Events/Appearances

10 Ways to Hone Your Pitch

Authors in the bull pen; the pitch is moments away

Authors in the bull pen; the pitch is moments away

Imagine the bullpen overflowing with pitchers. Each will get a turn at the mound, but there’s no room for error. One mistake and it’s game over.

Welcome to Pitch Slam, biggest draw of the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. What’s it like knowing you have three minutes to make an agent fall for your story, or at least request a second date?

Three minutes. That’s 90 seconds for the pitch and 90 seconds for questions. Once three minutes passes, a bell sounds and your time is up. Those who linger beyond the deadline can expect an unfriendly tap from the on deck author.

As any relief pitcher will tell you, the work doesn’t begin when you walk on the field. The work begins well before, in this case by crafting and rehearsing the pitch, and knowing whom you’ll be facing before the game gets started.

That in mind, here are 10 tips to help you step it up, whether you’re pitching at a slam or chatting up an agent between innings at a ballgame. Credit for 5-10 go to Writer’s Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino.

1 – Make your first line your best line. It’s true – you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Great is subjective, so let’s say make the opener the best you can make it. Mine was:

Pretender is the story of a disgraced journalist who learns a startling secret about a racist U.S. senator that he once helped send to prison.

2 – Be concise. You have lots of competition, meaning that the agents need a quick, clear synopsis that highlights story, conflict and protagonist. In my hour-long session, 130 authors were pitching to 50 agents.

3 – Know the players. Besides a Google search, many of the conference agents are on Twitter. You can learn a lot by monitoring what they tweet, and then use the info to frame your pitch based on what most interests them.

4 – Practice your lines. You should know your pitch cold and deliver it with passion. Don’t expect excitement from the other side of the table if you’re not passionate about your work. That said, you should also be nimble enough to adjust on the fly if an agent wants to drill down on something specific.

5 – Be comfortable. Reading your pitch is a bad idea, no matter how nervous you feel. This is an amateur move that eliminates the possibility of good eye contact, one of the core principles of effective communication. Really, this is not optional. If you’re having trouble, go back to Tip 3.

6 – Think DVD. That is, think of the back of a DVD box, which tells the story without giving away the ending. Example: It’s about a great white shark that terrorizes a New England town.

7 – Don’t lead with a question. While the provocative question opener might work in some situations, agents are usually on overload. Don’t make them work too hard to figure out where your story is going.

8 – Be specific. Don’t say your novel is a humorous romp. Craft a pitch that draws a laugh. Or at least a smile. (Notice this applies to good writing as well.)

9 – A few more Sambuchino “don’ts:” Don’t sing your pitch. (Would you consider it?) Don’t talk about yourself in the third person. I’m Steve. Steve doesn’t like hunting. Don’t say your family loved your book. Don’t sit down, exhale, and say you’re looking for an agent.

10 – Remember the mission. The pitch is about the book, not you. If interested in the work, the agent will ask more about you. That’s the time to talk about the author.

If you reach that last hurdle, you’ve done well. Now’s the time to remember that you’re a writer capable of incredible storytelling. Don’t list your credentials; turn your resume into a story that’s as memorable as your work.

Let’s Undress a Few Sex Scenes

Illus3-Dan&RuthieWhich sells, sex or sexy? As we know, the answer is, both sell. Some audiences are impatient, others prefer drawing a little tension-building romance and seduction. The act – and the writing of the act – are intensely personal. As with any form of writing, the more you practice, the better you get. But practice what, and how?

Attraction, they say, begins with the eyes. Male or female, we see something we like and quickly – almost primitively – begin plotting to get it. Sometimes the plotting is deliberate and obvious; sometimes it’s sweet and subtle.

Where does it happen? Why does it happen? What do our eyes take in? What smells are in the air? Where does attraction strike and how long does it take to go from mutual appreciation to a shared laugh … to hands touching … to a private setting and then to a first kiss? Or does it all happen in plain view – say on the beach at sunset – or at 2 a.m. in a club with music blaring and the bass cranked up so high, it feels like your own heartbeat?

Most relevant from the writer’s perspective, how do we capture the sexual tension as well as the act – for the two are not the same – in a way that is arousing, revealing – in terms of character development – and which successfully moves the story forward?

I hope you’ll join me for a webinar that will explore these questions and many more on March 28 at 1:30 p.m. EST. Mark your calendars and sign up here.

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Free Webinar: Take 2 on the Secrets Your Characters are Hiding

Your characters have secrets to tell

Your characters have secrets to tell …

Please join me Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the repeat of a free webinar on how to discover the secrets your characters are hiding. Click here to sign up and participate in an interesting and practical session with actionable tips you’ll be able to put to immediate use. What will we cover? Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us.

Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off.

I hope you’ll sign up and join me this Thursday.

(To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage).

Free Webinar 10/1: Character Above All

Uncover your characters' secrets

Uncover your characters’ secrets

Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us. Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off. I hope you’ll join this discussion in a free webinar Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

 

 

Defeat Writer’s Block: Free Webinar

Bust through writer's block

It’s time to break through writer’s block.

You pace. You change rooms. You turn on music, get coffee, and put up laundry. Nothing works; the words simply will not come. The answer isn’t trying to stare down the screen. The answer lies in unclogging the creative channels that produce the ideas and prose hiding within. Join me Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. for a free webinar focused on tactics and exercises that will help you vanquish dreaded writer’s block. The sign-up sheet is here.

Rev Up Your Author Readings

Author reading

Less inviting …

True or False? When asked to do a reading, your prose is more important

Author smiling

More inviting …

than your voice, body language, and eye contact.

If you said true, pay closer attention to the crowd. Audiences – even hardcore fans – are making judgments before you’ve read the first line.

Did you walk with confidence to the podium? Fumble with your pages? Make a big thing of adjusting the mike? Did you smile, thank the host, and welcome the crowd with a quick story? Or did you forego reading foreplay and dive right in?

Such items may seem obvious, but the obvious often hides out in plain sight. Some tips gleaned from a reading I did at a recent book fair in Maryland:

– Practice the pages: You wrote the words, and may even have read them aloud before. Doesn’t matter; rehearse at least three times.

– If you feel nervous, go early and turn strangers into acquaintances and fans into friends. Focusing on something besides your performance will reduce anxiety.

– If you’ve practiced, the words will feel familiar, which will allow you to look up more often. People prefer your eyes up instead of always down on your pages.

– When you look up, spread it around – left, right and center. Be sure to look for the friends you made earlier. They’ll nod or smile, giving you steam to finish strong.

– Read a little the way you would read to a child: very expressive, with pauses, exaggerated changes in tone and tenor, and different pacing. Do not try to do unfamiliar accents unless you’ve perfected them at home.

– Last, leave a little time for Q & A. And if you’re reading at a book fair, don’t forget to invite everyone to drop by your booth to chat a little more.

Have some more tips? Please share!

P.S. Check out Pinterest board with pix from Kensington Day of the Book Festival.

 

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Authors to Speak on “Writing Matters” Sept. 23

Steve will join a panel of authors at a book store in Montclair, NJ, on Sept. 23 for “Writing Matters,” a series that looks at modern publishing from all angles.

The event, open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday,  Sept. 23, at Watchung Booksellers.

The bookstore’s website is here. And click here to read an article about the event.

Warm September Heating Up

It’s September. The World Series is around the corner. The great baseball player Willie Stargell once said, “I love September, especially when we’re in it.”

It’s September and we’re in it. Upcoming for Team Bella:

Sept. 1 – New “Delivering the Fundamentals” blog post here.

Sept. 21 – Book party & signing at the Park Place condos (behind the Westin Hotel) in Annapolis, Md., 7:30 p.m.  Please join us!

Sept. 23 – Steve joining “Writing Matters” author panel at Watchung Bookstore in Montclair, NJ. Visit the site.

Sept. 30 – Private book club in Alexandria, Va.