Tag Archives: PNWA

After the Agent Pitch

Emerging writers flock to conferences like the one just held by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association because they’re looking for information–from presenters with tips on craft and marketing, from fellow writers on lessons learned, from the bulletin board that lists local critique groups, and of course from editors and agents who are broadly viewed to hold the keys to the palace of publishing. We practice our pitches, memorize our log lines and synopses, update with lightning speed our writing credentials for our bios, all in the hopes that some paragon of the industry–or new agent looking to sign unknown authors–will ask for a partial manuscript. We feel the onslaught of butterflies invade our intestines when we’re instructed to give a specific subject line in our email message, like we’ve just learned the 21st Century’s version of “Open, Sesame.”

Before you click on that send button, do a few things: Read More…

PNWA 2012 Moments from Friday

red pen correctionsThe first time I came to the PNWA Conference I was by myself, staying as a guest in the man cave of a friend’s house and commuting to the conference hotel by bus. I got to the event early and stayed all day, rumbled home on uneven roads, and zonked out until it was time to repeat the process in the morning. The next year I came with my sweetheart in tow, who was 9 months pregnant at the time, so I ducked out often to grab a meal with her or check in. This year I’ve got a family with me, meaning that I’m attempting to cram baby watching time in with networking, going to panels, and pitching stories to industry folks. Now that exhaustion from two years ago seems tame in comparison.

Also, this is the first year I’ve attended the conference as a published author. That’s pretty rad. Even still, my self-pessimistic nature continues to knock at my mind’s door. Oh, look at your puny stack of one book. And you call yourself a writer?

I’ve written before about how I’ve sent my inner critic away on a permanent vacation. Sometimes it pops back for a rendezvous with the rest of my thoughts, and I have to shoo it away again. Yesterday it tried to set its suitcases down and I handed it a ticket to Argentina. Go see the llamas and glaciers, I said. It slumped off, pissed and dejected. Read More…

The Brutality of the Slush Pile

stamp of rejectionEarlier this month at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference in metro Seattle, I went to a workshop on first page critique. The plan as proposed by the panelists, was to have writers bring just their first page of text from their works-in-progress, pass them to the moderator, and listen as the two agents and one editor gave feedback. It sounded to some of us writers like a free craft workshop, which to some degree, it was. But the real gem of helpfulness from this exercise was, in my opinion, the glimpse into how brutal a process of reading unsolicited work can be, and how quickly a publishing professional makes a decision (mostly to reject) a candidate piece of prose.

And wow, it was painful to hear. Read More…

Lessons Learned at PNWA 2011

Cherry Weiner literary agentCherry Weiner will suck your bad book idea through a straw into a blender and come up with something entirely different, but it will be sellable, damn it. Don’t interrupt Cherry’s smoking time with your shitty book concept.

No, my pitch session with Cherry did not go well, but at least I think I realize something: just as I am awful with multiple-choice tests, so will I bomb out on my pitch appointments, whenever I set them up. I’m much more natural and interesting when I’m pitching in a hallway outside the exhibit room, or next to the book signing tables. If it’s part of an organic conversation, I can paint a picture. If it’s speed dating, I crumble into a sticky mass of my own neuroses. Read More…

All Pitched Out

baseball being pitchedThey take starting pitchers off the mound and send them to nurse their elbows in something like the sixth inning of Major League Baseball games. There is no such relief for the intrepid, emerging writer. It’s pitch until you drop at events like the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference. And here I am, ostensibly dropped, face down on my hotel bed, typing without looking at my hands and thanking Miss Radice of McCorristin Catholic High School that she taught me to memorize a keyboard so well in 1986. Read More…

Last-Minute Conference Preparation for the Procrastinating Writer

one's brain after PNWA...fried eggs in a panMaybe it seems like just a couple of weeks ago we all celebrated Memorial Day, and then there was the end of Glenn Beck’s gig on Fox, and suddenly the entire United States was embroiled in an epic saga of betrayal and urgency, all the media trained on one subject that terrified even the most stoic among us—the Casey Anthony trial. No wait, the debt ceiling.

In any case, that late-summer conference, booked last spring, is now in two days, and there is still a mess of stuff to accomplish. Here’s the last-minute guide for writers who waited too long to pack their conference bags: Read More…

Writing non fiction book proposals: Rita Rosenkranz

One of the presentations at PNWA this past weekend focused on writing non fiction book proposals, those business-side documents that outline what the market is for a non fiction title and the pitch on why this new idea will sell, sell, sell. Rita Rosenkranz, one of the agents at this year’s conference, presented. I missed the first 15 minutes at an editor’s session, but here are my notes for the rest of her talk. While I’d learned much of this by making mistakes over the past year, I also found a lot of new information that I think will be really helpful for future projects.

What to put in your non fiction book proposal:

On the cover page:

  • Title
  • Book Proposal at top
  • Subtitle
  • Author info lower right or left hand corner—don’t bury the contact info.

Follow the file format the agent asks for.

Table of Contents (TOC) page—all the sections of the proposal with page numbers

The Overview—should make a case for the book and author showing how it meets a need on the publishing market. Create context for the book. What is the argument for the book. Why does this book need to be? It should not feel generic. It should be about a page, maybe a page and a half. Make sure that you’re not overwriting. Outline your social context that makes the book attractive to a market. Identi the market as well as you can, but don’t overreach or the agent won’t trust you. Talk about what’s practical and what you can control. Know how long it will take you to complete the work, and say it.

Qualifications—personal experience, professional expier., history as a public speaker.

Competition—would the editor agree with your opinion? How will the receiver review your work? What other books are in this market? Look at Amazon to see if your book has merit. You may see all the other books and worry your market is saturated. You have to make an honest case for your book and the reasons you’re particularly suited to write this book. List competing titles by title, publisher, year, and price. Include a description of the strengths and weaknesses of it. What is your twist? How will your book sell differently? Give about a page and half. The summaries should be concise, not long-winded. Different categories will require different time spans you’ll have to go back. Some books are old but still very ore sent in the marketplace.

Audience—be clear about your intended audience, even if it includes cross over. Is it a niche readership, and can you lifer demographics?

Marketing—will you have special sales? Will you buy quantities up front? That won’t clinch the deal, but it’s good to note. Many folks assume back room sales. What Web sites will mention your work? Are there natural tie Ins on the call dar to your work? Are there hooks to your work that could pique media interest? Are you a member of associations that could help with marketing? Could ppl you interviewed for the book help you market it? Read book marketing books. Not all marketing costs a lot of money. Put in your solid platform plan. Red hot internet publicity. Get known before the book deal.

Blurbs—get advanced blurbs for a submission if you can. Not necessary, but helpful. Quotes help attract attention to the work, requires advance planning, you must send the best version of your book to your blurb writers. Avoid using your relatives.

Include the book’s actual introduction, so you can show the voice. It should run no longer than three pages.

Book’s TOC. This sets up the body of work. It prompts a customer’s purchase. Should be comprehensive with a logical layout.

Sample chapters. Must see the first one, to show me how you frame the work and how it will welcome me. Also a key chapter that is a signature of the work, even ifi it’s chapter 20. If you have more chapters ready, let me know, so I can look at them if I want to see more. They will help me determine If I will bond with the author and will want to invest my time. You can put in a handful of graphs or illustrations if you think they’ll help make the book clear to me.

Book content—this should come at the end, since everything has been leading up to it. But don’t stress about the order of the other things.

It’s the single most important thing to sell the nonfiction book. It shows the editor what will be coming. No editor would consider an oral presentation an adequate substitution. The actual writing of the proposal is useful to yourself to work through what you’re writing, to make it the best book possible. It will help you reevaluate the work and that you’re presenting it the best way you can.

Cover letters are very important. The cover letter will show that you can communicate what the book is about, why it’s exciting. You must be adept at articulating what it is. It is your most effective advantage to getting your foot in the door. As a rule, a summary of the work. Just be clear, not lyrical. Second paragraph, about you. How are you aligned with your subject? No disconnects. Avoid saying the work is hard to describe. Don’t say you have 25 unpublished works. Manage a tone that jibes with the book. Limit yourself to one page. Include full contact Info. Don’t go on vacation the next day.

Rejections: we are all rejected, agents too. Rejections are part of our environment. What is in this letter that will help me get better? Don’t let rejection crush you. Be smart and savvy and know that rejection that tells you something is a gift. You’ll be able to get on to the job of selling your work.

Look at Amazon sales. Does the category consistently do well? Some of the numbers on amazon are misleading. Agents have bookscan, though. Just get a rough guess. Obviously bestsellers are doing well.

PNWA, take two

I hopped on the bus, a sudden expert at the King County 560 route to Bellevue via Seatac. I don’t even know what half of that means. But it was the same driver, same bunch of drones heading to the office, and it kept occurring to me that I wasn’t seeing as many coffee thermoses as I’d thought I would. Maybe they all had stashes of coffee tucked away in their bags. Maybe I was in a parallel universe where coffee so perfectly absorbed light beams that it was invisible to the naked eye. Maybe coffee is illegal on public transportation in Seattle. But that would be too weird.

The bus ride went smoothly and I had plenty of time to grab my own cup of joe at the hotel before the workshops started, but then it all changed. I was at the courtesy vehicle ramp at the airport waiting for the hotel van. Waiting. For the vehicle marked Godot, apparently. More than half an hour ticked by, and finally he rolled by, stopping to pick me up. This wasn’t actually his choice, as I’d pretty much stood in front of him and blocked his path.

Now with six minutes to go until the editor’s panel, I had just enough time to grab some watermelon chunks, a muffin, and the proverbial coffee. Good thing I was there to network my six minutes, while stuffing food in my face before I fell over from low blood sugar. It was a great way to make a positive first impression, of course. The editor’s panel was interesting; I’ve posted it at the end of today’s blog. It’s good and somewhat dejecting to see how many kinds of editors, publishing houses, and distribution channels there are in this business. In my mind, trying to get that first book published looks like a daunting Venn Diagram: Agents in one circle, Editors in the second, Publishing Routes in the third.

Getting a book on the market is like playing pin the tail on the donkey, hoping you land in the sweet spot of the middle of the overlapping circles. In other words, it’s the dream of an ass.

And I’m all fine with that. I can ass around with the best of them. Especially while crunching my way through a few watermelon chunk seeds.

I went to a panel titled something like, “Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, Oh My!” and I appreciated the tip of the hat to The Wizard of Oz. It was great to hear what’s selling in that market right now—hint, it involves urban fantasy—and what is about to be done with, at least for a while. So I’ll have to shelve that book idea for the teen vampire romance, and here I thought I was being all original. I do actually have a book project going on right now that isn’t done enough to pitch, but I hope to lay out the concept and see if they think it’s marketable. These poor agents can barely stand in line to use the rest room without getting accosted, so I try really hard not to be “that guy” who doesn’t know when to shut the hell up. And by try really hard, I mean I don’t stop agents from urinating. Unless of course, my ideas during the pitch session are so bad that they spontaneously evacuate their bladders. That kind of effect I just can’t help. But when someone says, “Wow, I really need to go to the bathroom,” it’s only proper that you let her go, even though you know in your heart of hearts that if she just listened to The Incredible Idea she’d never have to pee again. That’s her loss.

I networked, I talked to other writers, a couple of editors, who are really my kind of people. I know what they do up close. I’ve done it, albeit for much drier material than this. But I get who they are as people, so I feel comfortable with editors. Agents just make me want to throw up with nervous energy. I have to dedicate a portion of my consciousness to slowing down when I speak with them so I don’t rattle off words like a machine gun.

I saw that my pitch session—which is a 10-minute block of time writers get at this conference with an agent one-on-one—was at the tail end of a workshop I wanted to attend. Its focus was on humor. I like humor. I walked in, looking for a chair near the door, but it was in a very small conference room, because hey, who gives a crap about humor? Note to PNWA conference coordinators, give a bigger room to humor next year. We nearly had to velcro attendees to the ceiling to fit us all in there.

I walked up to the presenter, Gordon Kirkland, who is Canada’s answer to Dave Barry. As if Dave Barry required answering. I apologized, saying I had to leave the session early and I didn’t want to be rude.

“Well, you’re going to be rude, but thanks for telling me about it in advance,” said the presenter. This was going to be a good workshop.

Kirkland had, legend tells it, basically locked himself in a room with a couple other writers in Edmonton, Alberta, to write a book in 72 hours. Fortunately we Americans don’t have to convert the time—it’s the same here as in Canada. But Kirkland brought this story up in his workshop, saying that nobody comes out of Edmonton except alcoholics and hockey players. I rolled my eyes, but most of the US folks in the room didn’t know the reference well enough to laugh too hard. Ha ha, they thought, hockey players. Those silly Canadians.

Some banter, as one can imagine, ensued. We talked about writing about our families, how humor works, etc., and then it was time for me to start practicing my pitch before my session. I stood up and started making my way through the throng to the door.

“And where do you think you’re going,” Kirkland called out to me.

“I’m going to my pitch session,” I said, “and by the way, my wife is from Edmonton!”

The room erupted in laughter.

Later, a writer to whom I had just told this story informed me I had left out a line in my response to him.

“You should have said, ‘my wife is from Edmonton, and she’s a hell of a hockey player!”

And that, right there, is why I love this conference.

I sat out in the hallway, and pulled up my pitch on my iPad. I read it something like 40 times in 10 minutes, not necessarily trying to memorize it, but so that I could hit every point in the synopsis/pitch. Gotta keep “edge of burnout,” gotta mention the bad hair dye job, gotta bring up the social networking profile for my cat. Once our time drew nigh we were to sit in chairs outside the ballroom doors and wait to be led in. This did nothing to lower anyone’s anxiety about the moment. Then a volunteer poked his head out and motioned for us to enter the inner sanctum. I drew my +3 Vorpal Blade.

Wait. Wrong story.

We walked down a hallway and then we saw the room of agents, each sitting behind their own table, each with a beverage at some point of fullness/emptyness. I had to walk by the agent with whom I’ve been corresponding. I nodded hello to her and she wished me good luck tomorrow, meaning the awards ceremony, for whom I’m a finalist (give a little yay! here). I found my agent and sat down. He was much smaller than I’d realized when I saw him sitting at the agent’s forum earlier in the day. He was actually a pocket person.

“I’m nervous,” I said. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shut up! Just give the pitch, you dumb ass!

“That’s okay,” he said. “We can just talk.”

Suddenly this exchange had the tone of a teenage boy going to see his first prostitute. I figured I should just get up and walk away. Exploiting prostitutes isn’t right.

I told him I was going to pitch him a memoir. He sat back a little, waiting.

I said, “As Henry Miller supposedly said, the way to get over a woman is to turn her into fine literature. But that’s not why I wrote this memoir.”

Of course he wasn’t following me yet, because he didn’t know the Huge Transgender Topic of the memoir. But he didn’t look disinterested, per se. I told him the title, which is a giveaway on the whole book concept.

He looked straight at my chest. What a cute little pocket person agent. Thank God I usually query in letters. We talked for a bit, me giving the synopsis and then talking about my other writing, the speculative fiction stuff and the pop culture critique stuff.

“What other books are on the market like this,” he asked. I told him I’d made a book proposal with a full market analysis section, and he said, “oh good.” Quite the terse fellow, this one.

He never seemed really interested and I couldn’t get a feel for how I was coming across. I think perhaps future conferences should have a drop button so the writer can just fall through the floor onto a landscape of pillows. At least you’ll know their sentiment. He slid his card to me as the time for the session expired, asking for my book proposal. And then it struck me.

It was pity sex, this card. But I’d follow up and send it out to him. It wasn’t going to show him much in the way of voice, but it would show him that people buy books like this.

Next up was the dinner. This was a fiasco, as we stood in line for the buffet for half an hour, the hotel running out of food in the first 10 minutes and needing loads more time to restock. I was not pleased. When I sat down, other people had come to the table, not realizing folks were already seated there. I tried to turn it into another get to know new people thing. The keynote speaker was funny, but done way early for her time slot.

Several science fiction writers and I made our way down to the bar in the lobby, and decompressed from our day. It was a good day. I was glad my pitch session was over. Partway through my first 7&7 my friend who’s been hosting me arrived and he joined us. I could tell just in the car ride that I was going to crash once my head hit the pillow. And I did.

Day three starts in a few hours.

By the way, I lied, I’ll put the editor’s forum notes in another post.

The writer’s conference that could be

I fly out in about a week to attend the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association annual conference in Seattle. I’m excited, working on my pitch to agents, and a mite trepidatious about what I’ll find there. I’ve been to conferences before, sure, but no writer’s conference. As a quick recap, so far in my life, personal conference attendance has included:

The Popular Culture Association conference—This was held in the Chicago Hilton where they filmed the remake of The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. It wasn’t the closest I’ve come to meeting Ford, since that distinction goes to the Arlington, Virginia location of the Capitol City Brewery, when Ford and I were seated only two tables apart. For what it’s worth, he seemed like a genuinely nice person. As far as the conference goes, I’ve never had so much fun at an event as this one, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just because I was a completely broke graduate student who subsisted on sneaking in at the ends of coffee hours to eat from the appetizer tables. There’s something about going to a conference where one is giving a paper on Single White Female in the next ballroom to a serious discussion regarding why Bugs Bunny cross-dressed that makes boring conference centers more lively. I like the academization of The X-Files.

National Association for Welfare Research and Statistics—This would have been one of the more dry conferences I’ve seen, except for the moment when a garden variety social worker called out a speaker from the Heritage Foundation on using misleading numbers to say that poor Americans don’t have it so bad because look, they have televisions and telephones. I never saw so many angry middle aged women in one place. The other great thing about this conference was that it took place in Madison, Wisconsin, and that turned out to be a very cute, charming town.

American Association for Public Opinion Research—May in Phoenix is not a good idea, and not just if one is a Latina migrant farmer. It’s bad all around. It should not be 106 degrees in May unless one is standing in a shadow on the surface of Mars. And that’s a bad idea because of the whole lack of oxygen thing. I did appreciate skipping one afternoon of the conference to go golfing with a colleague, and meeting James Brown (the sportscaster, not the king of funk) on the plane to Las Vegas. The workshops and panels, however, were really far from what I would call intellectually rigorous. Sorry, AAPOR, it’s true.

Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference—I love this conference like a younger sibling who doesn’t know how to behave. I don’t really get the hyphen in the title, either. Trans . . . health to not health? What is the trans connecting? Oh, transgender people! Then say it’s about the people, people. Anyway, this is a vital meeting up for the trans community, even as it quickly descends into near meat-market status, with folks checking out each others’ outfits for minimal levels of hipness and outsider status. The more buttons on one’s backpack, the better. And every time I attend this conference, I see middle-aged trans women walking alone, not nearly cool enough for the too cool for school kids. It makes my heart ache. The workshops here are hit and miss, but again, they’re some peoples’ only conduit of information off the Web and/or means of meeting other like-minded people. I try to remember that.

So what will PNWA 2010 be like, I wonder? Are there writers squirreled away in tiny corners of the Northwest, just waiting for their weekend of fun? Will everyone be more successful than me—a low bar, I grant that—or will there be other folks in similar situations to mine? Will I totally screw up and puke on an agent? I mean, I really want to be more socially adept than George H.W. Bush in Japan.

I’m sure it will go well. At least I’ll have my little finalist ribbon to wear around, looking as dorky yet proud as possible. And for giggles, I’ll try tweeting a few workshops if it’s not too interruptive to the panelists. If anyone’s interested, I’m 4evermore over on Twitter.

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