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Pitching to editors and agents at conference, part two

My previous article on pitching to editors and agents was in informal settings. This is more targeted information about when you have an appointment to speak to an agent or editor.

Because you have several minutes, the purpose of an agent/editor appointment at a conference is more than just pitching. It’s a chance for you to learn about the agent/editor’s personality, and if they’re someone you want to work with. This is very important. A business relationship is more than just professionalism—it’s how personalities work with each other, kind of like a marriage.

Therefore, use your time wisely.

I’m going to break this down into writer experience level, because I agree with Randy Ingermanson when he talks about Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior level writers. (If you haven’t read his article yet, please do so before continuing with this one, since I’ll be referring to it.)

For Freshmen, Sophomores, early Juniors:

My suggestion is not to officially pitch your story at all. I’ve heard …

Interview with agent Wendy Lawton

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(reprinted from Camy's Loft blog)

The ACFW Conference is only a couple months away!

I’m totally excited about the awards ceremony. Besides the Genesis contest winners, ACFW will also announce the Book of the Year winners, the Mentor of the Year, the Editor of the Year, and the Agent of the Year!

Today I’m very happy to have my agent Wendy Lawton with me. Wendy is one of the nominees for Agent of the Year, and I heartily hope she wins it!


Wendy Lawton, me, and Debbie Macomber

You've attended various conferences over the years. In your opinion, what makes ACFW's conference stand out from the others?

The content is focused entirely on fiction, the presenters are knowledgeable and approachable, the atmosphere is fun and friendly and the attendees are among the best prepared anywhere.

Any advice you'd like to offer to a 1st time conference attendee?

I'd love for attendees to remember that building a writing career is usually a slow process. It takes a number of meetings, lots o…

Backstory should foster more questions

I got this tip on backstory from Brandilyn Collins:

Any knowledge you give to the reader has to cause the reader to ask more questions.

Let me repeat that: Any knowledge you give to the reader has to cause the reader to ask more questions.

What that means for you as the writer is that any narrative or backstory has to be very carefully chosen and given.

Any narrative or backstory has to have a very specific purpose for the story, and that narrative or backstory should work to make the reader ask more questions about the character or storyline.

You want to foster that sense of “What’s going on?” for the reader that will make the reader keep reading in order to find out.

For example:

He sidled up to Anna, two hundred pounds of male testosterone, smelling faintly of tobacco and whiskey. “Hey, good lookin’, want some company?”

She saw through his rough-and-ready façade. He worked for the Evil Triumvirate. She had crossed three state lines to try to escape them, but they’d found her at last. She…

Some tips for using flashbacks

Flashbacks can be great things because they show backstory in real time, versus just narrative (which is “telling” rather than “showing”).

However, they tend to slow the reading flow—either with the content of the flashback or the initial transition into the flashback. So you have to place and use flashbacks very judiciously.

1—Be careful about WHEN you go into flashback. Since the transition will slow the reading flow, specifically time your flashback for when you want to create a lull in the reading pace, maybe after a tense or conflicted scene.

2—Be careful about HOW you go into flashback. The best thing is to have the flashback triggered by a very significant event in the story. Don’t just morph into a flashback from a scene that’s already meandering, or else you could lose reader interest.

3—Make the flashback as CONFLICTED and TENSE as you can. The transition is already going to slow the reading pace, so make the flashback powerful and vivid to keep the reading flow going smoothly. …

Emotions and contrast

One great way to show emotion is with contrast. You can contrast the character’s emotions to another character, or maybe the surroundings.

The man’s gaze didn’t waver, and she shivered in the hot noon sunlight.

She turned away from the child’s sunshine smile, sodden and shivering from the thunderstorm in her heart.

Contrast can both intensify the emotion and enable ways for you to be creative in your emotional writing. Don’t fall back on clichés (like I did in the first example above, although the second example isn’t too bad). Be original and richly emotional at the same time.

How to Network at a Conference, part two: Questions to ask

(Part One is here.)

When I first started going to conferences, I had the Hello down pat, but couldn’t think of what to say after that. I had to learn the art of conversation, but I discovered it’s actually not that hard.

More than a list of questions to remember—which you won’t remember when you’re nervous and meeting people—here are a few tips on how to keep the conversation going.

Keep up with publishing news. This is useful for conversation with editors, agents, and even writers. You can ask editors questions about their publishing house based on information you might have read, or you can ask the agent questions about a certain genre market.

For example, there were several personnel changes in a specific publishing house in a short period of time, and I had read about it. I chatted with an employee for that publishing house at a conference and asked her how things were going, if things had settled into a routine, if the personnel was replaced yet, etc.

Keep yourself well informed, not …

How to Network at a conference

I am not a natural extrovert, but I exert myself when I’m at a conference because I want to meet people. However, since I’m not naturally an extrovert, I had to teach myself how to meet people at a booksigning, or while walking the floor of ICRS, or when mingling with writers at a conference.

These are a few tips for writers who are introverts like myself. Much of it is simply common sense or common politeness, but it’s good to reiterate here so you are aware of specific things to avoid doing, and specific things to exert yourself to do.

DON’T go up to chat with someone you know if they’re talking with someone else. Be sensitive. They might be in an important conversation with their agent/editor/publicist/marketing director.

If they wave hi to you but go on talking to the other person, definitely don’t crash their conversation—just keep walking past. However, if they pause the conversation to give you a hug or say a few words, then it’s fine for you to approach them.

DON’T gush when …

On haitus, and a question for you

I'm at ICRS until late next week.

Also, any particular writing craft or business topics you want me to cover on this Story Sensei blog?
Camy

Don’t forget the emotion

Sometimes a scene will seem flat. It might be because you need to add more emotion to the scene. The richness of physical description, character actions, dialogue, thoughts.

In his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, the very first thing Dwight Swain talks about is emotion, because it’s one of the important aspects of fiction writing.

No matter if you write action, women’s fiction, suspense, or chick lit, emotion is the key factor in any scene. Whether it’s your hero’s dogged determination and rush of adrenaline as he runs from an exploding oil refinery, or it’s your heroine’s angst and frustration at her matchmaking, meddling mother. Emotion is what drives the character, and rivets the reader to the action or drama on the page.

When you read your scene, what emotions do you feel? What emotions do you want to feel? Focus on the emotion and write it—write what matters to you, what you want the reader to care about. Ramp up the emotion in your scene to give it depth and vitality.

Common problems in first person POV, part three

First person internal thoughts also tend to be a lot of backstory, which slows down the reading flow. It might be fun and quirky narrative, but it’s still a backstory dump however you look at it.

Mom ran off years ago with the family lawyer, and while I can’t say Dad was all that great, the lawyer was worse. She finally clued in when she found him groping his admin in his office one day. Mom, being Mom, told him, “I have decided to seek new legal representation.” And then she walked out.

Anyway, the entire incident has made her gunshy about hiring any lawyers, which is why she now bothers me to bother my boyfriend, who will give her free legal counsel without the inconvenience of actually paying for it. Gasp!

The cure for this is the same as in third person POV:

a) Give only snippets of backstory, not a whole bunch at once.

b) Mention backstory only when it’s absolutely vital to the current action.

c) Make a character absolutely need to know—that way your reader will also absolutely need to…