Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pitching a book and some rambling

Off to Sleuthfest.  For those of you unfamiliar with this conference, it is put on by the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  But it isn’t relevant just for mystery writers.  The panels include everything from pitching a book to editor and agent appointments to discussions on uploading original content to online sales sites.

The speakers are amazing.  Charlaine Harris, Dr. G the forensic pathologist of cable TV fame and Jeff Ashton, who prosecuted the Casey Anthony trial.  Those are just the special guests.  If you want to learn about the craft of or the business of publishing, this is a great regional conference.  It’s intimate and there are lots of extras – like a trip to the gun range.

Many members of Florida Romance Writers attend this annual event.  It’s very social and far more relaxed than some of the other conferences.  This is South Florida, everything is casual. 
But I will go with a slightly heavy heart.  My first crush died this week.  Yes, I’m dating myself but who cares.  Like Marsha Brady, Davy Jones was my first idol.  In my house watching the Monkees was a privilege earned and my sister and I worked hard to get rights to the one and only television for that special half-hour.  I have some vintage Monkees in my iTunes.

Oddly enough, Davy Jones died about 3 miles from my house.  In the nine years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen him about a half-dozen times.  Once at Publix buying beef jerky.  He was very generous to the Martin County community, giving his time and money to various schools and groups.  But he never acted like a star.  Unlike our other semi-famous neighbor – Burt Reynolds.  Burt is a prima donna who doesn’t seem to realize that his fame faded long ago and now he’s just a tanned guy with a bad hairpiece.  And apparently bad financial skills since he’s about to lose his house on Jupiter Island.  Guess money management isn’t his strong suit.

Somehow I’ve gone from a conference to neighbor bashing.  Not sure how that happened.  Sorry for the free association.  What I really wanted to cover was pitching your book at a conference.  I’ve done my fair share of pitching over the last 20+ years.  Here’s what I’ve learned.  The most helpful thing you can do is to pitch a total stranger and have them tell you what in your pitch caught their attention.  Maybe you’ve got too much characterization and not enough about the conflict.  Or maybe the reverse is true.  Bottom line, you should be able to sum it up in a sentence or two.  And why a stranger and not your best friend?  Your best friend is listening to you.  A total stranger is listening to your words.  They have no emotional investment, so they tend to be able to focus on your delivery.  Let’s face it, we all babble when we’re in a stressful situation.  The more you practice, the easier it is. 

Try to incorporate a pop culture reference.  Like “My manuscript is a cross between Sleeping with the Enemy and Double Jeopardy.  It gives an immediate sense of the tone and pacing of the story.  I pitched the Finley series as what would happen if Elle Woods from Legally Blonde was investigating murders? 

And those index cards – leave them at home.  You aren’t in the debate club.  You should know your story like the back of your hand because hopefully you’re pitching a complete manuscript (if you’re previously unpublished).  The days of buying on partials are long gone.  And don’t forget to follow-up.  Agents and editors say only about 30-40% of requested materials actually get sent to them.  And they don’t care if you send it 5 minutes after your appointment or a year later.  All you have to do is remind them of the request.  Then be prepared to wait.  While you’re waiting, write your next book.

Happy Writing,

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