Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ones Who Got You There


We writers may not practice our Oscar speeches like this cute little kid, but we do have a spot in each book to thank the ones who got us where we are.

Still, some thank yous are worthy of the Oscar-type speeches we'll most likely never give. I thought about one of them when I read a blog by agent Suzie Townsend. She talked about what to do (and more importantly what not to do) when pitching. It's absolutely spot-on advice.

It brought back memories of chilled pasta salad that I couldn't eat and the sharp edge of a 3x5 index card digging into the palm of my hand. It was my first pitch.

The editor, Jen Green, isn't (I don't think, anyway) in the business anymore, which is a loss, because she was a terrific editor. She had come to do a workshop at our Georgia Romance Writers chapter meeting and to listen to pitches for the now defunct Harlequin Bombshell and NeXt lines (insert funeral dirge here.)

I'd practiced my pitch until I could recite in my sleep. (The Husband has offered corroboration on this point, and swears I actually did recite it in my sleep.) I was psyched. I was ready. And thanks to a wise and wonderful author friend, I had done the wise thing and left my pages at home. (Oh, yes, I was that green.)

Picture all of us at a table, the little circle of hopeful writers. Ms. Green smiled at us and gave the signal for someone to start the round-robin.

My turn came. My heart raced. The pasta salad in my stomach lurched. And my mind went blank.

So I gulped, looked at Ms. Green, then looked down at my card, gulped again, and read straight from the card.

And she said the most beautiful words in the world: "That sounds like it might work. Why don't you send me a partial?"

That book, after two gut-it-like-the-trout-that-it-was revisions, wound up selling -- not to Jen Green, but to the lovely, lovely Laura Shinn (who is now onto greener pastures herself.) It was my first sale.

And it was all because Jen Green didn't mind that I had to read the pitch off my index card.

11 comments:

Linda G. said...

Gosh, I feel for you, even in retrospect! In-person pitching is scary. Thank goodness it all turned out so well for you. :)

Cynthia Reese said...

Funny, Linda, before I did it, I had more confidence in selling my story in person than I did in a query letter. Was I dumb or WHAT??

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Great story.
Pitching is scary, but 9 times out of 10 the agents/editors we pitch to are very understanding of nerves.
Glad yours was too. :)

Piedmont Writer said...

I'm a BIG talker and I would definately have to have a card to look at because I would just go on and on. Although I guess it might be a good think I love my book that much.

Jen said...

Pitching in-person sounds terrifying I have had to do it yet but I need to gain confidence first!! I'm a terrible speaker so I'm hoping to get over that with speech class!!

Cynthia Reese said...

Karen, you're so right ... I've yet to find any reputable agent or editor who didn't understand how terrifying pitching can be. I'll bet it's because THEY have to pitch to other people as well!

Anne, a fellow rambler! Honestly, The Husband swears he's going to invent some Immodium for my mouth because I just go on and on and on ... :-)

Cynthia Reese said...

Jen, it can be terrifying, but it doesn't have to be. Like Karen pointed out (and I've discovered) agents and editors are human, too. Just be professional, think "job interview," and you'll do fine.

Speech class was a great help to me -- gave me confidence that I didn't know I had, and taught me things I use every day. Excellent investment in time and effort and college tuition!

BillRicksofSoperton said...

God bless Townsend, Green, and all the good guys who bring out the best in writers. That includes all of Cynthia's writer friends.
Wm

Jenny B. Jones said...

Ugh, the pitch. Gives me nightmares.

Tawna Fenske said...

Even after all these years of writing queries and honing my craft and landing this new book deal, I still freeze up when asked, "what is your book about?" I can cheerfully answer the question in writing, but in person? Fuhgeddaboutit.

Tawna

Cynthia Reese said...

Jenny, Tawna, it's very comforting to know I am in good company!

Bill, yes, we DO have a lot of guardian angels looking out for us!