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Entries in DFW writers conference (2)

Monday
Feb282011

What Will Make an Agent "Gong" Your Query

 

gong

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the DFW Writer's conference. It was a lot of fun and I even got to meet some bloggy/twitter friends who I hadn't had the chance to meet before. Below is a pic of me with the lovely Genevieve Wilson and Dawn Alexander.

 

 


I went to a lot of different workshops, but one of the most entertaining and informative sessions of the conference were the two agent "Gong" shows. The setup was simple. Each agent had a gong, anonymous queries were read aloud, and agents would hit their gong when they would've stopped reading. It was quite hilarious, but I also learned a lot of things about what they are and are NOT looking for in a query letter. So I thought I'd pass some of those along.

 

 

WHAT COULD GET YOU "GONGED" BY AN AGENT

1. Opening with a question. 
Most of us have heard this, but there was still a query in the bunch that did this. It got instantly gonged.

 

2. Vampires
You have to be REALLY REALLY different to get them to even consider another vampire novel.

3. Cancer
In and of itself, it may be an important issue in a book, but there were at least four queries where cancer seemed thrown in to up the dramatic effect. "There's this and this and this! Plus, someone has cancer!"

4. Too many things/issues/characters/plotlines.
This was one that the agents said a lot. Stories that seemed to have too many different things going on, too many characters, or too many plotlines listed in the query lost their interest. Stick to the hook!

5. Describing your own writing.
Don't tell them in your query that your story is fascinating, fast-paced, touching, whatever. Show them the story, not what you think of your own writing. One agent gonged out when the first sentence said "This is a fascinating story of..."

6. Cliches and tropes
Overused and tired phrases in the query got you gonged. If you're using them in the query, the agents suspect they'll be in your book. "Her life will be forever changed"..."The last thing she expected was"..."love is blind"...etc. Plus, cliched storylines as well--girl finding a diary with secrets, person finding a portal, romantic suspense where the wife suspects husband is up no good, the woman who loses her husband and goes  a small town to rebuild her life, etc.

7. Inauthentic voice
There was a YA one that used "awesome" "buttload" and "stupid" all in the first two sentences. It sounded like an adult trying to do teenspeak. Didn't work at all.

8. Stuff Happens
Queries where there was a lists of events but no hook or central conflict described.

9. Teens and the elderly
This is a bit random, but there were a few queries that were pitched at YA where the story is the teen gaining wisdom from an older person. They shot these down. Teens don't want to read about old people. They don't care what older people have to say when they are that age and so they aren't going to want to read about that.

10. September 11th plotline
All the agents literally groaned. Some said it was still too close of a topic for them to personally work with. Remember, most of these agents live in NYC, 9/11 was a national tragedy but for those on the front lines realize that it's got to be even more traumatic to relive.

11. Going on and on and on....(kind of like this post :p )
They want to hook, the main character(s), and what's at stake. That's really about it. Do not give a synopsis posing as a query.

12. If you do the "it's this meets this" kind of hook, don't use two movies. Use at least one book in the comparison to show that you are well-read in your own genre.
And don't compare to the GIANT books. Twilight, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games--they're used so much that the comparisons don't meant anything anymore.

13. And finally, MAKE EVERY WORD SERVE  A PURPOSE and BE SPECIFIC.
So many queries had a whole lot of words but said nothing. It's a tale of love and loss and redemption. Of good and evil. Of whatever other completely vague abstract concepts you can think of. That may be a theme in your story but that is not what it's about. The agents want to know what your story is specifically about. Do not waste words talking about abstract things. Every word must give them something that you haven't already said and that speaks to the uniqueness of your story.

I'm sure there were more, but those were the ones that stuck out most in my mind. So do any of these surprise you? What do you think of this feedback?

Friday
Feb252011

Pitch It! Pitch It Good!*

This weekend I get the privilege of going to one of my favorite things--a writer's conference! : ) This will be my third DFW Writer's conference. For those of you anywhere close to this area, you should look into this one each year. I've been the last two years and I always walk away with a great experience and information. And for you guys, I'll be sure to take great notes for blogs and will try to tweet some from the conference  itself. :)

But today, in honor of the conference, I'm re-running Heather Long's guest post on pitching. I'm not pitching this weekend but I know many are, so hope everyone finds this helpful! Have a great weekend!
Pitching
Photo by Will Folsom
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to author Heather Long. She and I "met" as bloggers first (she has a terrific blog right over here), and then found out we were in the same local RWA group. :) Heather also attended RWA nationals and she had a great experience pitching in person.

I am such a huge chicken about in-person pitching that I could sprout feathers just thinking about it, so this is a topic I thought best covered by someone who has had the guts to actually do it. So Heather, take it away...
Pitch it!  Pitch it Good!
Good morning and thank you Roni for allowing me this opportunity to drop by and chat!  Pitching is never fun. For some people, pitching means a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and the fear that their breath will smell of coffee, garlic and onions even if they haven’t been near any of those items.  For others, pitching isn’t something to sweat or worry about. You just show up, say your piece and go home. You probably aren’t going to get anywhere with the pitch session, but you say you’re doing it so others will consider you as serious about your craft as they are about theirs.
Well, honestly – while I have found attitudes that cover all ranges of the above, the truth is – a good pitch session can really change the direction of your career. It can also be the litmus test for how serious you are and how much you think of your own work.
Professional Litmus Test
Pitching takes practice. I’ve walked into pitch sessions and gibbered like a gibbon before. I’m not proud of it. But it’s happened.  For example, not all that long ago, I went to a writer’s conference where we spent the majority of the day in a workshop. It was a terrific workshop. I learned so much that I thought my head would split open from the details.
But when it came time to pitch, just after lunch, I realized that the story I was pitching was crap.  And yes, that’s exactly how the thought occurred to me. I said, “This is crap. Total crap. I could make it so much better.”  I walked into that pitch session without an ounce of confidence about my own work because the workshop showed me so many ways I could be better.
The agent listened with half an ear, a faintly bemused smile on her face and I could tell that my half-halting descriptions flavored by my own disbelief weren’t selling her on the story anymore than I was.  I walked out of the pitch session feeling like an idiot.
Why had I even bothered?
Don’t Stop Believing
I bothered because I had a good story idea.  I bothered because I had great characters.  I bothered because before that workshop, I really believed in that story.  The problem was, I learned so much that I began to over think the process. Sure that story could be improved, but the heart of it – the meat of the story – that remains essentially the same.
By failing to believe in myself, I failed that pitch. I also ended up shoving the book on the backburner where it sits to this day. I’ve added back into my rotation as a book I will tackle after Christmas. But that’s a tale for another day.
Now that’s the bad side of pitching. The side everyone has experienced at one point in time or another. It’s a miserable feeling, but shake it off. Because good pitches do happen and I want to tell you how you can make it happen for you.
I Do Believe in My Story, I Do! I Do!
Do you remember the Peter Pan movie from a few years ago: the scene where Peter is trying to save Tink and everyone in the film begins chanting “I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!” – this is what you need to remember when it comes to pitching.  In July, I was attending the RWA National Conference in Orlando, Florida. I wasn’t going to pitch because all the sessions with editors and agents were taken in May while I was on a road trip.
Several people encouraged me to go for the walk in, because so many weren’t showing up for their pitch sessions.  I hesitated, because while I had finished a book and I really liked it, I hadn’t “prepared” for pitching.
Saturday morning, I woke up early and decided that after looking at the workshop schedule and not seeing one I absolutely had to get to, that maybe I’d go take a look at the pitch room. I walked in, I talked to the registration folks and I said, I wanted to sign up to wait – when they asked me who I wanted to see, I said anyone would be fine.
I lucked out. One of the Harlequin editors had some cancellations, so I was able to book a very specific time.  I thanked the registrar, darted out of the hall and back up to my room. I changed into a smart skirt, a fun shirt and dressed up my smile with a touch of makeup and then darted back downstairs.
I had just a few minutes before it would be my turn.  I waited patiently as we lined up and when they called time, I walked down to where the editor was waiting. 
Here it was, the crucial moment – would I bomb it? Would I stutter? Would I forget everything I’d written?
I held out my hand, introduced myself and grinned.  My nerves weren’t there.  Maybe it was the combination of a great conference experience where I was meeting new people every hour, discussing writing, love for books, romance and sharing those experiences with other writers who “got it.”  Maybe it was Nora Roberts’ terrifically inspiring bullsh*t keynote address about how hard it was to break into the business 30 years ago and that sweating for the job was part of it.  Maybe it was Jayne Ann Krentz’ highly anecdotal and hilarious tale of blowing up her own career because she wanted to tell her stories her way.
Who knows how much all of that contributed to my sense of inner calm, but I knew that I believed in my book. I loved the story that I told. I loved the characters. I loved the fun, sexy, twisty humor and I loved the fact that it was so utterly different from anything I’d ever written before.
So I pitched it.   Can I remember the words I used, exactly? Nope. But I do know it was conversational, I said “Imagine this…” and I told her what my hero and heroine were doing when they met, how they were drawn together and why they needed each other. I described the misunderstandings and added the element of suspense.  The more I warmed to the topic, the more engaged the editor became.
She asked me two questions.
I answered them without hesitation because I knew how I’d handled it in the book and then she smiled.
She smiled and said it sounded like a great story and that it gave her chills.  I think my heart started playing a drum line in my ears then, but she told me to send in the partial, the synopsis and the query, to pitch it exactly as I hard to her and to mention that she’d told me to do it in the letter.
I thanked her.  Said I would get right on it when I went home and I floated out of the hall.
I wasn’t floating just because she asked for the partial (but that was part of it), I wasn’t floating just because I hadn’t managed to flub the pitch (but that was part of it too), and I was floating because my faith in this story was there. I was confident in it even after all the workshops and all the great writers I met.  I didn’t feel small. I didn’t feel like I had to rewrite it.
Do I think it will need editing? Absolutely.
Am I confident that it will sell? Yes.
Am I happy that I pitched?  Hell yes.
Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself to share your story with the editors and agents out there that want to hear it.  If you are engaged by the book you wrote, by the story you told, then you can bring that level of investment to the editors and agents.
Don’t stop believing and you’ll find them believing right alongside you.
Have you ever pitched a story in person? What was your experience like? If not, what's holding you back from doing so?
About Heather
Heather Long lives in North Texas with her husband, daughter and their menagerie of animals. As a child, Heather skipped picture books and enjoyed the Harlequin romance novels by Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts that her grandmother read to her. Heather believes that laughter is as important to life as breathing and that the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus are very real. In the meanwhile, she is hard at work on her next novel.
Contact Info:
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HVLong
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