Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dear Agent

And they're off.
I’ve sent sample pages to most of the literary agents who expressed interest at the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was a slow process, since all them have different submission requirements. One agent requested a query letter and the first chapter, hardcopy. One wanted a synopsis and the first 30 pages pasted directly into the email. Another requested the first 50 pages, hardcopy. And so on.

Needless to say, I spent the weekend writing cover letters and e-mails, polishing my synopsis, and rewriting my first chapter 487 times.

It's exciting, knowing that my stuff is out there in the electronic ether, or on a mail truck somewhere. I’ve already started checking my email constantly. And for the first time since I applied to college, I can’t wait to get home and check my physical mailbox.

Now, about that deadline. I’d wanted to wash my hands of DOUBLE-BLIND by March 21st. With all the activity around the writers confernece, I haven’t been able to do any new work on my manuscript in a few weeks. Also, I learned at the conference that my book is a tad short for its genre. The current version is around 75,000 words (260 double-spaced word doc pages; about 300 printed book pages). Ideally, it should be at least 80,000 words. I’m not too worried about it; it’s always easier to add then to cut out. Plus, I have about 50,000 words of deleted scenes at my disposal. But those are draft words. So once I add a scene, I’ll need to rewrite, polish, and polish some more.

Another thing I learned at the conference was that I probably should have another editor look at my manuscript before I consider it completely ready. One published author said she always has at least two professional editing sessions -- and sometimes four -- before she considers her book ready. The last freelance editor I hired was more of a manuscript consultant -- she made suggestions about the plot and character development. I’m undecided on this, but I do think it would be useful to hire a copy editor to through it line-by-line, because I haven't had that level of review yet.

Of course, another theme I kept hearing at the conference was that the average published author has eight unpublished manuscripts in his desk drawer. You rarely sell your first book. So part of me just wants to finish this thing, take what I've learned, and start book number two.

Regardless of which route I take, I’m probably going to miss the deadline. It shouldn't bother me; after all, I set the damn deadline. There’s no penalty for missing it, technically. But it does bother me. It bothers me a lot. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, I'm going to miss the deadline. How can I tell the Leaf Blower readers that I’m not going to make it?
That's the beauty of this blog. You keep me honest, LB readers. And you keep me going. Thank you for that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to pitch a book

Over the weekend, I attended my second San Francisco Writers Conference. It was exhausting. All the networking, pitching and self-promoting wore me down. For an introvert like me, it was like being at a high school reunion for 36 hours. Sober. With a cold sore.

But I persevered. Despite the grueling schedule and social awkwardness, the conference was a huge success for me. I pitched my book DOUBLE-BLIND to seven literary agents and one editor, and all of them were interested. They all requested sample pages. One agent requested the entire manuscript!

I have a few words of advice for anyone who’s going to pitch a book in two minutes or less:

  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it ridiculously short.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Speak loudly.
  • Make eye contact (this means don’t read off a piece of paper).
  • Know what genre your book belongs to.
  • Only mention your point-of-view characters.
  • Repeat your key message at least once.
  • Now cut some words and make it even shorter.

Remember that each agent will get pitched at least 100 times over the weekend. If you try to go into the subplot about the nephew’s drug problem and the gardener’s affair, eyes will glaze over. With a shorter pitch, you leave the agents a chance to ask questions. And once they start asking questions, it’s no longer a pitch; it’s a dialogue. They’re just looking for a glimpse, a feeling.
Something they could turn around and pitch to a publishing house – and sell.

I’m no expert, of course, but I followed these rules and my pitch worked every single time – last year and this year.

I’m ecstatic that there was so much interest in my novel. But I’m also trying to temper my expectations. I got the feeling these agents requested a lot of stuff from a lot of people. And no one has seen my writing yet. Still, it’s got to be an advantage over querying them cold. When I send my pages, I can write REQUESTED MATERIAL; or, WE MET AT THE SF WRITERS CONFERENCE; or, I WAS THE GUY WHO SPILLED MY DRINK ON YOUR LAPTOP. Okay, that last part didn’t happen, but if it did, at least I’d be remembered.

Speaking of being remembered, here’s another tip for conference-goers. I put my picture on my business card. Cheesy, yes, but it turned out to be a fantastic move. Looking at the dozen cards I collected over the weekend, I’m wishing every one of them had a picture. I’m already having trouble remembering who’s who, and I talked to some of these people for hours. The agents probably got a hundred cards --and they only spoke to me for a few minutes.

The cards were a good idea, but I’m thinking I should’ve taken it a step further. Next year, maybe I’ll wear a ridiculous hat, or shave my head into a Mohawk. Then I’d have an even better chance of being remembered. (To the guy at the conference who actually had a Mohawk: I’m not making fun of you -- you’re a freaking genius).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's hard out here for a pimp: the sequel

I sit down at the table, elevator pitch in hand, book manuscript in my lap. The bell rings. I have three minutes. The agent across from me is already skeptical; that's his job. I have to find a way to make myself -- and my novel -- stand out. It reminds me of that scene in the movie "Hustle and Flow" when D-Jay is trying to get Skinny Black to listen to his demo tape. Welcome to Speed Dating with Agents at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

The Speed Dating event is just like it sounds: you have a dozen literary agents in a room full of conference attendees who, like me, paid an extra $50 for the hour-long event. The agents stand up and tell the attendees who they are and what type of work they're looking for. Then you sit down with an agent, and you have three minutes to pitch your book, including time for the agent's response. You give your spiel. A bell rings. You stop talking. The agent responds. Then – ding! – the bell rings again and you move to the next one. Pretty intense, huh?

I'm doing it again this weekend -- my second year at the SF Writers Conference. So wish me luck. Because it's hard out here for a pimp.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

THE DEADLINE is looming

Time for an update on my novel, Double-blind. It's been five months since I began my major rewrite, and five weeks since I set THE DEADLINE.

My day job's been kicking my ass lately, so it's been hard to find the time and energy to work on my manuscript. It'd be one thing if I were a forklift driver or a fireman, then the writing could be a vacation from work and vice versa. But right now I'm neck-deep in performance reviews, an activity that taxes the same overstimulated area of my brain. Just like in fiction, writing performance reviews requires you to be creative -- and choose your words carefully.

With my busy schedule, I've settled into a routine of writing for about an hour each morning before work. And I've made slow but steady progress toward my goal. In fact, looking back, I realized I've accomplished a lot. In the past few months, I:

  • Wrote a new prologue (yes, I've decided to go with a prologue)
  • Killed a major character
  • Invented a new major character
  • Planted some serious skeletons in my protagonist's closet
  • Deleted 15,000 words
  • Wrote 20,000 new words
  • Drank 427 cups of coffee

All said, I'm going to have a solid manuscript in my back pocket when I head to the San Francisco Writers Conference in two weeks. And, best of all, I'm close to being done with this smelly old thing for good -- and moving on to something new.