Monday, 27 August 2012

Pitching pitfalls

The pitch seems to be a ubiquitous part of a writers road to publication. There are different types of pitch, the standard one we put in our submission letter to try and tempt the agent/publisher to keep reading. Generally this is relatively easy to write. If you're having problems can I recommend Nicola Morgan's ebook "Dear Agent" which covers everything to do with submissions.
 The really hard pitch is the one you have to do in person in a short space of time. The very thought of it is enough to send most writers (including me!) into a tizzy of stress and worry.
I'm not quite sure why, I speak in front of lot's of people every day for my job so it's not public speaking that bothers me. I think it's more the actual SELLING part that I find hard. I do feel enthusiastic about my work and I do think everyone should read it but I find it incredibly hard to make that come across.
 I think it's partly a British thing. A sense of reserve if you will. After all I don't want people to think I'm arrogant or anything. I'm more likely to say "it's quite good, you might like it but don't worry if you don't, it's probably not that good after all..."
 The reason I'm worrying about it is that I have a few pitching opportunities coming up, I'll be at the Foyles event on the 21st Sept doing a one to one pitch to a Curtis Brown agent and then a week later I'll be at the SCBWI agents party where many agents will endure many pitches from many a desperate author.
 So I've been trying to think of how to do a good pitch and have come up with some useful points;

1. Stay calm. Panic makes you talk faster.
2.BREATHE. In between sentences. Very useful.
3.Focus on your story, give a short, two or three sentences that sum it up and will entice someone to read more. Let your enthusiasm shine through.
4. Remember that whoever you are pitching to is a real person. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Be polite and courteous. Don't pounce on them while they're eating, going to the loo or otherwise occupied.
5. Keep an eye on the glazed eye scenario. If your agent is looking tired, fed up or cross, don't approach them!
6.Be yourself, you're  lovely person, let them know that by not harrassing them, demanding immediate feedback or thrusting your entire m.s into their hands.
7. RELAX. No agent or publisher is going to judge you entirely on your pitch. It's your writing that counts always. But you could put them off wanting to read it if you let panic get the better of you.

 I hope this helps you and I hope I can follow my own advice when the day comes round! If you have any other advice please share it.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Cliffs of Insanity

 Those of you who've read William Goldman's "The Princess Bride" ( or seen the very excellent film) will understand what I mean by my title. To those of you who haven't, why not? It is  AMAZING! Anyway, the cliffs of insanity are, to be brief, enormously high, almost impossible to scale cliffs and sometimes that's how writing feels to me.
 Not every day of course. Some days are positively glorious.  Some days words flow from my brain to the paper in an effortless stream and I stay up half the night writing chapter after chapter. Some days I feel as if my characters live and breathe, my plot sings and my prose shines. On those days I believe with every fiber of my being that I am a writer and that one day I will be published.
 But then there are days like today. Days when each word I write seems a chore. Days when I stare at the screen with no idea of where to start. Days when I read through months of work and decide it's all rubbish and I've no chance of ever being published. Days when I imagine agents would laugh at my delusions.
 They are not good days. Obviously. They are hard and horrible and enough to make me want to give up entirely. They test my beliefs and my commitment to the core.
 But it's always useful to use some perspective at this point. A bad day writing is still in comparison to most other occupations a wonderful way to spend my time. And let's not forget that in some jobs a bad day could mean something truly awful happens.
 So, with that in mind it seems churlish to complain about the anguish and pain that comes with creation. It is, I suppose, a part of the process and something we must all learn to cope with but it's certainly not something I was prepared for when I began this journey.
 The problem is that when you read a book it's impossible to tell how many months or years of work have gone in to it and now that I know a bit more I am amazed at the time and effort that is necessary. Amazed and terrified it must be said. Can I really do it? Do I have the perseverance to keep going, draft after draft, rejection after rejection? It seems to me that it's that very ability that in some ways counts even more then talent and skill.

 So I can't guarantee that I'll be here five years from now. But I very much hope so, I hope I can keep the faith despite everything. For now though I will carry on climbing my personal cliff and cling to the fact that everything worth having is worth fighting for.

How do you cope with bad days? How do you keep going? Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Revision Fever

You're excited. You're ready to revise your book. To polish it into a gem that no agent will be able to resist. You imagine it will take no more then a couple of weeks, after all it doesn't
need much work does it? The hard bit was writing it, getting all your thoughts down on paper. Editing it will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

And then you get your manuscript out from where you hid it many weeks ago, you sit down to savour the words, to read through your masterpiece and ...
All you can see are problems, enormous plot holes, one dimensional characters, shoddy dialogue...

This won't take a couple of weeks to fix, it it will take months, years, forever!
You have a minor breakdown.
Consider burning your m.s.
Contemplate a change of career...the circus perhaps? Easier to be fired out of a canon or to wrestle lions then to revise your book.

After some therapy (otherwise known as several large Vodkas) you calm down. You can do this. All you need is a plan.

1. Print off m.s -
2. Read m.s aloud (preferably when alone as sniggering can affect creative juices)
3. Scribble all over m.s with red pen.
4. Make notes on what needs to be done, chapter by chapter.
5. Start Revision.
6. Several weeks/months/ decades later you finish.

 Absolutely. Positively. Finished.

Allow brief celebration. (Also known as vodka)
Spend some time catching up on life, talking to your family, reminding your friends you're still alive.

A couple of weeks later take out your m.s, get ready for a final polish, but then, what's this?
Plot inconsistencies? Weak protagonists? Soggy middle? Unsatisfying ending?


After much more therapy (also known as getting pi**ed) you calm down, you remember your plan.

Repeat steps 1 to 6.

At some time during this process you will question your sanity. You will decide that the revision is worse then the original. You will scream and shout and pull out your hair. You will look at your m.s and have absolutely no idea if it's any good or not. You may consider becoming a llama farmer in tibet.

This is revision fever. It is a disease. As a writer you will go through it many times. No medicine can help (well, except for vodka, obviously) and the only thing that may save you is your crit group/ supportive writer friends who will at least understand. Who can assure you you're not entirely mad (just a bit) and will be there at the end when you're finally ready to submit. They will warn you of the next disease you will encounter - submission psychosis....

More on that next week dear friends.
Till then, have you any revision tips? Words of wisdom?