Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Practice makes perfect -- almost

Are you writing anything new? What's it about?

I imagine writers hear this all the time. I know I do. I wonder if other writers have the same difficulty in trying to tell what her story is about  before the listener begins to look bored or changes the subject.

And this is with friends.

Now imagine you have three to five minutes to outline your entire plot not to an interested friend, but to an agent who has heard it all before, and is looking for that indefinable something different in your story. This conversation is called a "pitch" as in you are tossing your baby to an onlooker and hoping she will catch it.

I "pitched" for the second time last Saturday at the monthly Carolinas Romance Writers meeting. The first time was also at a CRW meeting (which is why I pay dues and attend meetings...they frequently have publishers and agents as guest speakers). I was horribly nervous, stammered, and made no impression at all unless it was why is this idiot pretending to be a writer?

This time I wrote down my pitch, practiced it at home, practiced in the car riding to Charlotte and practiced it again when I picked up my passenger. I wasn't going to be nervous this time!

I was calm until the "cold read." The agent read one page of our manuscripts and made comments on why she would or wouldn't read further. Her comment on mine? "Another cute meet."

What I thought was a --well, cute-- way to introduce the two main characters and set them up for conflict, was something this experienced agent had seen dozens of times before. She wasn't dismissive, even suggested I change the scene to make it less contrived, but I already knew it was doomed.

I got through the pitch and came home and began revising the manuscript. I did learn two things, though.

Look out for the cliched and overdone introduction.

Practice your pitch until you can repeat it to a professional without stammering.

All in all, a good experience.


  1. Don't youj hate when you think up a great meet and then someone tells you that you really didn't think of it? Ugh. But you got helpful feedback and that is so important! Good luck with rewrites. I'm in the middle of those myself on a book HQN rejected last year but I'm determined to see through to publication. :)

  2. Just going through and deleting everything that refers to the "cute meet." Harder than it sounds!

  3. It's so hard to come off not sounding like someone else's material. Even if we've never read an author's work, you get compared to writing off their idea. I was accused of sounding like Ally Condie's "Matched," which bothered me until Ally Condie told me she was accused of copying "The Giver." So it goes around. I can practice forever, but the minute an agent says "Tell me about your book" I undoubtedly start off with the impressive "Um..."

    1. That's better than my blank stare as everything promptly leaves my mind.

  4. "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

    Openings are the hardest to write. What to leave in, how much to reveal, where to start in the story.

    Don't get discouraged, Sandy, you'll get to where you manuscript will blow an agent's mind away. Why? Because you persevere. You are a fighter.

    As for pitching, I'm super impressed with you. I can't pitch very well. In writing is so much easier. But when it's time to talk face to face and to hold a clear discourse on my story, my head empties out all the English I know and out comes a babble fest.

    1. If I had a dollar for every new opening paragraph, I wouldn't have to worry about sales--I'd be rich!