Sunday, August 28, 2011

Focus and Today's Writer: The Long Pitch

In my most recent article for Pitch University, I discuss the difference between what I consider the "short" pitch - the air tight, expertly crafted query letter or face to face pitch that allows your foot in the door (partial or full manuscript read) and the "long" pitch, the foundation upon which your craft is built and how all that experience appears on paper. 

Expertly crafted pitches will only open doors for you if your work is great and you have the platform to back up the work. You could have a fabulous query letter that's been hand crafted for you by an expert but if the actual writing of your book doesn't live up to that query, it's over. I see this happen more often today than I did as an agent nearly 10 years ago. Why? Does it have to do with all the new resources and services focused ONLY on pitching? Perhaps, but those resources aren't the problem - they're a GREAT tool available to writers when the time is right. I feel it's because more and more people are pulling up to the writing table wanting to write but don't want to take that oh-so-necessary time to learn the craft, build on their skill and get their work seen before they approach an agent or publishing house.  

Writers, there are no short cuts. I don't care if you want to self-publish or go the traditional route, if you're just starting out, if you've just been at this thing for a few years, you must learn to write well and begin to make your work public in some form or another before you approach the publishing world. This track record of success becomes your platform - the thing you desperately need to really get your foot in the door of a publishing house or as many would say, into a reader's hands. But the process is not the same for all writers.

Fiction Authors

It might help, but you don’t need an MFA to write a brilliant, compelling, thoughtful, kick-butt novel. However, you do need a track record. It could be built on the shoulders of a career in journalism as with Tom Wolfe. It could be built in the wordsmithing operation of an advertising firm, or it could be built on nothing but the natural ability of being a keen observer. The point is that you have to start somewhere, baby steps if you like, but you’ve got to get your work out there. It needs to be seen, critically evaluated and someone other than your mother needs to see its value. If you’re not building on a track record, you are nowhere as a writer.  I’ve seen writers without any talent go on for years deluding themselves, believing all they needed was a break, and what they really needed was someone to tell them the truth. You need to be part of a writing community that speaks to your genre and supports your ongoing education as a writer.

Many literary writers submit their work to literary magazines or journals. Some enjoy contests and the vigor of competition. This work is all very time consuming and emotionally taxing. You’re earning your spurs. For most it’s a full time commitment, but no one ever said your passion was going to be easy.

Agents and editors expect to see a track record of previous publishing success from newly acquired writers. Does that mean you need to be published in The Iowa or Paris Review? It doesn’t hurt, but there are many reputable literary journals, magazines or other outlets to place your work. What about a blog with ten thousand subscribers? As with anything, you’re only limited by your own imagination. You need an outlet that suits your genre and voice. That’s a beginning. Join organizations that support literary authors and their work. Build your community - learn, contribute, share and submit. Work the process but most importantly, get it in print. Your track record will not only help you get your foot in the door. It will help you assure you have something to offer once you do.

For commercial fiction writers, the same generally holds true – find the outlets and contests that best suit your work and start submitting. If you’re a hard-core genre writer, joining appropriate writers’ organizational chapters is a must! There you will find the resources to help you fortify your craft, thereby strengthening your platform and approach to publishing.

Another good platform builder that helps put food on the table is the freelance article. Can you find an outlet to showcase your subject matter? Is there a newspaper or magazine hook that will fit your needs?  What topics or concepts are explored in your novel? Consider developing an article about those elements. Did you learn anything in your process? Do you have advice for someone? Most magazines for writers offer a section for authors to share a little bit about what they know about writing. How about personal essays? How did you find an agent? What do you have to offer?  What do you care about? I know one author who built a reputation writing letters to the editor and was asked by the paper to write a weekly column. Get creative, it’s your stock in trade.

Blogging is not right for everyone, but if you feel you have the time to develop a solid blog that will serve as a showcase for your writing, it’s an effective way to build a fan base and community. If you can demonstrate numbers to a publisher, there’s nothing more persuasive.

Nonfiction Writers  

Memoir and Essayists: Blog, contribute to blogs, submit to literary journals and magazines, develop your own column and pitch to appropriate newspapers, magazines, websites, etc. Let your perspective be known – find your voice and sell it!

Prescriptive “how to” experts/advocates/specialists:  Consider blogging as a feature to your website. People come to you for advice – you’re the expert – so open the lines of communication and develop your faithful following - extra credit if you offer your community an opportunity to submit material to you - questions, pictures and their on-topic experiences). Build value in your platform and fortify your base. Keep a regular blogging schedule and you will underscore your credibility and professional integrity.

Freelancing is a great experience builder for prescriptive writers. Submit to appropriate journals, magazines, websites, blogs, etc. Put your short pitch game to work by constantly pitching to editors, television and radio segment producers and anyone who might have interest in your services.   Hold workshops and seminars. Get noticed and find success.

Special Topic Writers: The same rules apply if you write about specialized areas of interest like sports, military, religious, history, pop culture and so on. Blog when and if appropriate; submit your work to journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, other blogs; develop new story ideas; pitch to segment producers; pitch to radio; sit on event/lecture panels, etc.  Be seen, be heard and be read.

Remember: The Long Pitch is all about preparation. If you're truly passionate about what you do, there will never be enough time in the day and before you know it, you'll have a platform worth pitching. 

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