A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 10
In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.
JG: Are there different kinds of pitches?
JAP: I first met my editor in a bar. And we didn’t talk about books. It was only later that I sent an e-mail and asked what she wanted. My editor said, “Send whatever you’ve got.”
ET: I can’t understate the personal connection. Go to film festivals. Make a connection so they will remember you. So if you have a chance to talk to an editor or agent, don’t just jump into your project. For an elevator pitch, the harder you do your work, the easier it is. And unless you’re a proven writer, when you pitch, your work should already be done. It should be ten to fifteen words. A teaser pitch is about one sentence. A two page synopsis is longer. Be able to pitch in different formats. An expanded pitch would be like a jacket blurb. Take time to craft a pitch at each length.
JAP: You don’t know when you’re going to pitch. So be prepared. Practice.
JG: My elevator story is over three floors. It was at WesterCon for the novel Brain Gate. I was in the elevator and Tom Doherty got on. He asked, “Jim, what’s new?” So I had ten to twelve seconds to tell him about my novel in two sentences. Then he said, “It sounds interesting. Talk to David Hartwell.” It can happen unexpectedly so you need to be prepared.
JAP: But don’t do the bathroom pitch. I heard about the story of a Penguin editor who had to go to the bathroom in order to get away from some woman. But while she was in the bathroom stall, the manuscript was slipped under the door. Once I was in the elevator with the editor and asked her how she was doing. She said her dog died. So all I could do was say my condolences. Don’t be a jerk or they’ll remember it.
JG: For a short story, you can just send that in. The story will go to either the slush stack or A stack. Here, the editors want you to succeed. But novels are a different ball game. A good place to pitch is a convention like a big regional one. NorwesCon or WesterCon. WorldCon can get hairy since there are so many people.
JAP: You can also meet editors and agents in a bar but don’t be a stalker.
ET: In Hollywood, you mostly pitch in person. In books, you usually do a query letter. In Hollywood, you set up a ten to fifteen minute meeting. Agents are notorious for doing something else while you’re trying to pitch. Producers are better because they’re more invested in the project. If the producers like your sample, then they want you to write their stuff as a “hired gun.” If you love your work, go the book route and worry about Hollywood later. In Hollywood, scripts are written by committee. You can make a good living at it, but unless you’re a writer-director, you have no say.
JG: George R.R. Martin mentioned that things are also written by the director.
ET: Sometimes the director shows up without the script and starts changing things. For scripts, it possible you will have nothing to show after six to nine months of work. Whereas if you write a book, you do have something to show.
JG: But there’s the money.
JAP: I work at Boeing so I make enough in the day job to write in the cracks.
ET: Do what you love. Because otherwise, how do you deal with the BS? You need to deal with it.
JG: What about written pitches? You can do a short pitch at a party. You need to play it by ear. Are they receptive? As a new writer without an agent, you want to break in. But many publishing companies don’t want unsolicited work. However, some pubs, like Baen or Ace, will see unsolicited manuscripts. You need to learn the difference between partials, query letters, and a synopsis.
JAP: The most important thing is to have the best possible novel to be written. Because that’s the final pitch. My editor might take two years to get back to you. So be ready for it.
JG: Say you want to send your work to a big house that doesn’t want unsolicited work. Do you send a query letter?
JAP: We mentioned it in the query panel. You don’t want to waste their time so do an elevator pitch. The editor will remember if you’re nice and kind. When you’re ready, send it in.
JG: Do you go in cold?
ET: More commonly, target the recipient. Do your homework. Pitch the story in one sentence. You need a core idea. Who’s the character and what’s at stake? There are lots of resources out there about writing a synopsis. If three-fourths of your synopsis is the set up and the rest of the stuff is tacked at the end, you give a false sense of how the story goes. You need to pace the query at the rate as the story. You need a teaser or hook. Examples are Titanic, Kissing Jessica Stein, and Billy Elliot.
JG: It’s analogous to the summaries in TV guides.
ET: They’re log lines.
JG: You need a short paragraph which includes that your novel is complete, something about the novel, and something about you related to the novel. And then a short inquiry about what they might like to see like a partial or the first three chapters. But the time until you receive a reply to see the partial can be long. So just wait. And write a thank you letter.
JAP: And while you’re waiting, write something else.
JG: Baen bought one author’s book and while he waited, he wrote books two and three. Which Baen subsequently bought.
AQ: There’s the Query Shark.
ET: You need to lead with your strongest point. Don’t reference any weakness.
JAP: Don’t tell them it’s been rejected elsewhere.
JG: Print out a new copy to send in to other editors because they will know others have read it. The partial should contain a synopsis.
JAP: Learning to write a synopsis is critical. Don’t hide stuff. Give out the important relevant details. Tell them the ending.
JG: How long should the synopsis be?
JAP: It depends. My publishing house wants ten pages or less. Try to keep it short. Two to three pages is better.
ET: In Hollywood, don’t send in ten pages.
JG: So it’s whatever that works for the editor.
ET: Find out the guidelines. A two page synopsis for a 250,000 word novel.
AQ: Is it 250 words per page?
Panel (all): Yes, double spaced.
JAP: Keep it within 500 characters.
ET: Or less, like Twitter.
JG: It should also be entertaining. Don’t be dry. Think of it as an expanded jacket blurb. You could leave some mystery, but you need the ending. Take the synopsis seriously because it’s a selling tool.
ET: Whoever you’re pitching to, they want the same thing–something that’s proven–but also something new and fresh. For example, take a new tack on proven stories. But they won’t take you if it’s too similar or too different.
JG: In pitches, do you compare it to the media? For example, you say your story is “Darth Vader in New York City.”
ET: Do something appropriate. Be true to your material. Don’t compare it to Hunger Games if it’s not like it.
JAP: Run it by other people. Some pitches are insulting such as “Like Good Fellas but with characters.”
AQ: In a Hollywood pitch, should you have a line up for many things?
ET: Yes, they want to know you have more stuff. Think of your career. You want a breadth of material.
AQ: Does anyone still write plays?
Panel (all): Yes.
AQ: What about slush readers? How do I get into doing that?
JG: Graduate from Brown, I suppose.
JAP: You should meet editors at cons, read Locus, blogs, and magazines. E-mail the editor. They’ll contact others if they don’t have an opening. They won’t pay you, but you will learn a lot about what not to do in writing. Check Ralan and Duotrope. Query places.
JG: Nowadays there are less slush readers but the editors read more slush.
AQ: How much do you value your publishing company? Some publishers don’t read their books unless they sell 5,000 copies or more.
ET: Editors do less editing now due to volume. The more you can do, the more likely they will hire you.
JAP: More books are published in one month now than the entire year of 1952.
JG: At Tor, there’s only four people who do it all. The more work you do, the better.
ET: But I don’t want to do my own marketing. So the publishing house is valuable for that.
JG: They send stuff out for you. But publicity, not so much although places like Tor and Ace are better about that. They’ll send your stuff to Publisher’s Weekly to get reviewed. But some houses don’t do that.
AQ: Is there a difference between large and small publishing houses? What about electronic and traditional publishing?
JG: It’s the same deal. You need to check with the individual houses.
JAP: But you pitch the same to all those places.
JG: But don’t neglect the small press. It’s a start. And you can build a career from there.
* * *
Stay tuned for Part 11 which will include a panel on gender roles.