does the character want), conflict (what’s keeping them from what they want), and consequence (what’s at stake if the character fails—and if they succeed). For example, for A New Hope, a young farmboy (character) must learn to control his newfound Jedi powers to destroy the Empire’s newest weapon (goal and conflict) before the Empire quashes their rebellion (consequence).

Practice your pitch! This is harder than it sounds, because you want to sound natural talking about your book. Even if you’ve memorized your pitch, you should be able to deliver it in a conversational style. Practice on your friends (especially the ones you trust to tell you if you sound robotic). If you’re feeling brave, try asking fellow conference goers if they’ll let you practice your pitch on them.

Prepare questions. As mentioned above, your pitch shouldn’t take the full ten minutes. But if the agent or editor seems to exhaust their questions with time to spare, don’t panic! Use the rest of the time to ask the agent questions about publishing, market trends, querying, etc. Their expertise is an invaluable resource. Don’t let it go to waste.

BE PROFESSIONAL

Dress and act as a professional. Look like the professional writer you aspire to be. First impressions do matter, whether we want them to or not.

Be friendly in the session—don’t jump right into your pitch. A few seconds of greeting and small talk can help you relax and set a warmer tone for the pitch. As you’re pitching, remember not to monopolize the conversation. Let the agent or editor ask questions about you and your book; try to keep your answers concise so that you can cover more ground in the pitch session.

Be timely. This means both arrive early to your session so you’re ready to go when the agent is, and also wrap up your session when you’re given the signal to do so.

Say thank you. At the end of the session, remember to thank the agent for their time. It’s a nice gesture that doesn’t cost much, and can cement a good impression for the agent.

Take notes afterward. You can cover a lot of territory in ten minutes—it’s a good idea to take a few minutes after your session to write down any thoughts and impressions before they’re lost.

(Bonus) Have fun! In the stress of pitching, it’s easy to forget that you and the agent share an important commonality: you both love books. This is a chance to meet an interesting new person, and even if they may not be destined to be your agent, you can glean some great tips from the session—and maybe even enjoy yourself. My very favorite pitch session was one where we spent fully half of the session talking about the books we loved. While the pitch itself went well, it’s that conversation that stays with me.

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.

Surviving the Dreaded Elevator Pitch

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I posted this meme about how writers eloquently arrange words on the page, but when faced with the question, “What is your book about?” we turn into bumbling fools. The response was unanimous. All across the publishing community writers admitted that vocal pitches aren’t their strength. Which got me thinking, what makes a solid elevator pitch?

Using a YA thriller for an example, a previous manuscript of mine, here’s the breakdown:

  1. A pitch must have the following:

  • A protagonist
  • The protagonist’s main objective
  • The antagonist/antagonistic force
  1. Don’t use the protagonist’s name

It provides no essential information and so is unnecessary. Instead, tell us something uncomplicated about the main character. Who are they?

  • A high school senior
  1. Use an adjective to provide insight to the protagonist

This is your chance to show character depth, so beware of clichés. It is also helpful to describe a characteristic that pertains to the plot. What is pivotal to know about the protagonist?

  • A straight-A high school senior…
  1. Clearly and concisely present the protagonist’s main objective

This is what drives the story—and your pitch. The protagonist’s goal must be apparent right away or the agent/editor may quit listening. What does your protagonist want or lack?

  • A straight-A high school senior bound for med school…
  1. Describe the antagonist

The antagonist should be described in a similar manner to the hero. If the hero faces more general antagonistic forces, clarify what he/she is up against. What will prevent the hero from attaining his/her goal?

  • …is unwillingly included in a secret clinical trial testing a permanent form of birth control, which side effects include scenting sex pheromones and teen suicide.
  1. Your protagonist must be proactive

He/she should drive the plot. A good pitch will show the action of the story, the narrative momentum that carries your audience to the end.

  • To survive her senior year, she must discover what was done to her, and how to reverse it…
  1. Include stakes and/or a ticking time bomb

These useful narrative devices add urgency. What is the consequence if the protagonist doesn’t achieve his/her goal?

  • before she’s the next to self-destruct.
  1. Setup

Some stories operate in a world with different rules to our own and require a concise setup (e.g. science fiction or fantasy). Other stories have a protagonist whose personal or psychological history is crucial to the story and must be explained. Again, be succinct. What about your unique world hinders the protagonist’s goal?

  1. The ending

Do not reveal the twist. The story, and thus the pitch, should hold up by itself; a surprise ending should be a satisfactory bonus upon reading your manuscript.

Full Pitch

A straight-A high school senior bound for med school is unwillingly included in a secret clinical trial testing a permanent form of birth control, which side effects include scenting sex pheromones and teen suicide. To survive her senior year, she must discover what was done to her, and how to reverse it, before she’s the next to self-destruct.

So there you have it, everything you need to construct a pitch that will snag agents and editors. Practice your pitch, time yourself (it should be 30 seconds or less), memorize it, and then try it out. People will let you know if you’ve hit a homerun.

Pro Tip: Write a decent pitch before drafting. An unfocused plot and character at the pitch stage may mean you aren’t ready to pen the manuscript.

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

How to Pitch a Class

We Sure Know How to Pick ‘Em!

Every year I oversee the faculty and class selection for an amazing conference held each spring in Utah. You can learn more about it here. The goal is to balance the needs of novice and expert writers, theory with practice, and novelty with the essentials. It’s not easy. I have to comb through nearly 300 class proposals and choose only a fraction of them. Nothing makes me happier than when the people proposing the classes make it even harder for us to decide by pitching amazing ideas.

After looking at over a thousand proposal in the last few years, here’s what jumps out if you want to increase your chances of pitching a winning class proposal.

1. Credentials matter. 

You don’t have to be a bestseller, but you should propose to teach something you have standing in. Also, in the part where a form requests your bio, be sure to include any expertise related to the class you’re proposing.

WRONG WAY: Recently, I vetted a proposal that on the surface I loved, but it dealt with a specific historical period and the instructor’s details were all wrong. It referenced works as examples of that era, but they weren’t actually set in that period. Oops.

ALSO THE WRONG WAY: People pitch marketing classes on how to launch or sell books, but when I go to check their books on Amazon, they have less than a dozen reviews on their titles. This doesn’t inspire confidence that this author has cracked the code for how to sell lots of books.

THE RIGHT WAY: A New York Times bestselling author with five titles to her credit has my attention if she offers to teach about how to pace novels. So does a debut author who offers to teach about writing stories with high concept hooks if his book has a high concept hook. So does an established indie author who offers to teach about characterization if her reviews on Amazon or Goodreads are plentiful and consistently mention how much the readers love the characters.

ALSO THE RIGHT WAY: If you’ve found a technique that has truly changed the course of your writing, propose it. For example, if you’ve found a way to boost your productivity to crazy levels while parenting a brood of little ones, YOU have standing. It’s measurable and worth sharing with others.

2. Novelty matters.

We can always cover the basics. We will always know who can teach introductory classes on dialogue, pacing, tension, etc. What we do not know about are the experts who can come in and teach something applicable to our writers that the average writer can’t Google.

We’ve had pitches from a former LAPD detective volunteering to come in and teach about real crime scene investigation, a geneticist who volunteered to teach about the plausibility of actual creature hybrids, a collector of medieval weapons who brought his massive collection to demonstrate fighting techniques, a medical doctor who took questions about medical situations in people’s novels. SO MUCH YES.

But there are other kinds of novelty too, like classes on how dissecting Joss Whedon’s work can improve storytelling, a class on why stories need an element of surprise and how to craft it, how to produce your own audio books, and why integrating food into your stories enhances the reader’s experience.

3. Voice matters.

We can tell a lot about you as a presenter from your pitch. Sometimes you fool us by writing up a dynamic, engaging proposal but delivering a flat class. However, it rarely happens the other way. Presenters who phone in the proposal almost always phone in the presentation too. To this we say, “Bye, Felicia.”

WRONG WAY: Don’t use generic language that could have been lifted from a university course catalog (or whatever kids use these days to choose classes).

ALSO THE WRONG WAY: Don’t be so over the top creative with the proposal that we can’t tell what you’re actually trying to pitch. (We think either you don’t understand your audience and therefore won’t give you one, or that you may go for flash over professionalism.)

RIGHT WAY: Write it the way you would to entice attendees to come to your class when they have a long list of options to choose from at the same time. Let your pitch show confidence and personality without veering into ego and eccentricity. Also, make it specific enough for potential attendees to understand what they’re getting, otherwise they project their own expectations onto your class and ding you in the evaluations when you don’t deliver.

4. Specificity is KING.

Don’t pitch a class that you don’t know how you’re going to teach. Don’t come up with a cool idea and cobble enough of a vision together to speak in generalities. We know you don’t really know what your class is going to be about yet.

RIGHT WAY: Give details that allow the selection committee to see what unique angle you’re taking over the four other people proposing a similar topic.

I’ll close with some examples of great pitches and a breakdown of why I would love to see them in my conference rotation.

1.“Neil Gaiman once said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” In this one-hour session, learn the methods and tools reference librarians use to target not just relevant information, but the right information for any type of inquiry. We’ll cover everything from the basics (Boolean operators are your friends, baby!); to primary sources and reference interviews; as well to how to access deep web, search engine-invisible materials. In addition, we’ll cover ways to maximize research travel, interview experts, and verify the accuracy of photos, articles, and other documents. Good research is the foundation of good writing, and just remember . . . Wikipedia is for research wimps! *For the true library neophyte, an ILL is an Interlibrary Loan. We’ll talk about those, too!”

Why it works: Lots of people propose research classes but this is beautiful in its specificity AND the presenter, Courtney Alameda, is an actual librarian.

2. “Get into the trenches of teaching teens to write by writing beside them, in front of them, and all around them. Whether you teach in a school setting, a community education setting, or around your kitchen table, come find tips, tricks, suggestions, and ideas for teaching teens to write fearlessly.”
Why it works: Novelty. Our conference hasn’t had a single class on this in the seven years I’ve been teaching. It’s true that it will appeal to a pretty small swathe of people, but it those will people will be profoundly grateful for the tools they gain—teachers, homeschool parents, authors trying to figure out how to do secondary level school visits.

The presenter, Becca Wilhite, is a published author and a high school English and creative writing teacher who lives the experience she’s offering to teach.

3. “Whether you’re a Beta Reader for your sister, or the most requested editor in your Critique Group, the pressure can do weird things to your ego (and your friendship.) Join YA author RC Hancock for guidelines on how to give your friends the help they need without overwhelming yourself or destroying their creative genius. Also discussed: How to determine crap advice.”

Why it works: Voice. I don’t know anything about this presenter, RC Hancock. I’ve never read his books, and I haven’t even looked at his bio yet, but I can see that he’s succinct about what he’s going to cover, I get a feel for his personality in this proposal, and his touch of humor at the end makes me more likely to trust that he’ll deliver an engaging class.

Seriously, there’s nothing conference organizers want more than to find class ideas they can fall in love with. Go forth and give them some! And if you want to propose classes for the fantastic LDS Storymakers conference, you can do that here. And no, you do NOT have to be LDS to attend or teach—just invested in exceptional storytelling.

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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her sixth novel, Always Will, hits shelves in October. Melanie’s contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

The Craft of Pitching

Happy Friday, everyone!

So I thought I’d talk a little bit about pitching. Not the baseball kind. The kind you can do in your pajamas, sipping apricot nectar, and scrolling through twitter. Have you seen the plethora of pitching opportunities that are available for authors these days? It is OUTstanding! (See what I did there? Did you??)

I could go through the many and varied opportunities over the course of the next six months. But John Berkowitz has already done that. You can see a pretty comprehensive list on his blog here.

No, what we need to do is MASTER that pitch so that when decide to participate in one of these sessions, you’ll be ready.

From what I can gather (and having participated in a couple of these myself), you’ll need to be armed with:
1. A full query letter
2. A twitter-length pitch (less than 140 characters WITH the required hashtags!)
3. A 35-word pitch
4. The first 250 words of your MS
5. Anything else for that particular contest

Phew! Right? I mean, come on. That’s a lot to prepare in one day when you suddenly find out about the pitch contest. So my first piece of advice is to plan ahead.

Plan Ahead:

1. Pay attention on twitter. If you’re a writer about to query, or thinking about querying in the next few months, there are some hashtags you should probably be following. My favorite is #MSWL. I also like #tenqueries

2. Choose the pitch contests that seem like a good fit for your book. Resist the temptation to blanket the Internet during every event. Pay attention to who’s participating and what they’re looking for. Trust me when I say that no agent is better than an agent that isn’t a good match.

3. Which all leads me to the next step in your Plan for World Domination. Get your pitches ready!

Getting Your Pitches Ready:

1. I always advise this first: Get help! Email your writer buddies and beta readers and ask them if they’ll read your query, first 250, and other pitch material. You should probably never just start throwing wild pitches out there…

2. The query letter. Oh, there’s too much to list here on how to write a query letter. There are scads of places around the Internet to find some tips and tricks. My favorite? Elana Johnson’s formula of the hook, the setup, the conflict, and the consequence.

3. The twitter pitch. Having written these myself, I’ve found the best thing to do is get that twitter window open. Put in the required hashtags, and see what you’ve got left to work with.

Some tips:

  • Avoid names. In such a short pitch, it’s okay to just say “he” or “she.” If the names are short, and you can, then you can.
  • Go for the conflict. No setup. Conflict.

4. The 35-word pitch. I’ve found that pithiest of these are generally the ones that use the formula of “TITLE OF MY AWESOME BOOK is [popular movie A] meets [bestselling book B] — with {a twist.}

Do you see the formula there? You’re telling the agent/editor what your book is like — and bonus points for making it like something that’s already selling well! — but also that yours is different. It will stand out. People will love it MORE than [bestselling book B]!!

See if you can write a 35-word pitch using this formula.

5. The first 250 words. My best advice here is to make sure that it’s not A) overstuffed with useless words, and B) too heavily focused on backstory. Neither will get you very far.

No, go forth and throw your best pitches out there!

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Liz Isaacson writes contemporary and inspirational romance when she’s not teaching. She is currently revising her inspirational romance manuscript for a Harlequin Love Inspired contest and blogging about writing, reading, and life. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children, where she serves on her community’s library board and attends the various writing conferences around the state.