Melissa left her bottle of Exotic Dark Chocolate rum out here in the garage next to my computer. That’s practically an invitation for me to have a sip before I get into tonight’s topic, right?
[pauses to take a shot]
Ah, that’s better! Let’s talk about pitching and querying, a topic that makes many writers want to drink.
Once again, I’m going to lean on some of the words of the wise and powerful Dongwan Song. He lead a class during the Writing Excuses Retreat specifically on pitching. I’m not going to spend too much time here though, because I have a lot of thoughts on this subject that have nothing to do with the class. So let’s break this into sections.
- Dongwan’s Class on Pitching
- What I’ve Learned about Pitching and Querying
- Pitching and Querying Fears
Dongwan’s Class on Pitching
I took a ton of notes during this session. Some of the notes involve a lot of lines and hastily drawn Venn diagrams. I’m just going to plop the notes right here without much comment.
Pitching will sustain you throughout your career. Author vs Writer
Anyone can be a writer
Professional author is:
-- Career Management workflow
-- Deadline / Time Management
-- Marketing & Promotion
Always Be Pitching A good pitch is key to all of this:
Build a readership
Network with peers
Connect with Booksellers
Practice on friends, but don't be a monster. Ask before you pitch. Don't just pitch your stuff
Convince your friend to read a book you like
Read ads and watch trailers
Pay attention. What excited you? What was boring? Why?
Publishing is marketing
How do you stand out?
How do you reach readers?
Agents / Editors / Sales forces are proxies for readers
It's always about the audience
Humans are wired for pattern recognition
Storytelling is about pattern matching
We form order out of chaos to understand complex systems
Fiction is a way of exploring potential failure states
Fiction is about the human condition because our brains are wired to help us not die
You can leverage that to sell books
The familiar vs. the novel
A + B = Awesome
Publishers think in comp titles
We're always / already thinking of comps. Why would you let us make that choice on our own?
Control the field of play so we match to the pattern you want us to
A + B is not enough
The A + B defines the territory
You need to explain how your book fits that territory
Star with comp titles Hooks
A pitch is a glimpse through the keyhole
Your hook is the thing that sets you apart
Don't start at the beginning, start at the awesome
That’s a big block of notes. Most of it makes sense on its own, I think. I had more notes, but a lot of it involved drawings and didn’t make much sense out of context.
What I’ve Learned about Pitching and Querying
I’ve learned tons, and it’s hard for me to tell if anything I’ve learned is actually useful.
Dongwan’s advice about starting with comps contradicts advice I’ve been given other places. I think his reasoning is sound, but I don’t know if it is universally applicable. I know it’s definitely applicable to him, but I’m not planning to pitch or query to him.
During the session, many of us were able to get up and test our pitch on him. He gave us feedback in real-time, telling us what he liked and what he didn’t. Honestly, it was an incredible opportunity and I was all too glad to get up in front of the microphone and give it a go.
It felt terrible.
First of all, I think I tried too hard. I paid attention throughout the session and I thought I got it, but my pitch was a disaster. My comps were too complicated and I didn’t paint the story with precision. It sounded like a muddled mess.
Is my story a muddled mess? No. My story is awesome. But it doesn’t matter how awesome my story is if I can’t get people to read it. That’s what this is all about.
Here are the main things I learned:
- Use comp titles when I can, but keep it simple.
- Focus on the awesome, but don’t just throw everything into the pitch like it’s a stew. Choose my ingredients more carefully.
- Key in on what’s important.
- Don’t overthink it.
What else have I learned? Agents are all different and they all expect different things. The only thing that is going to be consistent in the equation is the writer that’s making the pitch, so don’t lose sight of that. Create your pitch using your own voice. If the agent doesn’t like your voice, they’re probably not the agent for you.
Pitching and Querying Fears
I’m talking big game tonight but when it comes right down to it, fear still drives me away from querying.
There are two people that asked for my Urban Fantasy in New York City, and I STILL haven’t sent them the query. It still terrifies me.
I thought that it would help to make a spreadsheet and keep track of my queries. I thought that maybe once I created a little bit of infrastructure around the task, it would give me some inertia. That has not panned out.
I’m absolutely terrified because I don’t want to feed my doubts. I realize that as long as my fear is controlling me on this subject, I’m not doing myself any favors. Some part of me knows that a rejection would be better than never knowing. And yet, it feels like running into a burning building. Not to save anyone, either. Just running into the inferno in order to say I’ve done it.
I really don’t want to be burned.
Melissa is extremely supportive. I have a few friends that have provided significant encouragement. In the end, though, I don’t know if what I’ve written is good enough. Emotionally, that translates into feeling like I’m not good enough. The main fear with querying is that if I send it out and get a rejected, I’ll know that I’m not good enough.
At the top of this post, I have a picture of Simba. This is a #WriteFightGIFClub thing. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but we were talking about how in theater, you say “break a leg” instead of good luck. For a while, when someone in the group said they were querying, we’d say, “I hope you die” when what we actually meant was “I hope you get it and that all your dreams come true!”
The picture of Simba went along with that.
Why am I mentioning any of this hear? It’s important because that little inside joke is a reminder of how we all feel that same terror when we’re trying to put something we love out into the world. It’s also a reminder that there are other people that really care, and that are in my corner. I have to send the query out on my own, but I don’t have to feel alone as I do it.
Community is important. As a writer, it helps me push on to the next level in my career, even when the next step frightens me to death.