Going Up! How to Craft Your Elevator Pitch

Image“What is your story about?” It’s a simple question that rarely has a simple answer. If you’re like most writers, you have a tendency to go on and on, taking tangents, and often making the storyline seem convoluted and confusing. The listener’s eyes glaze over before you pause for a breath, and by the end of the explanation, the listener is looking around for a way to escape and you feel like you didn’t explain your story well enough to convey how fabulous it really is. That can be frustrating and embarrassing.

The idea of pitching the story to agents may seem even more overwhelming, but once you’ve crafted a succinct and compelling pitch, and memorized it so you can deliver it smoothly, you’ll be able to pitch your story to an agent (or anyone else) in less than 30 seconds.

And when I say less than 30 seconds, I mean LESS THAN 30 SECONDS. You should have your pitch so finely tuned you can deliver it in an elevator between floors if you have to.

You may not think that’s nearly enough time, but just remember: The more you talk, the more you talk the agent out of wanting to read your manuscript. Your manuscript will stand on its own merit; don’t sabotage your story before the agent has the opportunity to turn the first page.

Your pitch is something you need to spend some time crafting and memorizing, so you don’t freeze up when an agent says, ”Okay, tell me what your story is about.”

4 Components of a Good Pitch:
Your pitch capsule should be brief, comprehensive, engaging, and clear.

1.    Brief: Craft your pitch with as few words as possible.
2.    Comprehensive: Cover the main points of your story.
3.    Engaging: Choose to showcase your most interesting story elements.
4.    Clear: Keep your sentence structure simple and word choices easy to understand and easy to articulate (so you don’t trip over your words when you pitch).

In-person Pitch Format:

•        Start with the title and genre first.
That information immediately conveys to the agent where your story fits into the marketplace and allows her to focus on listening to your storyline instead of trying to guess what genre your story fits into.

•        Pitch capsule (less than 50 words is ideal)
Incorporate the character’s desire and main conflict or obstacle. The conflict doesn’t have to be stated directly; it can be implied by the difficulty in the character’s circumstances you’ve highlighted. Your pitch should be no more than 1-3 sentences.

•        Comparison works.
In addition to your pitch, you can also reference a similar author or books with a similar theme, tone, or style, to help the agent understand the way you’ve written your story.

Make sure your comparison is an accurate choice and don’t be boastful. Stay away from judgment language:

“My story is side-splittingly funny, entertaining, and riveting. It’s just as brilliant as the books by Author X.”

The agent may not think it is, and no amount of telling her you think it is will make it so.

Stick to simple statements that tell why you think your manuscript is similar in tone/style to a particular author or why it would appeal to a particular audience.

Practice Practice Practice

Once you’ve honed your pitch, practice it in the shower, in front of a mirror, driving in the car. Recite it to your friends, family, and moderately attentive pets. Become comfortable with your pitch, so the next time someone asks, “What is your story about?”—you have the perfect answer.

Dear Readers: If you need help crafting your pitch, creating a compelling query letter, and finding an agent who will fall in love with your story, you are welcome to join my 4-week workshop: How to Get the Right Agent for Your Manuscript. You can find out more about the class on my Workshops page. Contact me directly annette [at] annettefix [dot] com to sign up, or join my featured workshop via WOW! Women On Writing.com.
**Summer Special $249** June 4th, July 2nd, July 30th only.


Publishing is Changing: It’s Getting Scary Out There

For some of you professional writers out there, it may be time to check your shorts. The industry is going through a lot of growing pains and it’s likely affecting your bottom line. Sure, change is scary and no one likes to have their assets hanging out in the wind. But I don’t think it’ll become as big of a mess as some may anticipate.

All butt metaphors aside, I was inspired to write this post after I began to comment on another blog and realized what I had to say needed a post of its own. The blog post that fired up my mostly dormant synapses belongs to fellow scribe Jenna Glatzer who shared The Great Freakout of 2010: her concern with where the publishing industry is headed, its affect on her income, and her fears about the death of print books and bookstores.

Now, Jenna is certainly more accomplished than I and has had a very successful career in traditional publishing with both ghosting and writing her own books, but Jenna, girlfriend, don’t worry; as you’re discovering in 2011, you’ll be just fine.

There doesn’t have to be a Great Freakout of 2011 if writers embrace technology and new possibilities—and encourage others in the publishing industry to do the same. Change isn’t coming; it’s already here.

I have a couple ideas for publishers and bookstores that I think will help get the ball of change rolling a little faster.

If traditional publishing houses stop clinging to an outdated business model and completely embrace POD and digital technology, they have a better chance of surviving. Some houses use POD for their out-of-print titles, but not for new releases or backlist/consistently-selling titles. Most publishing losses and risks are the result of massive offset print runs that sit in the bookstores and wholesaler/distributor warehouses until they are returned, remaindered, or pulped because they didn’t sell. All the money wasted on indiscriminate printing could be used to publish more authors. Win-win-win for authors, readers, and publishers.

But some would argue that going to strictly POD and eBooks would put the final nail in the bookstore coffin. Bookstores have been struggling for a while and the recent bankruptcy of Borders foreshadows the future of the others.

Bookstores can survive if they, too, changed their business model. They need to build a community around a shared interest—reading. Bookstores should become a book-lovers social venue with couches, bean bags, and overstuffed chairs (instead of those god awful wooden spine killers) and host a solid calendar of events like author readings, book clubs, discussion groups, storytime for children, literacy tutoring, and maybe even some writing classes. Bookstores should have electronic display terminals where you can “flip through” books like Amazon’s search inside feature and either download the book immediately to your eReader, or if buyers want a print version, they can choose to step over to the bank of Espresso Book Machines or to a POD ordering center for to have the print book delivered to their homes or that store location. The bookstore can also continue to sell coffee table and gift-type books and book chotskies and reading accessories. Win-win-win-win for the bookstores, readers, authors, and publishers.

It may all sound a bit sci-fi-ish, but it *is* coming. And the longer it takes the industry to embrace it, the more struggling and suffering there will be for us all.

What ideas do you have for new directions in the publishing industry? Any predictions? I’d love to hear them.

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Free Kindle Coming Soon

Is it true? Will Amazon give away a free Kindle to any and every reader who wants one? That looks like what you can expect by November—just in time for Christmas 2011.

According to Tech Crunch, Kindle prices have been consistently falling for a good reason. It’s all part of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ master plan. The speculation is that every Amazon Prime customer will receive a free Kindle. Of course, Amazon may find a different way to bundle their eReader that will have mass appeal and compel all digital book consumers to flock to Amazon’s cyber shelves.

But what is the fall-out of this master a-Kindle-for-everyone plan? There’s a lot to consider.

As a reader, which would you rather have: tons of print books on your shelves, taking up space and requiring sturdy boxes and strong arms to move? Or a free, small, light-weight device where you can read/store thousands of digital books and take them anywhere you go? $25 for a hardback, $16 for a paperback, or $2.99 for an ebook? No contest, right? But what will happen to traditional publishers? They are still clinging to the print-book publishing model and will soon be sinking like a dinosaur into a tar pit if they don’t embrace digital and POD technology. Evolve or perish. The time is now.

With the increasing accessibility of digital and POD publishing, true self-publishing (not publishing via a subsidy/vanity press) has never been faster, easier, or more affordable. That’s a completely different blog post, but definitely something Amazon’s master plan will support and encourage.

With this free Kindle plan, it will force other manufacturers to also make their readers free, but aside from B&N (with the Nook), no other company has the same volume of digital content available. Easy. It wipes out the companies that can’t compete.

The publishing industry is changing at an exponential rate. Are you on board for Amazon’s wild ride? What are your fears? What changes will you celebrate?

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Tips for Freelancers: How to Write a Great Query Letter

AFor the last two years, I’ve been Senior Editor at WOW! Women On Writing, an online magazine written by, for, and about women in the publishing industry. During my editorship, WOW! was selected for the Writer’s Digest list of “101 Best Websites for Writers” in 2008 and 2009.

This month, I announced I’m stepping down from the position to focus on my own projects: marketing my book The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, increasing my speaking appearances at writer’s conferences and organizations, and working one-on-one with writers enrolled in my workshops and coaching programs. (And yes, starting my next book.)

But I wanted to share with freelancers a few tips I’ve compiled after reading thousands of query letters that have crossed my cyber desk.

I’ve taken a couple questions I’ve been asked and used them to present my tips:

Q: What do you consistently see that bothers you most when reading submissions?

A: My biggest irritation is when writers query without taking the time to read the publication and familiarize themselves with the content. WOW! is very obviously a women’s writing magazine focused on the craft; yet, I received countless queries about health, beauty, and fashion. Don’t submit fiction and personal essays when you see WOW! only publishes how-to articles and interviews.

Freelance Market Research 101

  • Study every section of the magazine to see what type of content they publish BEFORE you query.
  • Check the word count.

WOW! articles are content rich and more like print magazines in length. The standard 500-600 word online article is about 1500 words too short.

  • Request/review the submission guidelines of both online and print magazines to find out what the editors expect.
  • Check the editor’s desk section or masthead for the name of the person you should address in your query.

WOW!, a publication FOR women, clearly run BY women, often receives queries addressed to “Dear Sir.” It’s an immediate pass because it shows the writer is lazy and careless.

Query Submission 101

  • Run spell check, especially if you are sending an e-query. Don’t let the informal feeling of email keep you from sending a polished, professional query.
  • Read your email query aloud before you send it. You’d be surprised how much the spell check misses.

Do whatever you need to do to make sure your query is clean—correct spelling, solid grammar, and proper punctuation. If a writer doesn’t take the time and effort to make sure her query is immaculate, editors know she’ll be just as careless with her submission.

  • Bring something to the table.

WOW! often receives email from writers who say they would like to write for the magazine, but have no idea what they have to offer. Telling an editor you are a writer who wants to write is not the same thing as showing an editor you can actually do it. Know your expertise or figure it out, so you can bring something to the table. Editors are always looking for fresh voices, but you must be able to provide content that has value to the publication’s readers.

Q: After a day spent delving into the slush pile, can you tell us what compels you to accept one piece of writing over another?

A: At WOW!, there isn’t a slush pile. All queries and submissions are given equal attention and considered on their own merit. No matter which publication you query—online or print, you will be competing with freelancers who have queried on the same topic. The writer who best conveys how she will execute the proposed idea gets the assignment.

Questions an editor asks herself during your query evaluation:

  • Is the topic of interest to our readers?
  • Does the freelancer have the chops (expertise/ability) to write the article she is proposing?
  • Does she have a great hook and a fresh spin on a familiar topic?
  • Has she fully fleshed-out her idea with  an overview or outline of her intended article?
  • Has she listed her sources, or prospective sources for quotes?
  • Does she have a strong voice?
  • Has she come up with a unique title?

The magazine may choose not to use the title of your submission for the published article, but if it’s memorable—like “How to Hog-tie an Agent”—it keeps the query on our minds, rather than it getting lost in the mix with all the other queries titled: “How to Get an Agent.”


Queries should include clips or some sort of writing sample. At the very least, a link to a blog post written like an article. If you are serious about freelancing, you should have a blog that showcases your writing ability and includes a page of links to your published clips.

Show us that you know how to structure an article for the web:

  • subheadings
  • short paragraphs
  • bullet lists
  • sidebars
  • content-rich article with no excessive wordiness

Don’t send out anything less than your best work. If you expect to get paid, make sure what you write is worth the money.

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