What I Learned: Pitching an Agent

Ever wondered how to pitch your book to an agent? Here are some tips to get you started!

Hey writer friends! Last weekend I got to go to a writing conference in New Jersey. I haven’t been to one in a few years now, so it was really exciting to get to travel, meet with other writers, and have the chance to pitch Sea of Broken Glass to an agent.

But let me tell you: it is not easy figuring out how to pitch. There aren’t a ton of resources out there. And it is so nerve-wracking!

But luckily, the host, Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Agency, shared some helpful tips, and I have some experiences of my own to help you prepare for your next in-person pitch.

So here we go.

Tips for Pitching an Agent

Practice your pitch.

Take some time before you get there to work through what you want to say. I used Tomi Adeyemi’s advice for crafting my pitch. I wrote out my general info, then practiced saying it until I didn’t really need to look at what I wrote. Other advice is to practice in front of friends or family, if you get the chance. For me, I was too nervous to practice before I got there…and I was so busy the week leading up to the conference that I completely forgot.

But the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be talking about your book and the less mechanical you’ll sound.

It’s okay to bring a notecard.

If you’re like me and have trouble remembering things when you’re nervous, write your important points on an index card to take with you. The agent won’t mind if you reference it during your pitch.

Be ready for questions.

The agent may stop you during your pitch to clarify something or just ask a general question (which is a good reason to have an index card, so you can get back on track after the question). Be ready to answer whatever they ask. Generally, they may ask to clarify some things about your story or characters or, like for me, they may even ask what inspired your story. Take a deep breath, and answer. This is your baby, and take heart that you know what you’re talking about.

Be polite.

This should go without saying, but don’t act like you’re God’s gift to the world. Be polite, be humble. If they don’t like your book, don’t be offended, and don’t lash out at them. There’s no better way to ensure no one will ever want your book than to disrespect an agent (hint: the agent community is actually quite small).

Pick the right agent.

Make sure you do your research. At every event I’ve been to, you have to pay for pitches. If you pick an agent who doesn’t even rep what you’re selling, you’ve already lost…and wasted the cost of the pitch. Also make sure they’d be interested in your content. For example, some agents, even though they may rep your genre, won’t be interested in reading your time-travel fantasy if they are mainly interested in contemporary romance. Use the time leading up to the pitching event to find your perfect fit(s). There are plenty of resources online, like Twitter, Manuscript Wish List, Publisher’s Marketplace, and Query Tracker. Use them!

They don’t care if you’re nervous.

This was actually one of the biggest things that helped me at the conference: knowing that however nervous you are doesn’t matter. And it’s okay. So just power through and talk about your story, because that’s why you’re both there. What the agent really cares about is the quality of your story.

You have the same goals.

You want to sell your book. The agent you’re pitching wants to find a great book. That’s the most important thing, even if you stumble over your words.

Don’t let your nerves get the better of you.

Marisa told a story about how she was being pitched at an event, and this person came up to pitch. Her skin was all splotchy red, she made a comment about how nervous she was, started pitching, then stopped and ran from the room. The kicker? Marisa really loved what she was pitching. She never did find that person again.

Don’t let this happen to you. Remember my earlier points, if it helps: they don’t care if you’re nervous, and they just want to hear about your book. It’s why you’re both there!

Leave them with something to remember you.

You’re a professional, so I’d recommend creating business cards and leaving one with the agent. It will give them something physical to remember you, and if you have a card that wows, so much the better!

Above all, remember that this is your baby, the story you love. Let your passion for it shine!

Conclusions and more help

These are just some quick tips, mostly for emotional support and preparation, but there are a few other resources out there that can help you pitch an agent. For instance, Writer’s Digest and Author Tomi Adeyemi both discuss pitching and how to craft your pitch. I found Tomi Adeyemi’s advice the most valuable in crafting my pitch, as I mentioned above, so you may find it practical as well.

And if you’re wondering how my pitch session went, I got a request for the first 50 pages, despite my nerves. I sent it over that very night and got a request for the full by Monday. Keep your fingers crossed that she loves the whole story as much as I do, but I’ll give you updates when I have them!

Good luck!

Underwriting vs. Overwriting: Which Are You?

Do you write too much? Or not enough? And what does that mean for traditional publication?

There is so much advice floating around out there about how important it is to follow the expected and established word counts in the industry. For example, many agents, editors, and publishers will not consider works that fall outside of expected word count ranges, and it may even be a reason to reject the work.

The reason is pretty simple: these word counts have been established based on audience and genre, and falling outside these ranges can be indicators of serious deficiencies in the novel (or that it may not be a novel at all, but rather a shorter story) or a lack of knowledge of the industry by the author.

And honestly, with such an overcrowded market, some agents will look for any reason to reject manuscripts, just because they have so many submissions (at least that’s what I’ve heard… please, feel free to hop in the comments and correct me if I’m wrong!).

So it becomes necessary for those of us seeking traditional publication in any form to pay attention to our word counts. And that can identify your writing tendencies.

Underwriting is when a writer will finish a first draft with a lower word count than they need. So, for example, Sea of Broken Glass was only 74k words at the end of the first draft. For reference, a typical young adult fantasy (the genre for SoBG) is expected to be between 80 and 100k words. Once again, anything outside of that range, and traditional publishers or agents may reject it for not conforming to industry standards.

But when I finished at 74k, SoBG was missing a lot of scenes and details that were needed to pull the story together. And when I rewrote it (draft 2), I ended up adding over 20k words. Right now, while it’s with betas, it’s a little over 96k words long, by far the longest thing I’ve ever written.

It just didn’t start that way.

And then there’s the opposite problem, overwriting. In overwriting, a writer will write WAY more words than needed for a book. So let’s take an example from a friend of mine. She had a YA fantasy that clocked in at near 200k words… twice as much as most agents and publishers will allow. So when she went back to editing, instead of bulking it out, she had to find ways to cut her word count by a lot.

Every writer has their own style when it comes to drafting and editing, and even specific books by the same writer can be different from a writer’s “normal.” But in general, the more works a writer writes, the closer they may get to their target word counts after draft one and the more they will recognize where they tend to fall on the scale.

So that’s me! Underwriters unite!

In the next couple of weeks, we will discuss a few ways to resolve either of these issues, first for the underwriters, then for the overwriters. Hopefully with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can figure out how to drag your novel closer to its target word count.

Until then, let’s talk in the comments! Where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you follow traditional word counts for your works?

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NEWS!

Of the Clouds releases next Saturday, so Friday’s post will be moved to Saturday, and this blog post series will continue after that! Hooray!!!

ARC Etiquette 101

Whether you are a writer or a reader, you may have heard about these books called ARCs. ARCs are, quite simply, Advanced Reader Copies or Advanced Review Copies. But just what are they?

Whether you are a writer or a reader, you may have heard about these books called ARCs. ARCs are, quite simply, Advanced Reader Copies or Advanced Review Copies. But just what are they? These are books the publisher or author provides free of charge to reviewers and influencers prior to publication in order to spread knowledge of the book and gain some early reviews to encourage sales.

However, what may not be clear to both writers and readers is the etiquette surrounding the distribution and use of ARCs. I’m just learning some of this myself, so today I only want to focus on some basics. If you have anything to add, I encourage you wholeheartedly to leave a comment below. I’d love to have more material for a future post!

But until then, here we go. ARC Etiquette 101.

Reader Etiquette and Responsibilities

Hey readers! Interested in reading a book ahead of publication? This section is for you! Now, there’s plenty of information on requesting ARCs out there… but that’s a post for another day. Today, let’s focus in on what to do with an ARC you have received.

When you receive an ARC, it may be either a physical book or an eARC. Many indie authors choose to send eARCs to readers for a number of reasons. But no matter the format, there are a few simple guidelines to remember:

  • The author is not asking you to edit, proofread, or comment. This is often impolite, as most of the time the book has already been through this process extensively. You haven’t been hired to edit, and it can be offensive to send criticisms back to the person who gave you this free book. You may, however, ask if the author is open to proofing or criticism. If you are tactful and kind about it, they may say yes.
  • Don’t sell your ARC. They are not intended for sale, and the author is providing it to you as a courtesy.
  • It’s expected that you will review the book, but it isn’t required. It is polite to do so, particularly either before the book releases (like on Goodreads) or on or near the release day (like on Amazon).
  • Your review doesn’t have to be positive. It just has to be honest. But again, keep those comments of your thoughts on the book to your reviews… don’t send them to the author. That can just kind of be mean, particularly if you didn’t like the book. And some authors choose not to read reviews for very good reasons.
  • You must disclose you received a copy of the book for a review. Often, this can be as simple as leaving a line at the end (or beginning) of your review stating, “I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review,” or something similar.

Author Etiquette and Responsibilities

Just like readers, authors have responsibilities for the use of ARCs. Here are a few general guidelines.

  • ARCs are provided free of charge… don’t try to sell them. And don’t try to make reviewers pay for postage.
  • You may not require a review in exchange for an ARC. You can request an honest review, but it cannot be a rule that the reader must follow to get the book.
  • Don’t assume you will only send eARCs. Yes, physical books are more expensive, but some reviewers will require it.
  • Avoid commenting on your reviews. It’s best not to engage with them. I’ve seen far too many authors go off the deep end after reading negative reviews of their books. You may not even want to read your reviews.
  • Consider any comments you receive from reviewers. They may find typos you missed or a plot hole. Remember, ARCs go out before publication… while there is time to fix mistakes. But also, try to ignore the inconsiderate comments you may get from reviewers. Not all of them are nice.
  • Choose carefully. Find reviewers who are likely to read your book or have agreed to do so… and to review it. Don’t pick a reviewer outside your book’s genre or who has a schedule too busy to meet your timeline. Remember, physical copies can be expensive to send out, so you want them to make as much of an impact as possible.

Final Thoughts

As I’m approaching the release of my first independent novel, I am starting to consider how to best go about marketing, including the use of ARCs. So far, this is the information I have obtained on the etiquette and guidelines for readers and writers, but there is plenty more to learn and do. I look forward to sharing another post on ARCs as I gather more information! Until then, happy writing, and happy reading!

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Do you have experience with ARCs, as either a writer or a reader? What advice or inside tips do you have to share? Let me know in the comments!

All About Editing

So. You finished a piece of writing. Congratulations! You’ve made it further than the majority of people who want to be writers. But that doesn’t mean your work is done! You still have to go back and revise and edit. You may have heard writers talking about editing, but do you know the different kinds or when to do what? Do you know what types of editing you can do on your own and when you may want to hire someone or ask for help? If not, today is the day to learn. And if you already know, how about a refresher?

First, let’s distinguish between revising and editing.

  • Revising: This is when you are making changes to your work, such as rewriting characters, scenes, or the entire piece.
  • Editing: These are smaller, more focused and technical changes, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and line-by-line style. This may occur at various stages of the revision process, depending on how many revisions the work has been through and how close it is to publication or querying. You may do some of this work yourself, or you may find help from others. Developmental editing (which we’ll get into in a minute) is on the border of these two, as it tackles big picture issues of the story while still being considered editing.

I know, I know. The line is a little tight there sometimes. But both of these are critical to the development of a good piece of work. In fact, revising can fix a bad book. See what Alex Bracken has to say about it:

books made in revisions
Gives us hope for all those horrible first drafts.

Okay. So now that we have editing and revising straight and we understand how important editing is, let’s take a closer look.

Developmental Editor: This person takes your manuscript and looks for overall problems, such as issues with character arcs and development, plot and pacing, and loose ends and holes.

  • This type of editing tends to be the most expensive, but it is vital to the development of the story.
  • This editing should really only be done after several rounds of editing on your own and with critique partners and beta readers. Then you can go ahead and hire one.
  • This may not be strictly necessary to hire professionally if you plan to query, but it is non-negotiable if you plan to self-publish.

Copyeditor: This person looks at your work from a technical standpoint. In this pass of editing, the editor is searching for problems with things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They are not looking for big picture issues or style issues.

Similarly, line editing is looking at your work closely on a creative and stylistic level. A line editor will look for overused words and phrases, awkward or overly verbose sentences and passages, run-on sentences, pacing, and confusing writing. They approach with an eye for detail and clarity, looking at the ease of reading your work.

  • The overlap between copyediting and line editing is pretty large, and not every editor will distinguish between the two.
  • The cost for this is often somewhere between developmental editing and proofreading.

Proofreading: This is typically the last step of the editing process, as this type of editor is only looking for things like typos and missed errors from early editing passes. It is the last clean sweep before publishing.

  • Tends to be least expensive.
  • Critical for self-publishing, but still important for querying.
  • The very last step, after all other changes are made.

Whew! Okay. So now we have the types of editing straight, and we understand the difference in content and cost.

But editing can be super expensive, and everyone likes to save a little money. So let’s think about what we can do ourselves versus what we should hire out or ask someone to do for us.

  1. Developmental Editing
    • First of all, NEVER hire a professional to look at a first draft. You are throwing money out the window. Do everything you possibly can on your own and with beta readers and critique partners before spending any money!
    • As I said above, this is a must for independent or self-publishing. Hire a professional!
    • If you plan to query, you may choose to hire someone if you want to spend the money. It can’t hurt, but it’s also not necessary. And it will definitely help you polish up that manuscript!
    • If you want to attempt any developmental editing on your own, I suggest leaving the manuscript out of sight and working on something else long enough to forget the details. You need to look with fresh eyes. Personally, I set a minimum of two weeks, if I can, for shorter works and one month for full-length works before I allow myself to look at the document again.
    • Beta readers and critique partners can offer some developmental editing, if you find the right ones and ask nicely.
  2. Copyediting and Line Editing
    • Probably wait until after developmental editing is done. You don’t want to still be making big picture changes when you’re line editing and fixing grammar; more will likely pop up, and then you’re wasting time, money, and effort.
    • Sometimes we are okay doing this on our own, particularly if we let it sit for long enough and forget it. But it might be better to ask a writer friend or, if you can’t find someone willing, a professional to look over your work. It is hard to see flaws in your own writing, as our brains tend to skip over things and fill in blanks so we don’t always catch common errors.
    • This is a good way to learn how to improve our writing, also, by asking others to critique flaws in our writing style or weaknesses in our knowledge. It will all get better with time!
    • You may consider hiring a professional if you don’t have a friend good at grammar and writing, if you plan to self-publish, or if you struggle with your own grammar and writing style.
  3. Proofreading
    • Do this last. Very last step.
    • Please do not do this on your own. While you may be good at catching errors in other people’s work, as I said above, it is all too easy to miss errors in our own work because of our brains and the closeness to the story.
    • If you have a friend you trust, have them proofread.
    • If you don’t have a friend you trust, hire a professional.
    • If you plan to query, make sure you get someone to proofread.
    • If you plan to self-publish, for the love of all things good, make sure you get a proofreader. This one is especially critical; while one typo may be forgivable, a reader who finds multiple typos and simple mistakes in a finished, published book is less likely to trust your future books and may give up on you altogether. I’ve done it, and I know other people who have as well. It looks unprofessional and messy. Do yourself a favor and avoid the hassle!

That was a lot of information, but understanding the editing process is crucial to producing a polished manuscript, wherever it is destined to be published. I hope this overview has given you a better understanding of what types of editing exist, when you may want to hire a professional, what you can do yourself, and other little details you may not have considered before. Good luck with your own revising and editing, and be sure to leave questions and comments below!

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News!

I am currently preparing to offer all three types of editing to writers, for any length of manuscript (though my focus is fantasy). If you are interested, or if you are interested in consulting with me about biology or in need of a map for your world, please keep an eye on my Services page for more information.

Inquiries about services and booking can be sent to papercraneswriting@gmail.com.

And if you want the most up-to-date information, including when new services are officially live and upcoming releases, sign up for the newsletter! Insider hint: the newsletter is also the first place to receive free bonuses and stories!