Monday, November 20, 2006

Notes from a writer's conference, part 1

I just came back from the Pitch, Publish and Promote conference in Albuquerque, which lasted a day and a half and was organized by SouthWest Writers. Over the next few days, I will post some of my notes.

The pitching segment featured a talk by Katharine Sands, a New York literary agent who offered plenty of advice on how to approach agents. She tossed around lots of arcane-sounding terms such as "dysfiction," which I didn't find all that useful, so I didn't write them all down.

She distinguishes between a writer and an author; the latter is a published writer. Writing is solitary, while publishing is collaborative.

A manuscript does not become a book until it is published. Never refer to your manuscript as "complete."

When querying agents for non-fiction (I think she meant for fiction as well), don't just give the facts of your story. You should show your voice and provide a lens that lets us see into the book.

Don't pitch multiple ideas at once. Just one at a time.

A query is a one-page pitch. Nobody reads two pages. The query must "infotain," provide a spark, give the agent a memorable takeaway nugget.

In your query, lead with what is the most interesting. Don't waste your first paragraph.

Elevator pitch: about 25 words to grab the agent's attention.

Your pitchcraft becomes your jacket copy, your hook.

Agents are looking for voice, elements, alchemy.

Good news/bad news: The good news is that talent comes from everywhere, and agents are always on the lookout. The bad news is that the agents are flooded with queries.

Talk about your platform in your query letter, if warranted. If you are a recognized expert in the field you're writing about, for example, be sure to let the agent know. Also, tell how your other writing has been noticed, how you will get readers, or anything that makes your work interesting or different.

Agents do not log submissions. If you don't get a reply, sometimes you can get away with waiting a while and querying again.

Radio sells more books than television.

Categories of published books:
Front List
: Books by the very top authors, whose work automatically stands out in the market place.
Mid List: Where most work ends up. This is a very wide range.
Back List: Books that are not ordinarily marketed in bookstores except under special circumstances. They might be specialty books, or they might be earlier books in a series. So if the latest Harry Potter book comes out, bookstores might also trot out all of Rowling's earlier titles to try selling those at the same time. Those earlier titles have been back listed.

Booksellers don't buy books. They take them on consignment.

Book buyers frequently get to retitle a book if they think the original title won't sell.

A good query might wind up becoming the catalog description.

As an author, you must be an impassioned ambassador for your work.

Generally okay to query multiple agents at once.

You can often find the names of literary agents on the acknowledgement pages of recently published books.

The Preditors & Editors website is a good place to learn what some of the shadier folks in the business may not want you to know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Bob. While I thank you for sharing conference notes with writers, let me clarify some points for your readers. 1) Terms for genres and subgenres may sound arcane, but are on-trend and timely, and of more use to developing writers than you may think. For example, I see many queries introducing chick lit that are really hen lit (older heroine or women's fiction) or lit chick (more literary or substantive themes than sex, shoes and shopping). 2) Let me also clarify the note on book-buyers influencing the title of a book. The buyer is often consulted today informally by publishers. What is learned is often applied to the title and marketing of a new book after being discussed during the acquisitions process with the author and with the editorial and marketing team. The buyer is invited to be helpful, not able to whimsically retitle. Katharine Sands