Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference NOTES, Part 3”)

More notes today! 🙂 These are going to be on pitching and agents.

FRIDAY:

Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino

 

  • When pitching to an agent at, say, a writing conference, your pitch should be memorized and you should aim for a 60 to 90 second pitch (preferably closer to 60).
  • DO NOT REVEAL THE ENDING IN YOUR PITCH/QUERY LETTER. If you reveal the ending, the agent won’t have a reason to read your story.
  • Do anything you can to cut down on confusion in your query.
  • Make sure you share the following:
  1. Genre
  2. Title
  3. Word count
  4. Complete or not
  • Logline: Your story in one sentence. Introduce main characters, introduce something interesting or wanted by your main characters, share your inciting incident – what propels your story into motion, what happens if there’s a mistake, complications in your story (what bad stuff happens), and leave off with an unclear wrap up (end where you’re comfortable and don’t give away the ending). Extra credit for including your MC’s character arc.
  • Avoid generalities, phrases like “highs and lows,” “ups and downs,” “life gets turned upside down,” etc. Be specific; there’s a difference between a secret and a generality.
  • Only use names that are absolutely necessary and skip subplots.
  • Bring an emotion to the pitch – make the agent feel something (but not like, “Gosh, somebody get this buffoon out of my face already!! *aaaanger*).
  • Don’t talk about yourself unless necessary (unless, you know, you’re querying a memoir)

 

 

SATURDAY:

Panel: Ask the Agents by Chuck Sambuchino (moderator), Mary Kole, Diana Fox, April Eberhardt, and John Willig

 

  • Publishing house editors don’t do a lot to edit your work anymore, sometimes, so you have to edit with your agent; the agent’s role is increasing in scope in the publishing industry.
  • You have to remember when querying an agent that although you’re only pitching one novel, if that agent signs you, you’ll ultimately be working with him/her on MANY novels.
  • An agent is like a Sherpa.
  • Make sure that your query letter is perfect. If the writing in the query letter isn’t good, the agent will assume that your book won’t be good either, and they’ll reject you based on that assumption.
  • Don’t get too excited over partial requests. If your writing is at all decent, you’re going to get a bunch of them, and you’re still very likely to get rejected off of those.
  • The biggest reason for a novel to get rejected after a partial is because the story doesn’t have a good hook or gets sloppy after a while.
  • If an agent suggests edits, you should take them – even if you haven’t signed a contract yet, the agent wants to see how well you can work with them.
  • Agents look for high-quality writing and good pacing, and pacing counts double in kid lit because kids aren’t going to keep reading something if it bores them. Make sure your voice rings true.
  • Platform is a built-in audience for your book, but it’s not entirely necessary in fiction.
  • Agents are looking for writers who can be partners in getting a quality book out in the market
  • Self-publishing is okay – you can still get an agent – but you need to really good sales on your self-published book, then. At least a thousand copies, hopefully more.
  • The odds are stacked against debut authors; it’s very difficult to break into the industry.
  • Marketing is especially important for author-illustrators.
  • Generally, narrative nonfiction and memoir are represented by fiction agents rather than nonfiction, because although they’re about real life, they read like fiction.
  • Sometimes it’s good to have an agent even when you’re self-publishing, because even then they can act as your guide.
  • There’s a lot of blending of roles these days between agent and editor.
  • If one agent passes from an agency, the entire agency is a pass.
  • When doing a partial request, always start with the beginning of your book and go from there – don’t be like, “Oh, you want to see fifty pages? Here, let’s go from page 73 to 123!” (Because then you’ll look really stupid.)
  • When establishing your platform with children’s books, make your target audience the parents, not the children, unless you write YA – teenagers are on the internet. Five year olds whose parents read them bedtime stories are not.
  • If you have a nagging feeling about editing something before you send it to an agent, do it. Even if it’s a lot of work.
  • When you are sick to death of your novel and don’t think you can revise it one more time, put it away for two months. Do something else, generate new ideas, and then go back to it – edit it ONE MORE TIME – and then it’ll be ready.
  • When you write multiple genres (like women’s fiction and thrillers, or something), you might need multiple agents to represent all of those, but make sure that all of your agents know about each other and are constantly updated on what’s going on between them. However, if you sign with an agent who represents all of those different genres, they’ll automatically expect to represent all of your projects in those genres.
  • While you can’t copyright an idea, you can trademark a logline, chapter header, hook, etc. Check out: www.legalzoom.com
  • Agents do general marketing, but if you’re blogging – market that. That’s your marketing.
  • In YA, there are different levels of edginess, and there are agents and editors for all of those different levels. The key is finding the agent and editor who like the level that you’re writing at.
  • Don’t follow the market. Be yourself. Don’t be edgy for the sake of being edgy.
  • The biggest reason for parting with an agent is a lack of enthusiasm for a project.
  • Remember that there’s a difference between an agent screwing your career and not being able to sell your book. Sometimes the market’s just not right for your project and, despite the agent’s best efforts, nobody’s buying.

Be on a look out for even more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, coming this weekend!

Oh, and guess who just found out last night that she won stuff from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards?? YEEEEY!! 😀 I got silver keys for my short story “Touch” and memoir “I Am,” and an honorable mention for my senior writing portfolio (which contained lots of different types of pieces).

~Julia

Writer’s Digest Conference: Notes (Part 2)

First of all, can I just say that I think the dude driving the car in the rap part of this is absolutely hilarious? They should have made the video just about him.

Now onto conference notes!!

This is basically going to be a massive condensing of everything  I learned this weekend (minus anything dealing with pitching or literary agents, and anything that I saved in Word documents instead of hand writing — because, believe it or not, those require more time and effort to edit and get out to you guys — so that’ll all be in my next few blog posts). Please bear with me on the length of this post.

FRIDAY:

Writing About Yourself in the Digital Age by A.J. Jacobs:

  • There are three rules to writing a good book.
  1. Be aggressive.
  2. Remember that it’s possible to write anywhere, at anytime.
  3. Write with style and passion — do this, and you can make any topic seem interesting (even an epic poem about a sofa).
  • When writing in first person (hence the “writing about yourself” part of the title), you have to make people care. To do this, share small details of life; both good and bad characteristics… find the grey area between the good and the bad. Be expansive and write about the world as much as you do yourself. And most of all, be compassionate.
  • Conflict drives a story. Be willing to put it in the foreground.
  • As a writer, your job isn’t just writing. It’s also marketing, editing, agenting — all of that. None of it’s a chore; it’s all creative stuff, and it’s all part of the process.
  • Start your story with a hook — make it so gripping that whoever’s reading it has no choice but to keep reading so that they can find out what happens.
  • Editors LOVE counter-intuitive pieces. Take a piece of common wisdom and turn it on its head.
  • Tweeting is the most effective way to build your platform, because it reaches the largest number of people. (Guess I should get on that, huh?)
  • When writing stories, readers want a narrative arc. When writing blog posts? Not so much. Books need to have a beginning and ending — somewhere they’re going. Blog posts don’t.

Writing the 21st Century Novel by Donald Maass:

  • While thrillers are popular, they’re usually only good for about 9 weeks on the bestsellers lists, while on the other hand literary fiction can stay up there for one to two years. Why? Because it reaches readers; changes hearts and changes minds. People want something more than simple entertainment out of your story — they want to be affected by it.
  • There’s currently a rise in cross-genre fiction and a decline in plain and simple this-is-my-genre stuff.
  • In writing, it’s okay to use big emotions, but make them specific. Make the reader feel the emotions. What do they look like — their color, shape, dynamic? Be specific and unique. Use secondary emotions to back up and give meaning to the big emotions. Excite the readers’ imaginations and make them feel something.
  • Safe writing is fine, but it has no impact. You have to be willing to go out on a limb and test yourself.
  • You have to have lots of arcs in your story — the inner-journey, the general character arc, the plots and subplots; everything should have an arc, and no arc should be simple or straightforward. Make it complicated; make it like real life.
  • Have one thing that your character has to do by the end of the novel that they aren’t brave enough to do. Make it something they’ve sworn never to do, or never to do again. Make them do it, and then watch for the fall out.
  • Have a single truth or belief that your character trusts and believes in more than anything else. Destroy that truth. How will your MC recover? “Sometimes it’s destroying who you think you are to find you’re something different.”
  • When you get to the halfway point in your novel, the “saggy” middle, think of the one thing that would completely blow the story sideways and change where you think it’s going. Do it.
  • Put the biggest possible thing you can think of in the middle of your story. Make your character think that that MUST be the climax. Then, top it with the actual climax towards the end.
  • Your villains must be interesting; strong, 3D secondary characters. Don’t just make them evil, make them people.
  • The recession’s showing us what people are really willing to pay for — good stories and good writing.
  • Don’t be afraid of dating your novel. All of the classics are dated, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Give it a date, and stick with it.
  • Remember, if you’re writing a fantasy novel, that there is still time and history and change.
  • Writing is, first and foremost, about writing good books. Not about selling film rights or getting lots of promotion. Just writing good books.

SATURDAY:

Panel: Ask the Editor by Benjamin LeRoy, Scott Francis, and Millicent Bennett

  • The most important piece of fiction is quality storytelling. You need both a strong narrative and strong writing.
  • Catch the reader with the opening — let the reader connect with your story by telling them how we’re all human. Tell them how your story is about this, how it’s something we can all relate to.
  • Let your character leap off the page. Make it feel like an old friend — but remember that everything is based on personal opinion.
  • Be yourself on the page and in person.
  • Make sure to stand your ground. While somebody is guaranteed not to like your story, somebody else is guaranteed to like it.
  • Write from your gut!!!! Remember that writing is an intuitive process; lead with feeling, not thinking.
  • Every sentence should move your story forward.
  • Remember that you don’t want people to read your book, you want people to love your book. There’s a big difference.
  • Show people something they’ve never seen before.
  • If you care about it, the reader will care about it too.
  • You need to “marry” your characters. They’re in your head all the time. They’re with you when you eat, sleep, breathe, live. Your life and your characters’ lives are intertwined.
  • A story is about the characters, not the plot. The plot happens, yes, but it’s just the medium for your characters’ journeys.
  • When working with an editor, remember: they’re pushing in the same direction as you are– they want what’s best for your book, and they’ll only keep suggesting things for as long as you’re willing to hear them.
  • Editors buy books very infrequently — only about 10 to 20 a year of all the hundreds to thousands that come in each year.
  • Only 7% of all books published (including both self-published and legacy-published books) sell more than a thousand copies.
  • Average number of copies sold for a self-published book is 87.
  • There’s no checklist for writing a good book.
  • When editing, look for something that doesn’t sit right with you, and edit for that.
  • Watch out for overloading the reader with back story at the beginning of your novel!

… And that’s it for today! Keep a look out for more notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference coming over the course of the next couple of weeks!

Also, for anybody who doesn’t know, New York has distinctly good food. Even its airports:

For another’s perspective on the awesomeness that was WDC, make sure to check out my new friend Ari’s blog:

“OHMIGOSHYOUGUYS.

I have news. Quite a bit. So first of all, let’s get some basic facts out of the way:

1. As you may know, last weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 in New York City.

2. While I was there, I learned a lot (but not alot) about both writing and publishing.

3. I also pitched my novel to real-life, honest-to-God literary agents.

Link: http://fuzzymango.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/writers-digest-conference-2012-part-i-or-little-mango-goes-to-the-big-city/

For a full list of the sessions offered at the 2012 conference, go to: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&

~Julia