Friday, November 20, 2009

Perfect Pitch...

Last week I talked about the Surrey International Writer’s Conference from a generalist viewpoint. This week, I thought I’d share my pitch and blue pencil session experience and I’ll try not to use the word ‘wow’.

In preparation for the conference, I spent a lot of time creating and perfecting a one sheet. I had done some research before, finding these two articles gave the best information and examples: and I was also lucky enough to have been at one of the SRW meetings where the topic was one sheets. We had discussed the essential elements and tried to create a one sheet for the movie Stardust. An interesting discussion ensued with everyone having a different vision for the document. We finally agreed that a one sheet was highly personal and would not only reflect the book you were pitching, but also your voice.

Basically, the one sheet includes your contact information and a synopsis of your book. It’s not a query letter. It’s more like a blurb you’d find on the back cover of a book.

Of course you can all guess that I was pitching The Seduction of Lady Bells. And to create a one sheet with the potential to get someone to ask for more, I needed a rock solid summary of my manuscript. The short synopsis on my query letter, which had garnered requests, would be too long. So, I went to work revamping it down to one paragraph. I also wanted a fabulous tagline that would get attention and make you want to read more. I suffered through Hayley’s Synopsis Bootcamp. She made me sweat and pushed me to find the choicest nuggets in my story. Various writer friends were inundated with e-mails asking for their opinion as I wrote and re-wrote. In the end, my blurb rocked.

Then I had to decide on contact info and a tagline, how the whole thing would be laid out on the page, and then make copies. I opted for a stylized feather and inkpot instead of my picture only because I didn’t have a good, professional picture (I didn’t thing the agents and editors would appreciate me in my jammies with my dog, Taz). It was Muriel who pointed out the connection with writing historicals and the feather pen – that had never even crossed my mind. I decided while I was burning the midnight oil, that I should also have some business cards. Thank goodness for computers, cardstock, and a husband who is a genius with technology. I used the same feather pen/inkpot on my cards, made sure all my contact information was there, added the blog address, and congratulated myself on a job well done.

Oh, the excitement escalated. If I wasn’t already rushing around to get ready, I decided I better have two one sheets AND write my taglines on the back of my business cards. The first extracurricular activity was for my Blue Pencil Session. I was going to be speaking with an author of romantic comedy and I figured Lady Bells wouldn’t be appropriate. I had an agenda – I wanted someone to tell me which genre I should focus on. I created another one sheet and changed up the font to be more contemporary, fun. Forced my brain to come up with a great tagline AND a title, and printed off copies of that. Then I had to figure out how to print on the back of my business cards (so it wasn’t upside down and too small to be readable). After all that, I remembered Anita’s advice to have a folder for each project so you weren’t juggling papers while the 10 minute pitch clock was counting down and the next person in line was breathing down your neck. Whew!

Boy, am I ever glad I did all of that. I felt professional as I took the seat at my pitch session with Ms. Valerie Gray of Mira Books. I handed her my one sheet and then used another copy to help me stay true to my pitch. She loved it. There were questions about sequels (because that seems to be a big thing in the publishing world right now), if I had other manuscripts in the medieval romance genre, and if I had an agent. Oops, no agent. That’s OK, she pointed out agents I should talk to and told me I had a viable, interesting story that could do very well, even when medieval romances are not the trend. Just to have someone from the industry look at my writing and confirm its merit had me beaming. I wasn’t looking to sell my book right then and there – I wanted to know that I had a chance, that my story was worth telling, and that my writing didn’t make people wish they had never learned how to read.

Then I did something I never thought I would – I approached an agent after a workshop. It wasn’t the workshop I was supposed to be in, but the one I had chosen was full. Serendipity? I didn’t even know I was sitting next to an agent until I stood up to leave and happened to read her nametag. In a split second’s decision, I stepped closer, held out my hand and introduced myself. When I told her about my pitch and the need for an agent – she asked if I had anything with me. Why, yes, yes I did. And I handed her my one sheet. She read it over, told me it was pitch enough, and asked that I send a partial to her after the conference. ACK!!

The Blue Pencil Session went equally as well. Eileen Cook liked my one sheet, enjoyed the three pages I had brought with me as per conference guidelines, and suggested that I should write romantic comedy. She made my day – this being the second day of the conference and the agent excitement had been the first day. I handed her my card – the one with the taglines – and she liked both story ideas. My time was up as I asked my last question "What about branding?" A topic for a lengthy discussion - which we had later at the book signing.

One sheets and business cards – so worth the blood, sweat and tears! With those tools in my briefcase, I felt professional and prepared. Now I probably should have given out more than just one business card (not counting the cards I gave to the SRW members who were at conference with me), but I know I can always use them again. And because of my work on the one paragraph synopsis, I believe I have a much better handle on writing short blurbs for query letters in the future.

So, People of Blogland, have you written a one sheet? How about a blurb for your query? Do you have business cards? And are you prepared to hand them out at conferences and other writerly functions? I’ve shared my good news (partial request), what good news have you had recently that you’d like to share?

Janet (who was also lucky enough to sign up for a second Blue Pencil with the fabulous Diana Gabaldon - I was just a little starstruck :)


Silver James said...

Dude! Way to go, Janet! I am doing some serious happy dancing for you!

Yes, I have business cards and pass them out to industry professionals. I also have a postcard with the cover of FAERIE FATE, blurb, my website address, and release date on it. I hand those out when people express an interest in the book. I also left one in the seat pocket of the planes I flew on last week. Yeah. I know. Silly, but...

Good news...hrm...I haven't received a rejection from TOR yet. And I received my cover art for FAERIE FIRE.

Have a great weekend! And be sure to keep us posted on that partial!

Janet said...

Thanks, Silver - trying not to get expectations up too high, I've been to the "Partial Ball" before and I went home at midnight, alone and with both slippers.

Great thinking about leaving your postcard on the seat of the plane! Yes, you need to do things like that for promotional sake - hard to do when you're an outgoing person who dislikes being pushy or self-centered.

Can't wait to see the cover art - do you have it posted on your website yet?

Karyn Good said...

Way to go Janet! All your hard work paid off. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It helps me know what to do and what to expect once I get to a conference. Be prepared, be professional and be active in your pursuit of publication.

I haven't prepared a one sheet or a query letter nor do I have a business card. I've tried my hand at blurbs and strangely I have fun with those so I hope that will prove benefical at some point :)

Keeping my fingers crossed for LB.

Janet said...

Thanks, Karyn. And I will be the first to inform everyone reading this - Karyn is fabulous at blurbs. Don't let the 'I have fun' fool you at any point in time - the woman is a genius with blurbs and taglines.

Now, don't you think you should be getting a query letter ready? Common Ground is almost finished revisions - you want to be able to send out queries ASAP because it's a very long process once you get started. Just a suggestion.

And the business card was really easy - I couldn't justify the expense of purchasing since things might change between now and getting published, but I wanted something.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, it's so great to finally hear a little more about the whole thing since you came back. I caught some whiffs of news at the Davidson meeting, but of course no one wanted to tell your story for you :) What an exciting weekend!

I haven't tried any complete one-sheets yet, but I try to always keep ideas lurking around, toss different points together as possible ways to slant the pitch. I should probably do another update on the ongoing pitch project sometime on Eventide. Got some good ideas at the fall retreat that are worth playing with.

Will you be sharing your one-sheet and business card designs for those of us not privileged enough to see you in person? I'd love to see the final product. Did you use any graphics other than the quill and inkpot logo?

Janet said...

Hey, Hayley - synopsis bootcamp goddess! I thought about taking a picture of my one sheets, but then the post went long and it was late last night - so, no pictures.

And as far as graphics - I kept it really simple. Lady Bells' one sheet had the tagline positioned near the top (Tagline: It's hard to rein in your curiosity when your husband's been accused of murder). The using word font/paragraphing/border options I framed The Seduction of Lady Bells with a shadow and used a medieval/gothic font - in purple. Then came Northern England, 1347 and then the blurb - one paragraph with the last line by itself (Both will break her heart. One could prove fatal.) At the bottom, the feather pen and inkpot and my contact info - maybe less than a 1/4 page at the bottom.

For the other one - different font and the tag line came after the title, again bordered and shadowed. The blurb with the offset last line and my contact info. Really very, very simple - lots of white space, easy to read font.

I'll see if I can figure out how to save it to picture and then post it on my other blog - either that or I can send it to you.

Yes, you, too, have to get on with one sheets and query letters. You're getting close and the time it takes to create these documents, research agents, create personalized query letters - good to start now. Looking forward to reading about the process over on Eventide.

Helena said...

Janet, I still get little chills thinking about your experiences at Surrey. Being there to hear your excitement, almost as it happened, was wonderful!

I printed a simple business card and prepared a one sheet, but since I didn't have a manuscript ready I was basically pitching myself and talking about the novel that I am in the midst of writing. After getting two editors saying my story idea would be publishable but not by them, I got an expression of interest from the third editor I spoke to. (I lined up to get additional pitch appointments!)

After I discussed the essentials of women's fiction with Kristin Sevick, an editor with Tor, and told her about my novel in progress, she gave me her card and invited me to send her a synopsis and three chapters "when you do get it done, even if it's a year from now. Be sure to say we talked at Surrey."

After getting that kind of motivation, I'm writing like a mad woman these days! I have made a fresh start on the novel for NaNoWriMo. I've made several starts before and I'm sure there are previously written scenes I will incorporate, but since Nov. 1 everything I've written has been brand new (in keeping with the NaNo rules).

Keeping my fingers crossed for you, Janet!

Janet said...

Wow - great news, Helena. I was so caught up in my own excitement and I knew that you had an extra pitch session on Sunday - because I missed saying goodbye to you - I apologize. I should have been on the e-mail right away demanding an answer to the question "Well, what happened?"

But now I know. This is fabulous. For an editor to say "anytime you're ready" speaks volumes about your writing and your voice. And I loved that you were fully prepared to get the answers you wanted at Surrey. You went with a mission and obviously accomplished it.

I think that falls under the professional and prepared heading - anyone going to a conference has to ask themselves "What do I want out of this experience?" I believe Jana suggested that in one of her Surrey prep blogs. If you have a purpose, you're going to get an answer. If you go in unsure of your goals, you may come away disappointed.

Sounds like NaNo is going well - good for you. And keep going :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Sorry I didn't respond to your blog on Friday. It was just a crazy day.

I'm still keeping my toes, fingers, eyes and anything else I can think of, crossed for you! I so want you to get the recognition you deserve.

Hey, if you want to send me your pitches and/or one sheet, I can convert them to a PDF and put them on my website so Hayley and anyone else can see them. I've got examples of my own there. Let me know.

Well done at Surrey Janet. You certainly made the most of your experience there.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, of course the girls talked about this at the last SRW mtg but they couldn't give all the facts.

I'm thrilled for you. Serendipity is right! It seems everything just fell into place for you.

This is exactly why a writer who's serious about becoming published should make an effort to attend at least one major writing conference. And there are many to choose from, too.

Thank you for the report, Janet. Happy dancing for you.

Janet said...

Thanks, Jana - with all those things crossed, how can it not go in my favor?

I'll see about sending it on. Is that page on your website private or can anyone who goes over there see it?

Janet said...

Thanks, Anita. It was a great experience and one I'd definitely recommend to new writers. The energy and motivation can't be beat - and if you have a goal in mind, then you can come away a winner (even if that goal is just to talk to industry professionals and get their opinion of where they see the markets going).