Pitching to Agents – The Good and the Ugly

Creator to Seller

On May 29th I posted a piece entitled – Your First Writer’s Conference. https://acrackinthepavement.com/2018/05/29/your-first-writers-conference/

One of the subjects in that piece had to do with pitching. I gave a brief description what it was and what to look for. But if you had read that piece you may have noticed a bitter tone.

Allow me to explain.

Pitch 1

First of all if this is your first conferences pitching to an agent is a great experience. You are forced to push yourself and when you think about it, it’s an excellent way to step out of your comfort zone.

A writer surrounds themselves in a safe and perfect place. We come up with ideas and from there we create. Add a November rainy day, a cup of hot chocolate and before you now it you have what many would call a little slice of heaven.

Pitching places us in an uncomfortable situation. There is no safe place. We are challenged. We are nervous. Our minds are suddenly pushed to work in different ways.

We go from creator to seller and the person we are selling to has heard our skit a million times. Not an easy thing to do.

 

A Great Idea….kind of

On the surface pitching is a great idea. Like so many plans when they are first drawn up I’m sure the creators were certain they had a winner on their hands.

Last summer I pitched to three agents. They were kind, professional and courteous. As a first time author and this being my first pitch I am happy I had the experience. It placed me in uncharted waters.

But I doubt I will ever do it again.

 

The Mind of an Agent

Job InterviewI tried to place myself in the mind frame of the agent. But every time I did I couldn’t seem to shake one thing – Ten Minutes is not enough.

The agent may have a winner of their hands. The writer and their work may be as close to perfection they have seen in years but in that short amount of time it’s nearly impossible to get to know them or their work.

From my vantage point listening to pitch after pitch comes across as a bad version of speed dating. That’s assuming there’s a good version. I don’t know how long an agent sits but after a while it would seem like a blur.

 

The Pit and a Better Way

The writers had a sitting area they called the pit. The nervous energy I experienced was so thick I doubt a chainsaw could have dented it. I witnessed pitches being memorized, blank stares, pacing and nervous glances at their phones. For a brief moment I feared I was auditioning for a play on Broadway. On the other hand I love New York City so I guess it would have been worth it.

I stopped being nervous after my first pitch. I realized after the first one that there must be a better way.

In those ten minutes a writer only has six minutes, seven tops, to talk about their work. In the other three or four minutes there’s small talk, pleasantries an so on. We all want to do something that separates us from the pack but in those 200 seconds it’s almost impossible.

Check that: Impossible.  

 

Another Face

Pitch 3

All three agents asked for chapter samples but I felt their request had more to do with politeness than anything. Let’s face it, I was just another face and the chances of making a connection with me or my story was close to impossible.

In theory, pitching is a great idea. Unfortunately it begins and ends there.

Yes, there are success stories and they deserved to be told, but still, I can’t help but think that there must be a better way.

What that is I don’t know but I’m positive something else is out there. A system of sorts that creates a connection, a bond, between writer and agent.

That’s all we want.

In closing I do recommended that a writer just starting out, either with the craft or conference, to give pitching a try. It pushes you and like I said, it takes you out of your comfort zone.

But I wouldn’t break the bank. I did three and at $25 a pop that was way more than this starving artist could afford.

If this is your first conference make it a priority to meet people. Talk, listen and learn. That’s where the real bond is created.

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Book

Books and Mistakes

The other day I made the mistake of having a conversation with someone who doesn’t read.

Now that doesn’t mean I won’t talk to you if you don’t read, but I will be careful with the subject I choose.

I told him that I wrote a book. Mistake number one. I than told him the plot of my book. Mistake number two. Don’t get me wrong, my friends a good guy. He means well but his interests are narrow and if you go outside the lines you will remember to never do it again. Mistake number three.

 

Iron Man Overdose

Iron Man

My friend is a huge Iron Man fan. Not the comics per se, but the movie franchise. Over the last nine years Iron Man has pretty much dominated our conversations. Now, I enjoy Iron Man but not at my friends level.

Still, I do what friends do, and play along.

My biggest blunder was confessing that my book was a romantic/comedy. After a long pause, mixed with an uncomfortable stare, he begin to give me advice.

You need to blow things up, he said. A house, a car, an entire city. Whatever it is, blow it sky high and remember….there has to be death. Lots of death. Every chapter kill someone.

Intrigued by this I asked him to continue.

You need a hulk-like figure. Make him cool, like the dude on screen and make sure he throws someone through a wall.

Keep going, I said. I had to see where this was going.

Know your physics, he demanded. That Iron Man guy knows this stuff.

When I asked him if he knew anything about physics the answer was a quick no. With the physics portion out of the way the topic quickly turned to women.

They have to be sexy as hell, he said. Study Scarlett Johansson or add a photo of her.

Of course. I’m sure she’d be thrilled.

And finally, he concluded, add lots of pictures.

To summarize, my friend suggested I do away with my romantic/comedy novel and replace it with a plagiarized version of Iron Man. Complete with a direct copy of Scarlett Johannsson, very little dialog and lots of pictures.

 

Deep Sigh

Stock Car

Aside from Iron Man, my friend is a huge car racing fan. Car racing is not my thing. Thankfully Iron Man re-energized our friendship giving us something to talk about.

But what if I turned the tables? What if I peppered my friend with suggestions the same way he did with me? I have a feeling it would go something like this:

 

Race car engines are really loud

  • Need to quiet things down a bit.
  • Allow the fans to hear themselves think.
  • Two Words: hearing loss.
  • Communication issues between spectators.
  • Pretty sure this loud car stuff is all for show.

Way to many cars

  • Have you thought about bringing the number down?
  • Six tops.
  • Have it be more like a track meet.
  • Wait, I’ve got an idea.

Combine car racing with track

  • Drivers could sprint to their cars.
  • Use a baton like they do in track.
  • Probably a terrible idea but exciting.

Why so many laps?

  • After a half an hour of watching cars race in a circle I’m bored.
  • Have you thought of a square track instead?
  • If square doesn’t work how about trapezoid?
  • Irregular Quadrilateral? Hexagon?

 

In the end if any of you have that one friend that doesn’t get what you do, try to keep them around. They mean well and they’re reliable. The trick is to finding that one thing that both of you get. It all comes down to a friendly balance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Iron Man and his sidekicks are calling.

Loki

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

First Drafts and Joy Rides

A Writers Board

Delete

A few months ago I was on a writer’s board. It was one of those boards I kind of forgot about.

I was scrolling down the topics when I came upon the subject of first drafts. Curious what the writer had to say I clicked on it and read her piece.

She had just completed the first draft of her first novel and wanted to share her enthusiasm. Her first draft contained roughly 95,000 words. Took over a year to write. A murder/mystery I remember her saying and it was clear she was extremely proud of her achievement.

I scrolled down to the comments where a handful of people congratulated her. Some included smiley faces while others included the always favorite first bump. But it was final comment on the thread that caused me to sit up and take notice.

The  commenter  didn’t mix words. There were no congratulations, what is it about, etc.. All I saw were two words:

Delete it.

 

Regrets

Regrets

Puzzled by this I read further. After a brief exchange of questions and arguing between the two the writer agreed that her first draft was nothing more than practice. In the end the novel she was so proud of was gone.

I noticed the date and saw that her post and comments were two months old. I sent her a private message and asked if she changed her mind and if she hadn’t could she could retrieve her deleted novel. No, she said. Worst of all she admitted that she regretted her decision. Not wanting to make the situations worse I dropped the subject and unfollowed the site.

 

Road Trips

Road Trip

I’ve never believed that a masterpiece is written in the first draft but at the same time that doesn’t meant it can’t be found if you look deep enough.

I’ve always said that the first draft is a road trip between the writer and the characters. I’ve always imagined a nice roomy mini-van complete with cooler and snacks. Everyone exchanging ideas and laughing at the mistakes.

Most important: A bond is created.

The first draft has more to do with the characters showing the writer their ways. I’ve learned that the characters we create were never actually created, they were simply waiting for their story to be told.

I’ve also learned that their patience is far better than ours. They are set in their ways and it is up to us to figure them out. But that only happens by way of their patience and understanding.

By the time the first draft is complete a connection is made. The magic of storytelling blossoms in that first draft. That’s why it bothered me so when the writer agreed to delete hers.

 

Dempsey

The earliest version of my novel, Dempsey’s Grill, was more of a novella than a novel. It came out to roughly 30,000 words but the idea was there. A tiny vision of who these characters would later be.

I can still remember my curiosity growing and before I knew it I had a 110,000 word epic on my hands. Was it ready to be read by a publisher or agent? No way. But the foundation was set and I was able to build.

Which brings me back to the beginning: Why delete your first draft?

I always wanted Dempsey’s Grill to be funny, warm and real. True, the first draft was a tad on the wordy side but the characters and their story was exactly what I had hoped for.

As with any first draft I added way to many subplots and a handful of unrealistic situations but that didn’t matter. The characters were growing and so was I. But most of all I was understanding who they were.

 

Flat Tires and Dusty Roads

In the end the first draft is all about a crazy road trip. It’s a flat tire with no spare in the middle of Nebraska. It’s a dusty road in the middle of Australia minus a map.

But somehow it works and we all survive and that’s how a story is told.

You’re going to hear a lot of opinions on how to handle your first draft but if you ask me I’d say it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Beautiful Friendship

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Blind Dates and Stormy Nights

Storm

I was never the type to go on blind dates. In order to go out I had to know them.

Either we were friends growing up, we worked together or we knew each other in school. In most cases we had the same friends and we were always running in to one another. Sometimes literally.

When it came to meeting my wife it was in college in the same dorm. Her cousin was my best friend. As you can see my dating life was safe. There was no walking on egg shells. There was no mystery. The waters were calm with no storm in the horizon.

Name-Less

Pat

But on an early summer day, a month shy of my 20th birthday, a storm rolled in. The storm had a name but for the life of me I can’t remember his name.

He was around my age. We sat next to one another at our local community college struggling with life and algebra. He was a nice guy, that I do remember, and our math struggles created a nice bond.

I remember the day my name-less friend arrived at my house It was a sunny June morning. Or was it a cloudy June afternoon? Some things remain a mystery.

He was in full panic mode. The girl of his dreams, who looked just like Pat Benatar, agreed to date him provided he found a date for her friend. His sad eyes and desperate plea gave me no choice and just like that a storm was born.

I arrived early on the evening of our date. I was the organizing type. Naturally a game plan was in the works. What was my mystery date like? Did we have anything in common? What music did she listen to?

These were questions I should have asked the moment he begged. It would be a mistake that would haunt me for the rest of the evening.

The Hair

Hair 2

We were knee deep in the 1980’s and she had lots of hair. So much that I couldn’t stop staring. It was dyed white and defied gravity. For the longest time I’m pretty sure I never saw her face.

Being on a budget – in other words, broke – we took our dates to the nearest burger palace. Our goal, according to my name-less friend, was to test the waters and look for waves. To this day I have zero clue what waves we were looking for but at the time I pretended I knew and agreed.

Our plan was to eat light. Have a friendly conversation, maybe a laugh or two, while my friend’s date sang Pat Benatar songs. Not really but I secretly hoped.

But I had a bad feeling. My date was as silent as an oyster and my name-less friend was nervous. The combination of the two put me on edge. To add misery to company we were in a diner that went by of Hal’s and the H was flickering. I have this thing with flickering lights.

With my faceless date on mute and my name-less friend nearing a nervous breakdown I decided this was an excellent time to order Hal’s world famous double cheeseburger and monster milkshake.

My plan worked. My name-less friend ordered the same and soon the three of us were engaged in a somewhat coherent conversation.

Chugging

Shakes

Sadly, my faceless date refused to join in. All she seemed to care about was the monster milkshake. Not just mine, I might add, but Pat Benatar’s as well. In a moment that I am positive broke several world records, my faceless date chugged both of our shakes empty. I’m pretty sure I fell in love for at least a minute.  

It was a surprisingly cool night as we exited to my car. With love in the air, thanks to the milkshake chugging, I turned the heat on, looked her way and smiled.

In a moment played out in the finest of romantic literature I watched as she parted her hair and revealed her face. Her eyes twinkled under the moonlight capturing her eyes for the first time.

I never knew their color but I pretended they were green. Noticing the smile on my face I watched with anticipation as she parted her lips and tilted her head. In an instant my mind raced in all directions.

An evening stroll, I pondered. Maybe a late night talk and endless stares into those lovely greens. Pat Benatar would sing her favorites. Album two side one to be exact and without warning John Cusack, the 80’s version that is, would whisper advice.

The Accident

Sadly my fantasy was interrupted as portions of Hal’s monster milkshake, mine and Pat’s for those scoring at home, landed on my dashboard, the window, the steering wheel, the ceiling and me.

I will not repeat what my name-less friend and Pat Benatar said but I promise you it rhymed with luck. For those hockey fans out there puck is probably a better word.

Speaking of luck, my faceless date and Pat Benatar lived a mile away. In an instant our dates disappeared into the night leaving behind me, my name-less friend and the memories of Hal’s monster milkshake.

I never saw our dates again. And my name-less friend? Well, he and I parted ways soon after. As for me my days of blind dates ended that night but I can assure you the memory never will. Trust me, I’ve tried.

To this very day whenever I smell vanilla and hairspray a sense of doom races down my spine.

Hals

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!!

Roseanne Barr and the lessons we’ve learned

The day before I post my blog I look for pictures to match the story I’m about to tell. Last week was fun. I found some silly pictures of me and the girls and all was right in the world.

A picture in this post would be wrong. Roseanne Barr’s comments gave me an extremely bitter taste and because of that you’ll only see my words.

Most of you by now have heard Roseanne Barr’s comments. I’m not going to repeat it. I’m pretty sure there’s enough comments out there to fill a very deep well.

For those of you who are in the dark, I suggest you google ‘Roseanne Barr Twitter’. We’ll wait for your return.

Good, you’re back.

In no way would I imitate her comments or copy her views. In a nutshell I am not that kind of a person. Plus, I was raised in a good home. I never heard that kind of talk. But that doesn’t mean I am mistake free.

I am as guilty as anyone for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or laughing at a joke that might have been out of line.

I have a dear friend who visits this blog every week. We met in the mid 80’s and I can see her now nodding her head. She knew me in my young and dumb days and knows full well what I’m talking about.

Because of recent events and the results that came from them it served to me as a reminder just how powerful social media has become.

At any given time you and I can post anything that is on our mind. Anybody can read it and comment on it. When you think about it that’s a scary thing. That’s a lot of power in a person’s hands.

As writers we need to be aware of our audience. But our audience is no longer limited to the books we write they have now expanded to the remarks we make and the photo’s we share.

That’s power and as we have seen, that kind of power can break us as quickly as it made us.

If our goal is to see our work in print not only do we need to create quality work but we need an audience and in more cases than not, that audience comes in the form of social media.

Rosanne Barr should be a wake-up call for many. What she did was extreme. I’ve never met anyone like her and I doubt I will, but still, we need to be careful with the words we choose.

In this path that we have chosen with our writing and our names attached to it we need to be the grownup in the room. We have to be the professionals.

At the same time that doesn’t mean we have to be boring. I like a good laugh as much as the next person but I need to be aware what I’m laughing at.

The other day I told someone that I believe our true selves come out in social media. We are safely behind our keyboards or nuzzled in our cozy corner with our smart phone. We become brave and honest and soon we reveal who we really are.

If I’m right on that, and I think I am, than I have met some of the best people in the world since I created this blog.

The comments from my posts, along with private messages, have convinced me that our world is full of smart and kind people. Not all the apples are rotten.

But still….always be aware of the power that social media possesses. It is a love/hate relationship and a relationship that you and I need.

I have fun with Twitter and Facebook and I do so because of the cool people I have surrounded myself with. They understand me and I understand them but most of all we keep each other in line.

Someday we’re going to be mad about something and we’ll feel the need to speak out. By all means do it. It’s our right. But before we do, let’s take a moment to calm down. Think it through before we cozy up to our keyboards.

Once it’s out there there’s no turning back and we all know the damage it can cause.

Thanks for stopping by.

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Daughters

Daughter 2

The other day I glanced at the calendar and it occurred to me that the crazy kid you see above will be 14 in a few weeks. Not long after that revelation another thought came to mind. The equally crazy kid you see at the bottom will turn 16 in July.

Katie 1

I never thought I’d be the type of parent asking where the time has gone but here I am.

Where has the time gone?

It now makes perfect sense why my grandmother gave me long looks when I was their age. At the time I’m sure it was embarrassing but not anymore. Eventually they grow and we’re amazed at how quickly time has passed.

For those of you who are parents I don’t need to explain how much a child can change your life. But here’s a question I caught myself asking:

How much have I changed in those years?

Physically I’ve added a few grey hairs. I’ve also lost a few that will never grow back. I can recite from memory certain tunes that played non-stop when they were little and, sadly, I discovered a temper deep inside that I had no idea existed.

Quick Example

Major sinus headache – Busy grocery store – Hot summer day – Ages 6 & 4 – No, I will not by you ice cream. We’ve been over this – Stop crying. – Get off the floor. – Clean up on aisle 6!!!!!

For you parents out there I don’t have to explain. For those of you who are not but will be – Your time is coming.

So what happened to me? Am I different? Am I better than I was on that summer morning of July, 2002?

I had to find out

Music Tunes

The first change that I can remember came in the form of music. I wanted them to have their own and at the same time share mine. Immediately both of them understood the magic of music.

On my end I was surprised how easily I began listening to their songs. Not once did I proclaim that my music was better. Surprisingly I found myself asking who was singing and what else do they have.

I also turned into a morning person. Gone are the days I wake an hour or less before work, hurrying out the door hoping I can beat traffic. I am now up at 5:30 and 7:30 on weekends. Turns out my grandfather was right, mornings are the best part of the day.

When it comes to my mouth I have gone from spouting off whatever comes to mind to being cautious. Maybe the world doesn’t need to hear everything I’m thinking.

Sometimes secrets are best.

Why Can’t I

But when it comes to my mind that’s where everything changed. Long before they arrived creativity was a nice dream but far from a reality.

I remember watching them create stories with their color books, their sketch pads and their laptops. At one point I’m sure I asked – Why can’t I?

I listened to their conversations but most of all their questions. Why is a flower blue and why is the grass green? How come our minds are spinning with ideas when it’s time for bed but we’re sleepy when it’s time to get up?

Solid questions but rarely met with solid answers.

Most of all that guy who looked a lot like me, long before they were born, was afraid to try.

The Lessons They Teach

For him it was easy to dream but afraid to fail. Working hard was not in the cards. Who wants to work hard for a dream if failure is part of the deck?

But how could I tell my girls to try again if I couldn’t do it myself? Somewhere along the way I learned.

Now experiencing new things are a way of life and if I stumble a few times I call it learning.

In a blink of an eye my girls will be out of the house living their lives. I’m sure I’ll catch myself asking that same question – Where did the time go? – But it’s the cycle of life and I’m excited to see where their lives will take them.

I’ve changed a lot in these 16 years. The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to fail. No longer am I afraid of that word.

Someday I’ll thank those two crazy kids for teaching me that lesson but it’ll have to wait. If I do it now I’m pretty sure I’d see an eye roll or two. Maybe I’ll wait another 16 years.

Parenting. The lessons they teach.

Kylie and Katie

 

Happy Friday Everyone!

Your First Writer’s Conference

Writers Conference 4

A number of years ago I attended my very first writer’s conference in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon.

Living ten minutes away it felt like a pretty good deal. My wife dropped me off in the morning and picked me up at night. I skipped the breakfast and dinner portion and headed straight to the classes.

Looking back I had a lot to learn.

I was wide eyed, a tad overwhelmed, plus I had no idea what I was doing or if I even belonged. When it was all over the biggest takeaway that I had were meeting fellow writers and listening to the equally amazing instructors.

The combination of the two led me to believe that I actually had a shot at this.

Fast forward a few years later to the summer of 2017, August in case you’re scoring at home, I headed north to Portland, Oregon for writer’s conference number two.

I arrived with a bit more experience. I belonged to a couple of writer’s groups. I learned that the first draft was far from the only draft, but most of all I learned that this writing gig was hard on the brain.

Finally I felt like I belonged.

My goal is to attend the Portland conference this summer but my right knee and a possible knee replacement may have a say in all that. But until then, the plan is in the works for writer’s conference number three.

If by chance I don’t make it I thought I’d pass along a few things for those of you who are planning to attend for the first time.

Below is a list of things I wish I had known when I took my first steps into the unknown.

 

Spend the Night

Even if the conference is held in your home town make plans to spend the night in the hotel that is hosting it. Yes, it’ll cost more but this is an investment and if you are serious into making this a career it is well worth the cash.

Late night conversations will happen. Plus, by staying the night, it will make it easier for you to attend the early morning breakfast.

 

Food

Writers Conference 6

Connections are made by way of food. Remember that. Writing is solitary work but conferences are not. They are a time for group gathering and socializing. Most of those two things can be found at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table. Never eat alone. Save that for another time.

 

Classes

Writers Conference 9

Study the list of classes long before you arrive. Select the ones that match your writing interest, your genre or pick the ones that sound like fun.

At the same time pick one that is way outside your circle. Conferences are a time to be daring and you might be surprised at the ones you choose.

 

Questions

The biggest mistake I made in Eugene was reverting back to my high-school days. I sat in the back and pretended I was invisible.

Don’t Do That!

Ask questions. Make comments. Argue is you must but be respectful if you do. Remember: You want people to like you. No burning bridges.

Whatever you do take the shy student that’s dying to get out and boot it out the door. They can appear in your work but not at the conference.

 

Instructors

 They are the best. It’s as simple as that. Do your best to thank them. Ask follow up questions after class if time allows and be sure to get on their mailing list.

 

Pitching

Writers Conference 7

I will give my personal opinion of pitching in a later post. For now I will say it is a nice experience to partake in.

What is pitching, you ask? Pitching is a ten minute conversation with an agent where you try your hardest to sell them your work.

For some this is nerve wracking. The things I saw will require one or two posts to cover but for now let me just say that this nerve wracking stuff doesn’t have to happen.

The chances of a New York City agent being floored by your pitch is slim. They are pros and they have seen it all but it does happen. Not a lot, but it does.

The odds are stacked against you and because of that you have no reason to be nervous. In fact this a perfect time to enjoy the experience of meeting a big time agent.

Oh, one more thing: It will cost you $25 for those ten minutes.

 

Agents

An agent is just a person doing their job. They are nice. They are helpful and they want you to succeed.

The best conversation I had was in an elevator when both of us were headed to the same floor. We spoke for about ten minutes and it was far better than the pitches I paid for and a lot more honest.

 

Games

Participate in games. Even if you choose not to play at least be there. Their purpose is to laugh, have a drink or two and toss away the seriousness of it all. They come at the end of the night allowing you to end your evening in giggles.

 

Listen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The greatest classroom that I discovered came in the form of fellow writers. I learned more than any instructor could ever teach.

Because of this I suggest you keep your phone handy. Or, if you’re old school, keep a tiny notebook along with a favorite pen.

Get their names, their social media info and so on but most of all follow up after the conference ends. As for you, if you have a blog or any other type of social media page share it.

 

Tables

Writers Conference 5

All around the conference you’ll see tables full of people promoting their books or services. Take the time to look and ask questions. If an author is promoting their book buy one. Some day that person behind that table could be you. We’re all in this together.

 

Money

When the conference is over set aside a monthly plan to save for the next one. Make these conferences part of your yearly budget.

Writing conferences are by far the most valuable tool in terms of resources and personal support a writer will ever experience. I cannot express this enough. If you want to take your talent to the next level you need to go to one.

 

My hope is to see some of you in Portland this summer. Fingers crossed my knee agrees.

coffee and rain