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10 Ways to Hone Your Pitch

Authors in the bull pen; the pitch is moments away

Authors in the bull pen; the pitch is moments away

Imagine the bullpen overflowing with pitchers. Each will get a turn at the mound, but there’s no room for error. One mistake and it’s game over.

Welcome to Pitch Slam, biggest draw of the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. What’s it like knowing you have three minutes to make an agent fall for your story, or at least request a second date?

Three minutes. That’s 90 seconds for the pitch and 90 seconds for questions. Once three minutes passes, a bell sounds and your time is up. Those who linger beyond the deadline can expect an unfriendly tap from the on deck author.

As any relief pitcher will tell you, the work doesn’t begin when you walk on the field. The work begins well before, in this case by crafting and rehearsing the pitch, and knowing whom you’ll be facing before the game gets started.

That in mind, here are 10 tips to help you step it up, whether you’re pitching at a slam or chatting up an agent between innings at a ballgame. Credit for 5-10 go to Writer’s Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino.

1 – Make your first line your best line. It’s true – you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Great is subjective, so let’s say make the opener the best you can make it. Mine was:

Pretender is the story of a disgraced journalist who learns a startling secret about a racist U.S. senator that he once helped send to prison.

2 – Be concise. You have lots of competition, meaning that the agents need a quick, clear synopsis that highlights story, conflict and protagonist. In my hour-long session, 130 authors were pitching to 50 agents.

3 – Know the players. Besides a Google search, many of the conference agents are on Twitter. You can learn a lot by monitoring what they tweet, and then use the info to frame your pitch based on what most interests them.

4 – Practice your lines. You should know your pitch cold and deliver it with passion. Don’t expect excitement from the other side of the table if you’re not passionate about your work. That said, you should also be nimble enough to adjust on the fly if an agent wants to drill down on something specific.

5 – Be comfortable. Reading your pitch is a bad idea, no matter how nervous you feel. This is an amateur move that eliminates the possibility of good eye contact, one of the core principles of effective communication. Really, this is not optional. If you’re having trouble, go back to Tip 3.

6 – Think DVD. That is, think of the back of a DVD box, which tells the story without giving away the ending. Example: It’s about a great white shark that terrorizes a New England town.

7 – Don’t lead with a question. While the provocative question opener might work in some situations, agents are usually on overload. Don’t make them work too hard to figure out where your story is going.

8 – Be specific. Don’t say your novel is a humorous romp. Craft a pitch that draws a laugh. Or at least a smile. (Notice this applies to good writing as well.)

9 – A few more Sambuchino “don’ts:” Don’t sing your pitch. (Would you consider it?) Don’t talk about yourself in the third person. I’m Steve. Steve doesn’t like hunting. Don’t say your family loved your book. Don’t sit down, exhale, and say you’re looking for an agent.

10 – Remember the mission. The pitch is about the book, not you. If interested in the work, the agent will ask more about you. That’s the time to talk about the author.

If you reach that last hurdle, you’ve done well. Now’s the time to remember that you’re a writer capable of incredible storytelling. Don’t list your credentials; turn your resume into a story that’s as memorable as your work.

Happy Mother’s Day to the 1st Writing Instructor

For Mom, my first reading and writing instructor. Who was yours?

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Outgoing Writing Students Share Tips for Success

One of the challenges of teaching writing classes to college kids is that they all come in with different levels of interest and experience.

Here are three things I do at American University to help smooth the way.AU outside

1 – Before the semester begins, I send out a short survey. I ask my incoming students how much they’ve written outside the classroom, why they’re taking the class (no penalty if it’s simply to fulfill a requirement), and their toughest writing challenges. I find the kids appreciate being asked and are happy to respond.

2 – On opening night, I pitch like a used car salesman. I know most will not go on to writing or communications careers. I tell them to think of their time with me as cross training for whatever field they eventually choose. I point to studies that show employers place high value in employees who are clear and concise. I warn they will hear a lot from me about precision and clarity.

3 – On finals night, I offer a bonus. Sharing a tip for success with my next students earns two free points. Most remember they were afforded this opportunity thanks to the previous class, and include some lesson learned. I’m always surprised by one or two comments on the tip sheet, which you can find (unedited) here on the class blog.

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Let’s Undress a Few Sex Scenes

Illus3-Dan&RuthieWhich sells, sex or sexy? As we know, the answer is, both sell. Some audiences are impatient, others prefer drawing a little tension-building romance and seduction. The act – and the writing of the act – are intensely personal. As with any form of writing, the more you practice, the better you get. But practice what, and how?

Attraction, they say, begins with the eyes. Male or female, we see something we like and quickly – almost primitively – begin plotting to get it. Sometimes the plotting is deliberate and obvious; sometimes it’s sweet and subtle.

Where does it happen? Why does it happen? What do our eyes take in? What smells are in the air? Where does attraction strike and how long does it take to go from mutual appreciation to a shared laugh … to hands touching … to a private setting and then to a first kiss? Or does it all happen in plain view – say on the beach at sunset – or at 2 a.m. in a club with music blaring and the bass cranked up so high, it feels like your own heartbeat?

Most relevant from the writer’s perspective, how do we capture the sexual tension as well as the act – for the two are not the same – in a way that is arousing, revealing – in terms of character development – and which successfully moves the story forward?

I hope you’ll join me for a webinar that will explore these questions and many more on March 28 at 1:30 p.m. EST. Mark your calendars and sign up here.

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5 Ways Authors Can Pump Up the Volume

Neighborhood "libraries:" another way to meet readers

Neighborhood “libraries:” another way to meet readers

The lure of social media is powerful, particularly for artists, authors and other creative types who’d rather produce than promote.

Technology has made it possible to talk, influence, monitor and interact without leaving the comfort (and security) of your cozy home office. How efficient.

Here’s what’s missing: eye contact, handshakes (including an occasional high five or fist bump), body language, plus the opportunity to explain your work face to face, with the genuine passion that forges bonds far stronger than those generated by a like on Facebook or a follow on Twitter.

READ MORE

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Free Webinar: Take 2 on the Secrets Your Characters are Hiding

Your characters have secrets to tell

Your characters have secrets to tell …

Please join me Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the repeat of a free webinar on how to discover the secrets your characters are hiding. Click here to sign up and participate in an interesting and practical session with actionable tips you’ll be able to put to immediate use. What will we cover? Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us.

Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off.

I hope you’ll sign up and join me this Thursday.

(To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage).

Free Webinar 10/1: Character Above All

Uncover your characters' secrets

Uncover your characters’ secrets

Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us. Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off. I hope you’ll join this discussion in a free webinar Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

 

 

Think Before Condemning a Rudeness Born of Desperation

10 for a dollar, Mister.

10 for a dollar, Mister.

Siem Reap, Cambodia – She is perhaps five or six, with dark eyes, straight black hair that touches the back of her neck, and skin the color of teak. She dances up to the table with a white smile and 10 postcards of the ancient temples at Angkor Wat.Her sales pitch is short and achingly sweet. Though she could not articulate it, instinct tells her she has found an American abroad who cannot deny a poor Cambodian child this one small sale. Please follow this link to continue reading.

 

 

 

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Pinteresting Recipe: Travel, Photos and Books

Bootlicker in good hands

Bootlicker in good hands

If 80 percent of Pinterest users are women and women buy most of the books, authors need to be on Pinterest.

Problem is, authors traffic in words and Pinterest is all about photos.

Here’s one way to create a compelling board:

When you, a friend, or a relative are headed abroad, take or send your novel. You’d be amazed at the opportunities that come up to snag a photo of your book beside a famous landmark or in the hands of a colorful local citizen.

During a recent trip to Thailand, we visited a museum where two women in gleaming gold traditional outfits were posted outside. I asked one to pose with the book and she gladly complied. Could she read it? Does it matter?

Authors these days need to make a smooth transition from creative writing to creative marketing. Send your book on a trip and capture some photos you can use to reach prospective readers on Pinterest.

You might make some international friends in the process. Oh, and here’s the actual board: Travels with Bella and Bootlicker.

 

 

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Family Circle: Accident or Design?

Piacentes & Bellomos at Danielle Piacente’s wedding

Some version of this story occurs in all families, yet it is fascinating that seemingly random events occur and take root, drawing a rough outline of what will become the future. I think many of us wonder at some level if is indeed random or part of something bigger. The story of a week at the beach with my extended family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(To subscribe to Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icons on the blog homepage).