Founder and Chief Alchemist
Part skills lesson, part confession, part peptalk: this is my brand new radio interview on Your Book is Your Hook radio program, hosted by Jennifer Wilkov.  You'll recognize her as an expert-in-resident here at Pitch U!
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New Year’s Resolutions for the Rejected, Dejected, and Mortally Wounded (12 tips that are better than a resolution)

by Diane Holmes, Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

If 2011 sucked, this post is for you.  And if you know someone who had a rough year, share this post.


Some years, it’s hard to remember any good times.

Suddenly, it’s Christmas, and everyone is talking about how blessed and happy they are, which is followed by January 1st and the giddy excitement of New Year’s Resolutions.

You?  You limp or claw your way to the end of the year, then you whisper to yourself and any nearby angels, “Promise me next year will be better.  Promise me.”

“It’s a new year!  Yay!” All the successful people are fully prepared to dream up new ways to succeed effortlessly (or at least without illness or loss or depression). 

Writers who published (or at least finished manuscripts) in 2011 are the worst. 

They’re oblivious to the walking wounded.  They’re equal parts glib, skeptical, cocky, and judgmental.  According to their reality, all “good efforts” will lead instantly to success (especially if the right plan is written on a schedule that is engraved in shimmery gold and will, thusly,  never encounter a single setback or interruption).

Or they’re hard-working and think that elbow grease, wanting it “enough,” or adequate sacrifice and prioritization is the ticket.  This implies you have not worked hard.  Yes, yes, you must be skimping on the yearning, or maybe you just aren’t willing to make the “successful” choices.

They don’t know that there is a chasm between those left unscathed by the year and those who have had their hearts ripped out by any one of a thousand, jagged shards of real life.


But I get it.  I do.  I know what it’s like.  I know how ripped open you feel.  I know rejection.  I know loss.  I know illness.  And I know the utter breakdown of the thing you love the most:  writing.

When people talk about finding joy in the journey, they do not mean this.  But this is the journey too.  You can’t pretend it away.  Can’t plug your ears and sing, “La la la la la…” until it disappears, replaced—one assumes—with  a well-written plan, scheduled cleverly on a calendar with an attached to-do list.  Ah, yes, then you’ll be successful.  Problem solved.

I bet all we need is a good New Year’s resolution.  Snicker.

So I’ll tell you my secret, my heartbreak last year. 

From January until June, I worked 80-hours a week on my grand passion of Pitch University. 

You can’t believe the exuberance, the complete joy of working with some of the best people I’ve ever met.  Of learning.  Of teaching.  Of being deeply submerged in writing.  Of carrying the message forward that pitching is something you can suck at… and then learn. 

I mean, that is truly hopeful message.  An important message. 

Then it was over.  My health broke.  My chronic fatigue was back.  I tried to keep going, keep dreaming.  La la la la laaaaaa.  But eventually, my fatigue became so profound, I couldn’t work at all.

The Mythic Writer

This is the mythic writer’s journey, if you’re familiar with that.  It’s the Ordeal.  I know this place well.  Heck, I have an insider’s pass and own the t-shirt.  But after 25 years of working on my heath, I thought it was over, you know?  I thought, finally I can juggle it all and Just Do It.

Find the joy of the journey.  Just try harder.  Set more deadlines.  Envision your goals. Pffft.

Some journeys are difficult, painful, sad, bitter, or practically rip your soul out through your nostrils and leave nothing but a  cute shell of the former you.  Some journeys bite.

January 1st.  So there you are, you and your cute shell.  Finally you make it to the end of the year through grit, determination, and the every-day heroism of breathing and showing up.

You’re shell shocked (pun).  And you find out you don’t believe you have anything left.  You just can’t write down the goal “get published” or “finish my manuscript” again.  Not one single time more. 

“Query agents and editors.”

“Revise current book.”

“Find new publisher.”

“Revive my career again.”

Nope, you can’t do it.

You realize suddenly that you want to give these phrases a finger.  A very rude finger.

So now what? 

Four years ago, I gave a talk on why goal-setting doesn’t work and what you can do about it. 

One reason goal-setting doesn’t work is because life happens.  Illness happens.  The Horrible, the Heartbreaking, and the Soul-Crushing happens.  Also, rejection.  Failure.  Suckiness.

So here’s what you do.

#1 You borrow hope even though you don’t feel it.  Steal it if you have to.

#2  You realize that many heroes (and writers) have been on the journey that looks like yours.  And all you have to do is survive the tests and perils, to know that the part of you that is truly authentic is still there, the part of you that is you at your very best is standing just out of sight.

#3 You trust that your struggles don’t kill your dreams, they just obscure them for a bit.  They are the eclipse of today.  Tomorrow you will wash ashore and the heavens will be full of both a sun and a moon.  You’ll find your dreams or dream new ones. 

#4 You turn your back on success versus failure, the black and white of angst. 

And you replace them with something wiser.  Become an explorer.  An inventor.  Experiment.  Learn.  Become curious.  These goals do not invite failure.  They invite the future.

#5 You find the brilliant moments that create meaning in what you do. 

Discover them. Relish them.  Your life is not a result or check mark or list of resume successes.  Your life is experience.  Choose a pretty good experience for this moment.  Notice if it wows you.  Pay more attention to Wow than you do to anything else.  Trust me.  Brilliant moments remind you of who you are.  Suddenly, they expose the hidden meaning of your life.

#6 You tell yourself a different story. 

Not a fake story.  Not denial.  Just a different story.  If you listen to your sadness or grief or frustration, you’ll only hear one version of the story.  Sometimes you have to tell yourself an alternative version.  A version that’s more right. 

Sing the story of the Hero to yourself.  Heroes take a beating.  They face adversity.  They are crushed, lost in the forest, and tested over and over.  Be your own myth.  Or at least remember that in every myth, the hero suffers, then overcomes. 

Do that.  Believe it’s possible to overcome.

#7 You find strength in compassion. 

When your heart aches, you join the ranks of all those whose hearts have ached before you.  And those whose hearts will ache into the infinite future.  How can you not feel a kinship with those who are like you?  And then know that they must feel this, too. 

You are not alone.  You’re strong.  You’re a survivor of life, surrounded by survivors.  You come from this strength, and you contribute to it.

#8 You do not reject yourself. 

This is the ultimate heartache, that you are no longer “one with yourself.”  Instead, you stand apart and accuse yourself of not being good enough, strong enough, and a thousand other Not’s.  With every Not, you shove yourself further away. 

#9 You allow yourself to change.  Your goals, your habits, your patterns, and who you think you are.  Allow yourself to have no real answers and to change even if it comes from something that wasn’t your choice, and then I think you’ll be able to take a step forward. 

A step forward is a lovely New Year’s resolution.

#10 You realize that you can have the best-of-times and worst-of-times together without exploding.  And good can follow bad with no reason needed.  Your life is already proof of this.  Just look for examples.

#11 You realize it’s true.  It really won’t always be this way.  It just feels that way.

#12 Find one thing to inspire you, and you’re saved.  One spark, one idea, one decision, one well-written sentence. 

Yes, you writer, you.  It’s the smallest things that bring you back to life and give you hope.  The smallest thing is all that’s needed to remind you of who you were meant to be. 

After that, kick ass.


I’m stronger today than yesterday.

I’ve been working on an amazing vision for Pitch University and a site that’s much bigger than that.

Today, I’m filled with hope and the love of writing.

So, if you need to borrow hope, I have some to spare.


Brent Nielsen: Author, Centurion, Spear Carrier

Member Spotlight Interview by Minion Heather Webb.

Heather: Centurions as characters!  Tell us how you came up with that idea.Brent Nielsen

Bent: I got the idea to write a story about a pair of brothers joining and fighting in the Roman Legions as a small boy of eight or nine but wrote my first ‘saga’ of ten chapters, THE GREEN KNIGHT, shortly after reading THE HOBBIT in fifth Grade.

Since that time, someone convinced me to write the newsletter for the rugby team or motorcycle groups I have belonged to, or projects for the US Army. A few years ago, I became enamored with Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories “Tales of Long ago” and converted them into plays, and then did the same thing for P.G. Wodehouse’s ‘Pighooey!’

Do you participate in any online groups or organizations?

In addition to Pitch University, I occasionally contribute to a Facebook page called Absolute Write, a group made up of mostly self-published authors who want to discuss the latest trends in writing and marketing.

Professionally speaking, I belong to several historical groups devoted to everything ‘Roman’.

  • I consult with for references on food and sauce preparation procedures as well as ancient recipes (Stuffed and baked dormice, crunchy but without singed ears?).
  • is devoted to anything concerning the military. Ben Kane (Forgotten Legion) and Stephen Pressfield (Gates of Fire) regularly participate in discussions on this valuable tool for my work.

It sounds like you’re an avid researcher and active in the writing community. How did you discover Pitch-University?

I joined Pitch U while searching through an agent website. The website was bogus, but Pitch U and Writer’s Digest absolutely were not.

The alpha-male oriented should be my target audience. Unfortunately, we can be rough on even the most experienced members, not a place for the thin-skinned authors who are proposing a fictional story to obsessive-compulsive, detail freaks.

I found Pitch U to be much more nurturing and friendly; like having a bowl of Campbell’s soup with June Lockhart. Ouch! Did I just date myself?

We’re so glad you find PitchU a warm, friendly place. We love our writers! Can you tell us a little bit about how PitchU has helped you in your quest to become a better writer?

With improved typing skills, increased speed and more than two fingers, a ‘wordiness’ crept into my prose. Pitch U reintroduced ‘brevity’ to my writing. On occasion, I see a similar affliction in other members. I would like to believe I returned the favor.

My first book was self-published. I sent a query for the completed sequel to the Charles Viney Agency in England; the same agency representing Ben Kane. I have yet to receive a response, but Pitch U definitely refreshed my sales skills! These tonics serve me well as practice for the big sale, when that happens.

I love your optimism. Do you think pitching is different from querying?

I believe pitching is a very different skill from query writing, albeit with the same goal. When pitching individual book sales, I have just seconds to sell the idea, an interest in the story. It is the query that ultimately sells the book, but the pitch is the ‘hook’. The best pitch is in the title. Title is 90% of what sells me on unfamiliar authors.

Either I continue talking and the buyer reads the back of the book and takes my card to order …or he/she shrugs a shoulder, ‘not my thing,’ and walks away. For books two and three, my pitch and query are interchangeable because the original characters are now older Centurions and in Gaul.

Will you be attending any conferences this year?

I might attend a writers conference if it were held in Atlanta or even more locally, but I travel quite a bit with work already so out of state conference attendance would have to remain coincidental.

Do you have a motto?

I suppose my motto would be Brevi venderes! Simple sells!


Thanks for being a part of Pitch-University, Brent. We hope to see you in the forums soon.

Brent is a native of the California Bay Area. He joined the army after graduating from San Jose State University in 1979. After ten years in service in the military, he divided his time between rugby, motorcycles, construction, teaching, theater, and raising kids in Columbus Georgia.

Now that life no longer interferes with his writing plans, he intends to make FIRST SPEAR into a historical fiction series, chronicling the lives of Centurions mentioned in Caesar’s commentaries.


by Heather Webb

Heather is a historical fiction writer, but dabbles occasionally in YA. When she’s not writing by the glow of her coffee pot light, she’s chasing her gremlins, ogling kitchen gadgets, sampling wine, or on an airplane to her next destination. Her “real” job is the Executive Director of New England Virtual High School, an online school for teens.

After discovering Pitch U, Heather became hooked to its invaluable columns and wonderfully supportive staff.  When asked to become part of the team, she was thrilled! This is THE PLACE to be. You can also find her on the web at her BLOG for writing tips, recipes, and pop culture rants or follow her on Twitter.


Seize Your E-Pub Power: Test Marketing Your Way To Success

CheriLasota_BW_150x150  by Cheri Lasota
Author | Editor | Ebook Designer

SpireHouse Books launched Cheri Lasota’s first novel, Artemis Rising, in Sept 2011. The book is a YA historical fantasy based on mythology and set in the exotic Azores Islands.

Currently, Cheri is writing and researching her second novel, a YA set on the Oregon Coast. Over the course of her sixteen-year career, she has edited fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and short stories for publication. Cheri also has twenty-four years of experience writing poetry and fiction. Learn more about Artemis Rising at or buy it at

A Radical Thought

People often ask me why I haven’t released a paperback of my debut novel, Artemis Rising. I tell them what I’ll tell you: I’m test-marketing. I don’t want to miss this awesome chance to make adjustments to the book that will help to make it more marketable.


I published with E-Publisher SpireHouse Books precisely so that I could have the opportunity to make changes to the novel, essentially ensuring that I was releasing the highest quality ebook I could.


Elements you can change in an ebook

  • Cover design
  • Title
  • Subtitle or tagline
  • Grammar/punctuation
  • Typos
  • Plotholes
  • Formatting errors
  • Target market
  • Content/research errors
  • Genre
  • Pricing

Elements you can add to an ebook

  • Bonus content
  • Interactive features
  • Book excerpt from other authors’ books or your next novel
  • Audio / video
  • Photographs
  • Hyperlinks

These types of changes are quick and are much easier to update than a paperback would be. Bear in mind, too, that reader reviews can make or break a book in terms of sales. If your novel is littered with formatting or grammatical errors, even one review drawing attention to that fact can damage future sales. If you were unaware of errors at publication time, you’re sure to hear of it soon from your readers. Pay attention to what they’re saying. Make changes. Get an editor to go through your manuscript. Never stop improving your book. The benefit will show clearly in your sales.

The Power of Ebook Rights

I would say the No. 1 advantage for choosing the indie route is that you can keep your ebook rights. These rights are priceless for so many reasons, but the main benefit is the flexibility electronic publishing offers an author. An indie ebook author is in it for the long haul. Sales and marketing is measured in years, not months (as in the traditional book model). You don’t have to prove yourself within three months or risk being pulled from the shelves and going out of print.

The field is wide open for you to make your mark in the book world. You can plan a long-term strategy with multiple large-scale campaigns and book redesigns. How cool is that? Many traditionally published authors are snagging their rights back on previously published, older books and repackaging them to sell on their own. If you fall into that camp, don’t hesitate! Get your book out there and make it earn its keep. It’s a fantastic time to put a book out there in the market to see how it flies.

As for my novel, Artemis Rising, we’ve recently changed the cover design slightly and added a different tagline: “Escape Your Name. Escape Your Fate.” We’ve changed the pricing. We’ve added an excerpt from Winnemucca, another YA novel by Laura Elliott for cross-promotional marketing. We’ve added images of ancient maps to highlight the book’s setting.

One of the most amazing things we’ve been able to do is make updates to some cultural references in Artemis Rising. The story is set in the Azores Islands, Portugal. I’ve had very little research material to reference while writing, but I recently joined an Azorean Facebook group with over 44,000 members. Many of them have been gracious enough to offer me their expertise and share their experiences and family histories. This new knowledge went directly into my recent edits of Artemis Rising. None of that would have been possible if I hadn’t had the ability to make quick edits to the ebook.

If you are still considering how you want to publish your next novel—traditional or indie—consider quick edits an excellent benefit of indie publishing as you carefully weigh your decision.

Test-Marketing to Success

Back to test-marketing. Remember I mentioned genre in the above bulleted list? I’m currently considering two target markets: young adult girls and women in their 20s to 40s. Artemis Rising has crossover appeal for many reasons. It has attracted attention from those interested in mythology, historical novels, and the Azores Islands. These are all avenues I can explore as I test-market this book.

To explain more fully, I can focus on one market at a time by making changes to the ebook file to better target a specific audience. For example, if I’m targeting those who have an interest in mythology, I can change the historical maps (bonus content) to information, links and images that represent the mythologies that I feature in the novel. When I want to shift focus to another target market, I would simply update the file to include elements focusing on other features of the book.

Consider test-marketing and quick edits as essential elements of your book marketing plan. They can make a huge difference in your book sales over time. Explore and experiment and you’ll find that the possibilities are endless with ebooks. Seize your market!


Learn more…

… about the novel or contact Cheri at, Twitter or Facebook. The book is available in all digital formats and can be purchased at, iTunes,, Barnes & Noble, and


YA Historical Fantasy - 101,000 words

E-book Available on iTunes, KoboBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble $4.99

E-book Card Edition $2.99 (Exclusive content on an author-signed gift card)

Brief pitch for Artemis Rising

Torn between her father’s Catholicism and her mother’s Pagan beliefs, Eva finally chooses Paganism. She accepts the name of Arethusa but learns too late that her life will mir­ror the Greek nymph’s tragic fate. When they sail to the Azores Islands, her mother tells her that the ful­fill­ment of her des­tiny rests with Diogo, the shipowner’s son. But Eva sees a vision of another...

When the ship founders off the Azores, Tristan, a young Azorean, saves her. Destined to be with Diogo and aching for Tristan’s for­bid­den love, Eva must some­how choose between them, or fate will soon choose for her.


Sample Reviews

I have read all of your chapters more slowly than is my wont sim­ply because I could not bear to miss a moment of savouring the beauty of your prose, the power of your story, the strength of your imagery, the scents, the sounds, the con­trasts ... this is just one of those magic books where I want to banish the world and all its cares and interruptions and immerse myself in this heady passion-​​flower of a book which you have created.

—M.M. Bennetts, author of May 1812 and Of Honest Fame

—Linda Horne,

Artemis Rising is an intriguing and complex tale, yet in the hands of author Cheri Lasota, the story flows seamlessly, gathering the reader into a world so real you can smell the bergamot along with Eva, feel the pitch­ing of a storm-​​tossed ship, and the sweet taste of first love. Yet Eva’s world, Arethusa’s world, is one of magic, a place where themes of ancient myth and religious thought meet, con­front, and struggle for supremacy.

—Alice Lynn, Author of Volunteer for Glory

This is the sort of writ­ing in which it is impossible to dis­cern the workings, the scaffold­ing and the glue: it is effort­less to read, which speaks of care­ful craft­ing and polishing, and your set­ting is convincing with­out ever once feel­ing like a his­tory les­son. I felt com­fort­able in itso much so, that I for­got about being a reviewer and just became a reader, lost in an engross­ing story. I would buy this.

Louise Galvin, author of Souvenirs

Buy Artemis Rising, my debut YA historical fantasy, at or Amazon.


NaNoWriMo Advice: Creating a Pitch as a Motivational Touchstone

Dear NaNoers Everywhere,

You rock.

You are a frenzied lot of rock-star creatives who kick butt.  You are inventive beyond belief (and I believe a lot of crazy stuff).  And you are true believers that harness massive forward momentum, because it is yours for the taking.

I am one of you.  Frenzied, crazy, and massive.  No, wait…  I meant “true believer.”  Yeah, that’s much better.

And I have good news for all of you who actually can’t take an entire month off of…

  • work,
  • kids,
  • pets and their associated medical conditions (not including whatever is living in the attic, which may or may not have a “condition”)
  • family moves (all 3 involving your help),
  • birthdays, holidays, and days your sinuses suck,
  • surgery, catastrophe, and “being there” for those you love,
  • emergency air conditioner, computer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and phone repair and/or total replacement and/or declaration of death and funeral-by-recycling (is it legal for everything to break at once?)

… in order to devote all day, every day to NaNo.

Everyone gets sidetracked.  The key is finding a touchstone to bring you instantly back to passion, story, and forward momentum.

Create a pitch that becomes a motivational touchstone.

Here’s how it works.  This is NOT a selling pitch.  This time, you are pitching yourself.

#1  List all the reasons you are TOTALLY excited by your idea, plot, characters, twists & turns, whatever you have so far.  Why is it amazingly cool to you?

#2  Think about the geeky aspects of your story (“would only be understood by another writer”), the parts that make your heart pitter pat because You. Get. To. Play. With. Them. 

  • Narrative time loops?
  • Quotes at the beginning of each chapter?
  • Multiple POV including the unusually large mouse in the attic?
  • Archetypes, themes, structures, tropes, set pieces?
  • Character quirks?
  • Rules you’ll break?
  • Coolness Factors?

There are always reasons why *this* book captures your heart and imagination, and why readers will (frankly) be lucky to read it.  That’s what we’re looking for.

#3  Create a pitch just for you.  A motivational pitch. 

  • This is a book were I get to….
  • I can’t wait to play with….
  • No one has ever….
  • I just love….

#4  In true NaNo form, do not edit what you write.  Just plow it on out there with such excitement and force that it has to be true.

These are the core words that will guide you when your life interrupts.  These words are your power. 

Just like a selling pitch, where you capture the agents’, editor’s, or reader’s attention, these words capture YOUR attention.  These words tap into your book’s potential and link it to your passion.

Pretty cool, eh?

#5  Post it on your computer desktop, on the wall, on the bathroom mirror, on the new refrigerator….  Post it wherever you need the reminder of what’s waiting for you once sit down to write.

BONUS TRICK:  At your computer, post your favorite sentence from the last writing session.  Damn you’re good.  Now keep going.


This article is part of a series by Pitch U Founder, Diane Holmes.  Next up…

  • Better NaNo Focus through Pitching

Highly Polarized Characters, Scams, and Great Titles (a.k.a. our Pitch U writers rock)


by PitchU Minion Tina Moss, our fearless Comments Samurai

Each month we will be reading your comments to find the most useful, insightful, heartfelt or inspirational responses to Pitch University articles. The top poster will be featured here along with honorable mentions.

The September Best Comment Award goes to…

Best Comments Award... Claude Nougat for her response to How to Sell Your Genre Book: 8 Advanced Tips For Creating a Powerful Genre Pitch.

The article featured tips on pitching based on your genre style from multi-published author of romantic suspense novels, Colleen Thompson. She’s also written epic fantasy and historical romance. Her list of eight tips gives the perfect rundown of how to pitch and use the guidelines of your genre effectively.

Claude reaffirmed Colleen’s practical advice and put in a spin of her own. Here is her award winning comment:

“Very useful advice, Colleen! I especially like the concept of highly polarized characters thrown together and the idea of dropping them into harrowing situations where their "external defenses are stripped away", as you put it. That is the very essence of the best kind of suspense: the psychological kind. The one that reveals the inner core of characters.”

- September 3, 2011

Additional wonderful comments for the month of September come from our Honorable Mentions:

· From our Founder and Chief Alchemist, Diane Holmes, in response to How to Avoid Scams With Vanity Presses.

“Tara, Really excellent series this week on Indie Publishing, e-book services, and full-services. That language has changed so much over the years, especially the last few years. And it's really confusing out there.  
For one thing, scammers take legitimate technology and concepts, and then use those terms in order to sound... well, legit. I think POD (Print On Demand) is one of those terms. ”

- September 15, 2011

It can be hard to tell the difference between a legitimate publishing enterprise and a scammer. Thanks for making it easier to spot the bad guys!

· From Kathy in response to Part 3: From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

“Too cute, I'm not a mommy but I can imagine you have a lot to juggle. I get to juggle ill husband, know it all YOUNGer sister, that I am stuck living with and being the chauffer for all doctors' appointments, dialysis etc for the hubby. IF you can juggle the baby, I'd love to read some of your stories I bet they make great writing inspiration. Loved your titles. I'm sure there are lots of tales form lots of writing mommies to make a best seller for the NY Times list. Good luck and hugs to the baby.”

- September 28, 2011

In salute to all the writer moms out there, I couldn’t agree more with Kathy. If you can give us the secret of how to juggle, I’ll read that book any day of the week.


The Agent’s View: The Thrilling World of Pitching at ITWs AgentFest (bring your Pitch Sheet)

Previously: The Writer’s View: The Thrilling World of AgentFest (Bring Your PitchSheet)

Today: an Interview with Literary Agent Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency!

It all started when Lit. Agent Jenny Bent attended ThrillerFest last July…

Jenny is one of those agents who writers just… love.  She’s smart, dynamic, and a darn fine agent who speaks “writer.” 

My Photo Literary Agent Jenny Bent is the founder of the Bent Agency. With 20 years of experience in the industry, she represents commercial fiction (including adult, young adult, and middle grade) and nonfiction, literary fiction and memoir.

Her clients include NYT bestselling authors Lynsay Sands, Laurie Notaro, John Kasich, Julia London, Jacqueline Sheehan, Lori Wilde, Sandra Hill, USA Today bestselling authors Janelle Denison, Kathryn Caskie, Kieran Kramer, Young Adult authors Tera Lynn Childs, Jenny Archer, Brent Crawford, Amanda Ashby, to name just a few.

Her website is and you can find her on twitter as @jennybent.”

Diane: Help set the scene for us at ThrillerFest’s AgentFest this last July. As an agent, what’s it like to attend a “speed dating” event like this? (I can just imagine the electric excitement in the air, the smell of promising stories, the sound of nervous writers….)

Jenny: It’s intense! I had never done it before, so I didn’t realize that there were no scheduled appointments. Instead, it’s just a big room full of agents sitting at tables and the authors run in and line up for the agents they want to talk to.

I got really nervous that no one would want to come talk to me! There were a ton of really good agents there this year.

Diane: What did you think of the Pitch Sheet approach? Did it work for you? Did the writers make the best use of it?

Jenny: I loved it. I take in information much better by reading than I do by listening. So it gave me a great way to follow along with the pitch. It was also helpful because usually at a pitch I have to coax useful information out of the author, like their bio, a log line, a title. But with the Pitch Sheet I had all that information at my fingertips.

I think ITW did an amazing job showing the authors how to do it and what to include.

Diane: Where did writers go right with their pitching and Pitch Sheets? And where did writers go wrong?

Jenny: The only way they went wrong was by not knowing exactly what I represented and didn’t represent (one or two people pitched me cozy mysteries), or because they didn’t prepare a Pitch Sheet.

Pretty much everyone who did one did a great job.

People should remember that formatting is important, even just very subtly, in terms of making a good impression. So if you are doing one, and you don’t have good design skills, get a friend to help you. And always have a friend proof your work even if you’ve looked at it a million times.

Diane: AgentFest is part of the International Thriller Writers’ annual conference. Do you find there are specific challenges for writers in pitching depending on their genre? If so, can you give us a sense for what to watch out for in your favorite genres?

Jenny: I actually think the rules are pretty universal. I think any conference could benefit from using the Pitch Sheet approach.

Diane: Where can we catch up with you next? Any conferences in your future?

Jenny: Yes, a bunch! Check out my blog for details.

I also just added Silken Sands in Pensacola Beach Florida on March 16 through 18th.

Diane: And finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change anything about conference pitching, what would that be?

Jenny: I really want people to stop reading very long plot summaries from index cards. I know it’s hard but it works best to speak extemporaneously during a pitch.


Many, many thanks, Jenny! We look forward to having you join us during our upcoming September PitchFest.


The Writer’s View: The Thrilling World of AgentFest (Bring Your PitchSheet)

Every year, the International Thriller Writers’ national conference, ThrillerFest, brings Industry Pros, Writers, and Readers together in one giant Thriller Love Fest.

Donna May attended AgentFest this summer, and she’s here today to give us insight into what it’s like to participate in ITW’s agent “speed dating” event, and how she created her PitchSheet.

At the time, she was completely new to pitching.  She’d never spoken 1-on-1 with an agent,  much less pitched her book to a room filled with agents.  And she’d certainly never heard of a PitchSheet before.

Well, she survived, and she’s here to share how she prepared for this (overwhelming) event.

But first, a little background…

If you’re a writer attending ThrillerFest, you want to dive head first into two main events:

  • The expert CraftFest workshops (order tapes here) &
  • The massively successful AgentFest, where writers are invited to take 3-minute pitch appointments with dozens of agents, hoping to get a request.

Torn ApartAs part of AgentFest, master thriller writer Shane Gericke, author of Torn Apart, invited attending writers to create PitchSheets, a 1-page handout attendees were asked to share with each agent. 

He’s a wizard of the AgentFest pitching experience and has lots of great advice here, and he’s written about the huge success of AgentFest here.

This post is your chance to experience the agent speed-dating type of pitch appointment, from the safety of your living room.  Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Literary Agent Jenny Bent, for insight into the agent’s ITW experience.

Take it away Donna!

Donna’s Plan: Avoid Writing a Query Letter

I’m new at pitching. After a serious health scare, I started taking writing seriously seven years ago, but so far the process has been like this:

  1. Write novel, stick novel in drawer.
  2. Write slightly better novel, buy bigger drawer.

panic Then came the third novel that, maybe, didn’t completely stink, but the whole process of trying to get an agent seemed utterly terrifying to me, especially the dreaded query letter.

So, when I heard about the AgentFest part of ThrillerFest, that seemed like a great way to get around writing the letter at all.

Instead, I could meet a bunch of agents face to face and have three minutes to sell them on all the wonderful qualities of my book. Great plan—especially because it was months in the future.

Yikes, Reality Shows Up

What I didn’t realize is that all the prep that went into my verbal pitch was the same, if not harder, than writing a query letter, because there was the added performance aspect.

The closer the conference came, the more certain it seemed that I would fall on my face. So in panic, I reached out for any lifeline.

Our local LA branch of Sisters in Crime offered a workshop on pitching with the prolific Sue Ann Jaffarian, who taught me how much I didn’t know.

My worst offense:  while I’d described the overall plot in one sentence, I hadn’t conveyed what made my book unique. It was back to the keyboard.

And when I opened my email back home, there was a message from Shane Gericke, one of the conference organizers suggesting that we all bring a one-page information sheet with us, because some of the agents had requested them.

So much for getting out of writing a query letter. Now I also had to find a decent photo to go with it.

Luckily, my writer’s group was willing to brainstorm.

I have no problem ‘fessing up – my logline, all twenty-five words, is the work of Lynn Schwartz, a terrific YA writer.

As Diane pointed out when I told her this story, sometimes it takes a pair of outside eyes to help us find the gold nugget hiding in the thesaurus.

Next came the one-paragraph plot summary. For that, I sought the help of some neighbors who are not writers. With their help and a couple of glasses of wine, it went from one paragraph to five, but they provided a key ingredient.

No, not their wine cellar, their enthusiasm.

Time to Prep

On the red eye to New York, I practiced the paragraph I’d finally landed on over and over until it was thoroughly memorized.

Problem was, it felt like I was reading a term paper, probably because the only other time I’ve had to read from memorization was back in grade school. Alarm bells flared.

The first day of CraftFest, we all skipped lunch to hear a workshop called, “What if? So What? Learn to Pitch to an Agent or Editor” with thriller writers Kathleen Antrim and Jon Land.

It was my last hope, and fortunately, one vital piece of advice managed to penetrate into my jet-lagged brain.

We needed to show the agents what made us excited about writing this book in the first place.

The next afternoon when it finally came time to sit down opposite the agents, that’s what was first on my mind. Not once did I read the paragraph I’d memorized. I figured if I got them interested, they could read it off the one-sheet.

So the two most important bits I learned along the way are these:

  1. A logline needs to show what’s unique about your book.
  2. Your in-person pitch is all about enthusiasm not word choice. (Leave the word choice for the query letter or one-sheet.)

Oh, and get as much feedback as you can. The Cabernet is optional.


Result?  Donna got requests!  (And that’s a whole other type of panic.)

For more on the AgentFest experience:

For more on Pitch Sheets:

To Order Tapes from ITW’s CraftFest:

Visit VWTapes, where you can order individual sessions or a complete set of workshops for 2011 and previous years.


10 Things We Learned About Creating Great Titles (plus winner!)

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind

Natalie Markey was a great sport in our Title Brainstorming series, where we took the existing title for her class, Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind, and explored several methods of brainstorming titles the ZING.

Here’s what we learned…

10.  A lot of your ideas will suck, and you shouldn’t let that stop you.  Some of our best ideas came after epic suckiness.

9. It helps to brainstorm and riff with a friend.

8. Good titles work just fine.  Great titles are fun to say, capture your imagination, and spark ideas about “what’s inside” your product (book, class, what have you).  

7.  Great titles have personality.  They have attitude.  And they certainly don’t feel bland.

6.  Sometimes you recognize a good title when you see it.  But not always. So write them all down.

5.  Your brainstorming will tend to veer off track.  Just keep coming back to the purpose of the product, its intended audience, what your audience will “get out of it,” and your unique selling proposition.

4.  If you have “rules” about what a title should or shouldn’t be, you don’t have to obey them.  Breaking rules (like length) can lead to some nifty titles.

3.  Don’t become too attached, too fast. It’s probably just infatuation and not true love.

2. Don’t give up too fast.  Some times those little tweaks pay off.

1. Once you have some titles you think are great, talk to people and test them out.  What you’re looking for is the title that makes people lean forward and say, “Oh, I’d read that!”  or “Oh, that sounds like a great class!”

Then you know… your title isn’t just okay.  It freaking rocks!

Natalie’s Favorite Titles

Original Title for Natalie’s Class: Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind.

  • How to Survive the Collision of Writer Meets New Mommy (Without It Becoming the Next Zombie Apocalypse)
  • Get a “Devil Wears Prada” Life Only with Burp Rags- Getting the Big City Writing Career you Want While Working from Your Baby's Nursery
  • Writing Mommy Makeovers: Transform your life, desk and nursery into a successful writing mommy enterprise

Diane’s Favorite Titles

  •  Desperate Writers: How to Juggle Your Writing Dream, Children, and the Mythical White Picket Fence.
  • Writing Mommy Makeovers: Time Management Solutions For Real Writers (aka “How potty training influenced the way I write, and other ways the two most demanding jobs on the planet can actually work together.)
  • Shakespeare Had it Easy:  Writing with Kids, a Day Job, and a Never-ending To Do List. 
  • How to Plot Your Own Da Vinci Code While Chasing a Toddler: Time Management Secrets for Future Bestselling Authors.

And the Winner Is…

Debbie “alabamagirl1”

Debbie, you’ve won enrollment into Natalie’s Writing Moms class!  Just email us for details: PitchUniversity @ The class starts NOW.


To read the entire series on brainstorming great titles, go here:

From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

Part 2: From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

Part 3: From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)


Natalie C. Markey

Follow me on Twitter @NatalieCMarkey and @TMIexaminer


Part 3: From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

By Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist at Pitch U

I’m Just No Good At Titles!

Creating a great title can seem like an impossible task.

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind An okay title is easy. But okay titles don’t zing, and they certainly don’t excite the reader or potential audience (or even you).

This week Natalie and I are exploring ways to take a title that works and turn it into a title that jumps up and kisses the reader.

We’re using her upcoming class, Writing Moms: How to Do It All Without Losing Your Mind!, as our “title that works,” and we’re exploring to see if we can create a zinger.

Free oh yess


Natalie (sweetheart that she is) will award FREE ENROLLMENT to one commenter (in this post or any in this series).  Thanks, Natalie!

Previously in this series:

Today we will look at 4 jumping -ff points for brainstorming:

1. Feature the Problem (My Writing Dream Vs. My Two Year Old)

2. Feature the Solution (Be a Mom and Write a Novel in 3-Minute Chunks)

3. Comedy (How I wrote a bestseller, raised 5 kids, climbed Mt. Everest, and Solved World Peace in one Afternoon during nap time.)

4. “Makes Me Think Of…” ( Do it all makes me think of juggling.  So... Juggle It All: manuscript, baby, flaming bowling ball).

#1 Feature The Problem


  • My Writing Dream vs. My Two Year Old
  • Meeting Deadlines vs. Diaper Duty
  • Outlining the Next Best Seller vs. Raising the next President
    (Natalie: I like this one because it speaks to the enormity of what is involved in both writing a manuscript and raising a child. Neither can be summed up in a quick title but this one is effective and powerful. My opinion of course :-)
  • Managing my Writing Business vs. Managing my Home
    (Natalie: For a writing mom, there is so much more than just writing and raising your child and that doesn't include if you have another job. I touch on some of these other things in the class and how writers can tackle it all but I think we'll address better titles for that in #7.)

Diane’s Riff off Natalie’s Titles:

  • My Great, Big, Fat Writing Dream Meets The Baby Who Shall Be Obeyed
    (Diane: This plays on My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey, which featured character Horace Rumpole who called his wife, " She Who Must Be Obeyed." )
  • "My Desperate Writing Dream" Faces Off with "The Cutest Baby Ever" 
  • Writing Deadlines vs. Baby's First Steps
    (Natalie: These are both good. I used diaper duty because I hate deadlines and I hate diaper duty, but then I also like the comparison of the deadlines (obviously a time sensitive thing) and the first steps. I see both as being GREAT titles. These are probably my favorite of this round.)
  • When Bestseller Meets The Precious Bundle
  • Chief Writing Officer vs. Chief, Cook, and Bottle Washer

#2 Feature the Solution


  • Be a Mom and Write a Novel in 3-Minute Chunks
  • Plotting that Bestseller During Sesame Street (Diane: I really like this.  It's really specific, and it will even work as a subtitle with Writing Moms, if you want.)
  • Use Baby's Nap Time to Make Your Writing Dreams Reality (Natalie: This is probably my favorite. In the early days I so badly wanted to nap too but I found that once I started writing I was happy to be doing something just for ME and to be working on my dream. Soon it wasn't hard to write during her nap times at all.)
  • Let your Kids Keep you Young. Creativity is Only Recess in our Minds (Natalie: This doesn't really fit but it just popped in my head and I loved it! And it is true! Especially now that I'm working on a middle grade, my daughter does help me stay silly and youthful when I'm tight and stressed.)
  • How being a mom gives you the creative edge in publishing – (Natalie: A good title but has NOTHING to do with the class.)

Diane Riffs on Natalie’s Titles:

  • How to be a Kickass Mom and Still Write Your Novel 3 Minutes at a Time
  • Baby's Nap Time = Mommy's Novel Time!
  • Let Your Kid Keep You Creative: Being a Mom and A Writer Can Be A Plus

#3 Comedy


  • How I wrote a bestseller, raised a family, became a dive master, sheltered needy dogs, and solved the global energy question during Barney.
  • How I wrote a non-fiction novel I didn't plan, maintained freelance contracts, plotted the next Twilight, and cared for an epileptic dog all while on bed rest with my pregnancy.
  • How to plot the next bestseller and pluck cereal from your hair while driving the carpool.

Diane’s Riff on Natalie’s Titles:

  • Lion Tamer, Novelist, Mommy (same skills)
  • Everything I know about writing, I learned from my baby.  Or… everything I know about being a Mom, I learned from writing a novel.
  • The Mother Novelist: how potty training influenced the way I write, and other ways the two most demanding jobs on the planet can actually work together.

#4 “Makes Me Think Of…”


  • Welcome to the circus! Can you do it all? Writing, that diet you keep cheating on, a social life (what's that?), housework...
  • Wonder Mom: Mommy by day, bestselling author by night
  • Super Mom: Plotting the next bestseller, making it halfway to your writing goal and making meals/bottles all before baby wakes! 

Diane’s Riffs:

  • Rules for Raising Your Novel.
  • Novel Rearing: How my baby taught me to write
  • Career Secrets That Writer Moms Know (that you don't)
  • Moms Who Write: Writing Your Book With the Innocence of a Child and the Determination of a Mom
  • Living The Writer's Dream: How Real Life Can Clobber Your Dream and How to Have It All
  • Living the Writer's Life: What to do when everything else is #1 and the kids need to be fed

So, that’s it for today.  Some of the titles didn’t work.  Actually most aren’t zingers. 

The goal is to explore, see if you can find one that’s even better, and then keep going.  This is an exercise in thinking up titles that aren’t just more of the same, to jiggle something loose and enjoy the whole title-creation process.

Let us know which titles worked for you.  And remember, Natalie will be drawing a winner to attend her class for free!


Write a Business Plan for Your Writing Business and (gasp!) Make Money! (free e-book tells you how)

Blood Magick coverBack in August, the lovely (and extremely clever) Suzan Harden, author and former attorney, wrote a wonderful series for us on how to craft a writer’s business plan.

The goal: Helping You, the Writer become You, the Publisher.

In fact, she was our inaugural guest here at Indie U.

Last  Chance!

Expiration: September 30, 2011

Her very special offer is about to expire. Ack!

FREE!!!  Creating a Business Plan for the Indie Writer

This FREE 20-Page E-Book, a gift from Suzan Harden to you, includes all  7 articles + added content & resources.  This is a GREAT places to start for all Indie Authors.

Arrows pointing out stuff

Coupon Code: EW59P

Also, you’ll want to catch up on her 7-part series here at Indie U/ Pitch U.


Book Promotion: Show, Don’t Tell

by Erin Reel, The Lit Coach. 

Erin is a publishing and editorial consultant and writer’s life coach.  She hosts The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life, a popular resource blog featuring stories, tips and fresh perspective from bestselling, award-winning and notable authors, literary agents, editors, publishers and other industry insiders.

This 7th in Erin’s series on Book Proposals That Rock.

The Deciding Factor

While every section of the book proposal is essentially important, the Book Promotion section of your nonfiction book proposal might very well be the deciding factor in an agent or publisher’s decision to bring you aboard.

This is the place in the proposal where you ask not what your publisher can do for you, but ask what you can do for your publisher.

The days where publishers sent their authors on fabulous multi-city book tours with hotel accommodations are few and far between.

And even their in-house PR attempts for your book will most likely be cut like a suit from the 60’s – short and slim. Here’s the reality of book promotion today – plan on tackling most of your book’s PR efforts yourself.

Get Your Creative, Entrepreneurial Spirit On!

The great news is, there is so much opportunity to promote your book beyond book tours and prime real estate in book stores – a creative, entrepreneurial spirit is your best asset.

Crayons The book promotion section is where you will show the agent and publisher just how passionate you are about taking advantage of all that opportunity by leveraging your platform and other avenues. This is your opportunity to show the industry how determined you are to make your book a success.

Numbers speak to agents and publishers, so that’s what the bulk of this section will contain while keeping a narrative voice.

THE KEY:  What’s important here is to show HOW you will promote your book to these numbers. Statistics and figures are just cold numbers on a page without your plan on how to use them.

Just remember, this is your good faith agreement with the publisher. Anything you say you’re going to do to promote your book, they will count on and most likely write in to your publishing contract.

Let’s break it down.

Your Following

If you’re a known expert, advocate, specialist, etc., chances are you have a strong following. How do you regularly communicate your message to those who subscribe to your brand?

  • Newsletter?
  • Blog?
  • Newspaper or magazine column (in print or online)?
  • TV/Radio/Internet show?

Two Key Questions:

  1. What are the numbers behind those outlets?
  2. How many people get your message across those platforms?

Two Key Steps:

  1. In the Book Promotion section…you will give approximate numbers reflecting each audience. All these various audiences equal potential buyers for your book!
  2. Then, you will show HOW you plan to approach these audiences with your book promotion.

Professional Memberships

What about the professional associations and clubs you’re a member of?

  • Is there an opportunity for you to speak in front of those groups or be included in their print and online platforms?
  • Can you confirm that once your book is published they will be on board in helping you promote it?

List them and their numbers – how many members there are, how many members visit their website (and even non-members, if applicable), subscribe to their newsletter or other print and online marketing?

Two Key Questions:

  1. What’s their reach?
  2. HOW will you address these markets?

The Social Media

  • If you have a professional presence on all the various social media outlets and use them frequently to direct your followers to your content, list what they are and how many followers you have.
  • If you blog, how many people visit your blog each month? Subscribers? List them.
  • Now, HOW will you use this platform to promote your book?

Buying In Bulk?

Will you plan on buying large quantities of your book to give away or sell? Communicate these details:

  • How many do you plan on buying during the first print run?
  • What will be their intended use?

Just remember, a publisher can and will hold you to your word – it will most likely be negotiated in the contract, so be prepared to honor that handshake (publishers are within their rights to pull a contract from an author if the author does not fulfill their end of the deal).

The Big Question: Is there a large corporation that intends on buying large quantities of the book? Likewise, include this pertinent information.

Book Signings

Finally, of course, are the author signings. While you don’t need to have your own detailed plan for a book tour or event schedule, at least express in this section that you will be open and flexible to book signings and other author events as indicated by the publisher or by your own means.

If you do have opportunities for signings and events already committed, feel free to list them. How many books will you need for these events?

A Final Word About Costs

What’s key to consider as you’re creating this section of the book proposal is that all this self-promotion costs you time and certainly money.

Understand on the front end just how much time and money you’re budgeting and consider that amount when you eventually negotiate your advance with your agent or publisher – your resources are worth the negotiation, especially when self and e publishing have become such viable choices for nonfiction authors in the past several years.


Erin Reel, The Lit Coach, is a platform, publishing and editorial consultant, columnist and blog host of The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life.


Part 2: From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

By Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist at Pitch U

Today, we’re going to look at two additional techniques for exploring titles that ZING!

  • Archetypes, Myths, and Patterns and story types. (Ex: Warrior Writer Mom)
  • Popular Culture for $300. (If Richard Castle Had to Breastfeed it would be a Different Show)

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind In Part 1 of our series on taking a perfectly good title and and giving it zing, Natalie brainstormed NEW(!) and IMPROVED(!) titles for her upcoming class, Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind.

About Writing Moms: For many writers, juggling is reality. In fact, many full-time writers are made because of a child being born. Some amazing mothers write late at night, around their day job.

However you do it, being a writing mom is a challenge but very doable and rewarding.

Learn easy self study tactics, time management tips and suggestions from a ten-year freelance journalist, published author and speaker who also has a one-year-old daughter and a high maintenance dog. You can have it all without losing your mind.

winner-illustration1Go sign up for this class.  It’s only $20.00.  Natalie’s a sweetheart, and you’ll come up with a personalized plan.  Good job.

BONUS: Natalie will award FREE ENROLLMENT to one commenter (in this post or any in this series). Thanks, Natalie!

Archetypes, Myths, and Patterns and story types. (Ex: Warrior Writer Mom)

Let’s start by looking at how other authors have used archetypes to inspire their titles.  Here are some more examples:

Diane’s How-It-Works Example (working with the Mother Archetype): "Writer Moms: Kiss your Writing Time and Make it Better." 

Natalie Tries It Out:

  • What if Xena was a single mom juggling her “saving the world” career? How did she make that work?
  • What if Queen Elizabeth did have a child while running England?

Natalie: The point I'm trying to make with these is that everyone can have circumstances that can weigh them down. It's how you handle and approach the obstacle that brings you out on top and helps you accomplish your dream.

And I love "What if" titles.  I've always found them thought provoking.

Diane: Okay, let's take these titles one step further! Let's brainstorm variations featuring writers for a more direct tie-in.  You'll notice we're taking a left turn here and leaving our original "archetype" category behind.  Left turns can lead to genius, so it's okay.

  • Shakespeare Had it Easy:  Writing with Kids
  • How to be Jane Austen with Children, a Husband, a Messy House, and Serious Writing Deadline

Natalie:  Great!

  • How to Plot like Dan Brown “Da Vinci Code” Style While Balancing those Gerber Items on your Grocery List ( I personally love this one)
  • How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse (while writing that bestselling novel and making bottles Good Morning America ends)- Are you tired yet?

Popular Culture for $300. (Ex: If Richard Castle Had to Breastfeed it would be a Different Show)

Again, let’s start with how other authors were inspired to use this technique in their titles.

Diane’s How-It-Works Example: XENA Warrior Princess Writer And Her Baby And her Complicated Life. (Kinda silly, I know!)

Natalie, Trying It Out:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer also starred on 16 and Pregnant ( I thought that was funny, BUT not best for my class but fun)
  • The Baby Games (the play on the Hunger Games title, popular now in pop culture. Sometimes being a writing mom can feel like you're thrown into an arena, battling to the death against everything you must do!)
  • C.S.I.- Creative. Solution. Implementation.- You don't have to take off your sunglasses (hehe!) to find a new, productive ways to accomplish your writing goals. Take some time to study yourself. This really hits home with the goal of the workshop while playing on some pop culture.
  • Glee- Slurping (Slushy-ing) your way to the NY Times Best Seller list in between those bottle feedings. Another great summary of a writing moms life and speaks to the class’ message of making the most of your non-baby duty times.
  • Writing like the stars- look at these other celebrity moms, you can do it too! Inspiration never fails!

Diane: Same here.  Let’s explore linking more directly to writing references (your audience) and see what happens.

  • Get a Devil Wears Prada Life Only with Burp Rags- Getting the Big City Writing Career you Want While Working from Your Baby's Nursery 
  • Desperate House Writers- How to do it all without hanging out that dirty laundry.
  • Writing Mommy Makeovers: Transform your life, desk and nursery into a successful writing mommy enterprise. (I love this one)
  • Author Idol: Find your writing dream while being the mom you want to be

What If You Get Stuck?

Let's look at some variations, because continuing to play and tinker is much better than being stuck. :)

- How to Plot like Dan Brown Davinci Code Style While Balancing those Gerber Items on your Grocery List 

Now, try playing with each element to see if there's anything you like even more.  For example...

  • How to write your Da Vinci Code while burping a baby.
  • How to be the next Dan Brown and still be Mother of the year.
  • How to Plot Your Own Da Vinci Code While Chasing a Toddler. (I like this because I do talk about plotting/outlining during baby time, yep, I've done both)
  • How to channel both Da Vinci Code and Geber without losing your mind.

- How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse while writing that bestselling novel and making bottles Good Morning America ends- Are you tired yet?

Now, try playing with each element to see if there's anything you like even more.  For example...

  • How to survive the collision of writer meets new Mommy without it becoming the next Zombie Apocalypse, (Very true to course. You may come from a business background like I did BUT this is a whole new ballgame and gives a whole new meaning to time management.)
  • Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse Is Easy; Why Writing and Motherhood Requires a True Hero

- Get a Devil Wears Prada Life Only with Burp Rags- Getting the Big City Writing Career you Want While Working from Your Baby's Nursery   (Love this subtitle, by the way)

Again, just playing with elements:

  • Bestselling Author Action Figure (Burp rag accessory optional) - could also replace with other baby accessories
  • The Devil May Wear Prada, but Real Authors come with burp rags, laundry, and <need something clever here!>.

- Desperate House Writers- How to do it all without hanging out that dirty laundry.


Playing with the subtitles: 

  • how to do it all without drama.
  • Career, Baby, and the White Picket Fence

- Writing Mommy Makeovers: Transform your life, desk and nursery into a successful writing mommy enterprise.

(Natalie: I love this one) Diane: **THIS IS EXCELLENT!!!** Natalie: This is my favorite too! :-)


-Author Idol: Find your writing dream while being the mom you want to be

  • Author Survivor: Suburbia
  • Project Reality Writer

Additional Title from Natalie:

  • How to write the next Twilight while prepping for a PTA meeting. (I like adding a YA element since that is so hot right now and all kids are challenging. This doesn't just have to be about babies.)

Which Titles Do You Love?  Which Do You Hate?

We’ve come up with some really bad titles, and some really good ones.  Give us your opinion in the comments!


Claude Nougat: Writing in Every Language

Member Spotlight Interview by Minion Heather Webb.

Meet Claude Nougat!

Image of Claude NougatI currently live in Italy after roaming the world since the tender age of 16 months. Married for over 30 years to a wonderful Sicilian. Armed with an economics degree from Columbia University, I worked at all sorts of things (like Jack London!): in

  • banking (analyst, First National City Bank, New York),
  • publishing (editor, Harper & Row in Chicago),
  • college teaching (American University),
  • marketing (Coca-Cola),
  • development work (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, where I finished as Director for Europe and Central Asia).

With the freedom that comes with retirement, I focus on what I love: writing, painting and (occasionally) cooking!

On the painting front, I participated in 15 group shows and had two personals. On the writing front, an Italian small press, E.Romeo Editore, published one of my novels, Un Amore Dimenticato, in 2007 to good local reviews. I am currently pursuing e-book publication of the Fear of the Past Trilogy.

So tell us a little bit about your writing passion: How long have you been writing and what do you write?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember: I used to put together a “newspaper” for my parents when I was a child, complete with travel advice and short stories! I grew up in many places (Sweden, Egypt, Belgium, Russia, France, Colombia, the US) and that gave me an unquenchable thirst for knowing the world, surely the reason why my blog is so eclectic.

My non-fiction writing is based on my MA degree in economics and my varied work experience both in the US and Europe specialized on rural development and fighting hunger.

Forget the Past:Book One of Fear of the Past TrilogyMeanwhile, I continued with fiction and wrote two books in Italian, a historical fantasy for adults and a children’s book, both traditionally published here in Italy where I live; now I’m working on making that historical fantasy available as an ebook, rewriting it in English under the title Fear of the Past, as a trilogy for Young Adults: book 1, Forget the Past, is already available on Amazon and other platforms and book 2, Reclaim the Present, is coming out this month – but I’m still looking for an agent for my women’s fiction! I never give up!

What’s your favorite part of what we do?  

I found your site full of precious advice about pitching, because, yes, I feel awful about pitching!

Even though I’ve been in this game for years now, I still have a lot to learn. I think it was Tolstoy who said, when asked to provide a summary of Anna Karenina, that he needed all the pages in his novel to express his Anna.

Pity I’m not Tolstoy who didn’t need to pitch! The trouble is: selling your book calls on a different part of your brain than writing it. You have to reduce 300 pages into two sentences. Ghastly!

PitchU is truly international! We love it. Thanks for being a part of what makes us great.


Have you participated in Pitch U’s PitchFests? Who would be your dream agent to pitch to?

I haven’t yet been able to participate in a PitchFest. I would love to, it would certainly help me hone my pitching ability!

My dream agent? Finding a partner and a friend!

A savvy partner for the business part and a friend who loves my work, believes in it (because I certainly need the support), yet is still able to provide me with constructive criticism. I welcome real critiques. I firmly believe that anything can be improved (including my English! French is my mother tongue and on occasion I stumble into “Frenchified” English).

I’m testing the e-book road with my Fear Trilogy but don’t get me wrong: I’m still looking for an agent for my women’s fiction!

Do you think pitching is a different skill from writing a query letter? Have you made a pitch video?

I think pitching uses the same skill as querying, the difference is that one is vocal (one line you throw at a person, the famous “elevator pitch”) while the other is written much like a normal business letter. And no, I haven’t made a pitch video. I know I should but I’m terrified of being filmed: I look awful on my photographs, and I can’t imagine how horrible I would look in a video. Scary!

Pitch University can help you overcome those fears! Be sure to connect with our minions or evil expert Diane Holmes for advice on how to construct the perfect video pitch. Also, check out examples in PitchU Articles.

How many conferences or writer’s events will you attend this year?

Living in Italy, I tend to look for events in Europe: travelling to the United States is something I would love, but it’s expensive! I’m attending the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy (29 September-2 October 2011) and I’m looking into several interesting possibilities coming up in the UK next Spring.

If you had a personal pitching motto, what would it be?

You’ll never get it right if you don’t keep trying!

To find out more about Claude, visit her blog to get an independent writer’s views on books, art and politics (and cooking!): or check out the Claude Nougat Daily: for a unique selection of articles, videos and photographs drawn by the computers from my Twitter stream. What makes it intriguing is the wide range of sources: from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, New Yorker, Bloomberg, CNN, Reuters etc., plus selected blogs. And of course, follow her on Twitter: @claudenougat!




by Heather Webb

Heather is a historical fiction writer, but dabbles occasionally in YA. When she’s not writing by the glow of her coffee pot light, she’s chasing her gremlins, ogling kitchen gadgets, sampling wine, or on an airplane to her next destination. Her “real” job is the Executive Director of New England Virtual High School, an online school for teens.

After discovering Pitch U, Heather became hooked to its invaluable columns and wonderfully supportive staff.  When asked to become part of the team, she was thrilled! This is THE PLACE to be. You can also find her on the web at herBLOG for writing tips, recipes, and pop culture rants or follow her on Twitter.


From Good Title to GREAT with Natalie C. Markey (Plus drawing on Writing Moms class!)

By Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist at Pitch U

Sometimes a Title Just Wants to Zing

This is first in a series on amping up your titles and taglines. 

So many writers go off into left-field with fancy/ obscure/generic / cryptic titles that have great meaning personally, but don’t translate well with their audience.

Diane’s Motto:  Titles (and taglines) are gifts to your audience.  You create them so the audience will be delighted that you thought of them and wrote this fabulous book (or class, or whatever).  Titles are the shortcut to “Wow!  I want that.”

If you’ve been following Pitch U for a while, you’ve probably run across my advice that a plain pitch that is accurate is FAR better than an over-written, “hooky” pitch that actually doesn’t match your book.

So, plain is good.  Plain lets your book stand on its real merits.  Plain says that you trust your story to be interesting enough to capture reader attention without gluing rhinestones all over it. 

Titles, same thing, okay?  Good.

But we all know there are titles and pitches and marketing whatnots that ZING.  These titles are head and shoulders above the rest.  They’re accurate and Fan-freaking-tabulous.

When you hear them, you stop and WANT that product.  Or at least, you want to know more.

So, how do you do that?

Let’s explore several ways to take a good title and make it ZING.

Meet Our Lovely and Talented Guinea Pig

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind Welcome back Natalie Markey, Pitch U Alumni and instructor of a new, online writing class for all you Mom’s out there who are having to juggle it all.  (Starts October, 2011, $20.00)

You’ll remember Natalie from the Case Study I wrote with her, plus her post Finding Luck in Unforeseen Pitches (and Dogs), which talk about pitching her book to Bob Mayer… accidentally.

Yup, she sold that book, Caring For Your Special Needs Dog, to Bob’s publishing company, Who Dares Wins Publishing.

winner-illustration1 Natalie (sweetheart that she is) will award FREE ENROLLMENT to one commenter (in this post or any in this series).  Thanks, Natalie!

Getting to ZING

So, how do you find a title, phrase, and shorthand that kicks ass, grabs immediate attention, and make the whole thing sing?  What we're looking for is a ZINGER.  That magical thing that sells people without any explanation.  Or at the very least captures you attention so fully you have to find out more.

So, let's look at the title of Natalie’s class.

Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind.

It is accurate and does a good job of saying what the course is about. 

But it's not a 100% zing title.  So, let's look at some seriously cool ways to experiment with possible zingers.

Play On Familiar Titles (Ex: What to Expect When You're Writing)

There are a number of examples of great titles springing to life by taking on the pattern or reference to a bestseller. 

For example:

  • The Tao of Pooh
  • The Tao of Dating
  • The Tao of Twitter
  • The Tao of Physics
  • The Tao of Leadership

I’ve asked Natalie to play around with this concept, and here’s what she came up with….

Natalie’s Lists.

From books:
What to Expect When You're Writing
The Baby Code (The Davinci Code)
In Baby's Time (In My Time by Dick Cheney)
The Diary of a Writing Mom
The Writing Games
Game of Highchairs (Game of Thrones)

From the movies:
The Devil Wears Burp Rags
Inglorious Babies
Million Drafts Baby
Butch Cassidy and the Writer's Kid
How to Train Your Baby
While You Were Writing
Mother's of the Manuscript: The Curse of the Non-Napping Baby
Children of the Word

Advertising slogans:
Baby- She's everywhere you don't want her to be (based off VISA)
Nothing runs like a baby (Deere)

Can't Buy Me Time (Can't Buy Me Love)
Don't Spit up on my Novel (Don't Rain on My Parade)
Luck be A Baby (Luck be A Lady)
Baby Story (Love Story)
Help! (Help! -This one probably doesn't need to be rewritten, the Beatles knew what they were doing!)
Carter's Girl (Material Girl)

Time to Evaluate Your Lists

  • How well do these titles communicate your message to your audience?
  • How well do they showcase what is being offered (in this case it’s a problem and solution)?
  • How well do you get across your tone, genre, style, and voice?
  • What do you think really zings?  Hey, zinging is a gut thing.  Ask your gut some questions.

Natalie’s response: Of all of these I love 'Diary of a Writing Mom' best from the 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' idea.

First of all, I have not read those books but I believe most people have heard of them because of their popularity. But the word diary really does convey what this course is about accurately. It is a self-study. This is a month long journey to finding what works best for you as a writing mom.

This would be a great promotional zinger and communicates the message well.  The other titles were fun and funny but didn't always promote the right message though I still love Game of Highchairs! 'When Writer Met Baby is also good because in that movie their lives changed just as a writer's life changes when a baby comes, just in a much different way.


But we’re not done.  This was just one exercise in finding alternative titles to consider.  So, next up, Natalie will be exploring the next two techniques:

      • Archetypes, Myths, and Patterns and story types. (Warrior Writer Mom)
      • Popular Culture for $300. (If Richard Castle Had to Breastfeed it would be a Different Show)

ADD YOUR COMMENTS to be eligible for Natalie’s drawing!


Natalie C. Markey

Follow me on Twitter @NatalieCMarkey and @TMIexaminer


Education and Contracts

Dear Pitch U Writers,

As you know, our goal at Pitch U is education and becoming awesome as a career writer.

As part of that mission to educate, we posted contract reviews that generated a controversy.  Those reviews have now been removed at the guest columnist's request. 

Ever since Pitch U was a twinkle in the Internet's eye, we've strived to bring in experts to give their opinions and thoughts on topics of pitching, creativity,  and career. 

We can all benefit from this. Plus we've offered this for free.  Every single expert donates his or her time and we thank them for this.

publishing imageThe contract columns looked at contracts and publishers from an attorney’s pov, and we have an opportunity to also look at this from the publisher’s perspective.

Liz Pelletier, Publisher of Entangled, has offered to join us at Pitch U for a lively educational interview and to update everyone on Entangled’s approach to working with authors.  She also came up with the truly educational idea of doing a mock contract negotiation as a real-world learning exercise.

Check back in to find out when the interview will happen.

While I hadn’t actually met her until this week, I know of Liz from my interactions over at Savvy Authors, and I can absolutely say you’re going to enjoy anything we do together.

If every Publisher were this willing to educate, discuss, welcome, and embrace us writers, the writing world would be a much better place.


Diane, Chief Pitch U Alchemist


How to Avoid Scams With Vanity Presses

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By Tara McClendon, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

If you're planning to self publish a novel, you will find that you need to use some type of publisher or create e-books. Both ways will give you a tangible (or real) product that you can sell; however, scammers run rampant in this industry.

The History of Vanity Presses

Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library and FlickrOnce upon a time, vanity presses had a horrible reputation. Truth be told, they still do. Unfortunately, any non-traditional publisher often gets lumped into this category. So, what's so bad about a vanity publisher? Well, back in the day, vanity presses would send writers acceptance letters claiming they wanted to publish the individual's novel. They would offer a contract for the writer, and the end result was that the writer wound up paying 100 percent of the publishing costs.

In return for their investment, writers wound up with buckets full of empty promises. Instead of fulfilled marketing campaigns, authors who used vanity presses had a book to put on their shelf. According to statistics from Aeonix Publishing Group, most vanity presses sold less than 100 books per author. Ouch!

The New Face of Vanity Publishers

Vanity presses, sometimes called subsidiary presses, have made money off innocent writers for years. With the web, it's has become easier to find the unethical companies from those full-service publishers that are offering legitimate services. This change had led the scammers to keep pace, and many have shifted their focus (i.e. their marketing) to keep pace with the changes in technology.

The new face of many vanity publishers now involves POD printing, or print-on-demand printing. Keep in mind that some POD publishers are legitimate. They offer services and do exactly as they say they will do. But, scammers are still scammers. Some claim that POD printing is a free way to publish your book. Read between the lines: scam!

So, what is the indie publisher to do? Here are some tips to help you find a reputable publisher to help you with your writing business.      

Tip 1: Remember the golden rule. If it sounds too good to be true, something isn't right.

Even though the Internet has reduced the cost of producing a book, nobody gets anything for free. You also won't get the moon if you're only paying a few hundred dollars. Put your common sense to use, and question everything that seems off kilter.

Tip 2: Do your research. Google can help you find results about a company's success rate within minutes. It may surprise you to find out how often Google will auto fill "scam" at the back of a word if it has several negative reports on file. Even if Google doesn't autofill, you can usually find the dirt by scanning a few of the results. For a faster search, type in "cons of" or "complaints" along with the publisher's name. This can help you find information that tends to be buried in the search results.

Tip 3: Examine all contractual agreements. Shady characters will try to get as much from you as possible without raising any type of flag. More than one author has signed away rights to work in a contract that looked legitimate. When in doubt, talk with a lawyer about certain conditions. If you can't afford legal fees, consider joining an organization with legal help, such as the SCBWI.

Tip 4: Compare your costs. Some people who use POD printers actually wind up paying more than they would have paid if they had used a full-service publisher.

Tip 5: Make sure your cover art and any other graphics are original. Some publishers will offer you cover art; however, they are using stock photos that you can find for a minimal cost on your own. If you're going to pay money for a cover, make sure you get your value's worth. Nothing is worse than putting together an awesome cover and having a competitor use it on a similar book.

Tip 6: Don't be naïve. Unethical people often find loopholes that will allow them to escape legal ramifications. The only way to protect your rights is to be savvy. Publication is a great goal, but it isn't worth your book's future to make a poor decision at the beginning stages of your writing career.

Have you experienced an unethical publisher? If so, be sure to leave a comment. You may be the person who helps this community avoid a costly error.   


Publishing Options for Indie Writers:

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Option 2: E-Book Services

By Tara McClendon, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Earlier this week, we talked about full-service publishers, and we're going to follow that up with e-book services. As you might expect from the name, this type of publishing involves the creation of e-books. So, let's take a look at whether or not this might be the best publishing option for you.

What is an e-book service?

Photo courtesy of go XunuReviews at FlickrAn e-book service takes your manuscript and converts it into a digital format. Unfortunately, this definition leaves quite a bit up to the discretion of the service. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of e-book services.

Pro #1: Quick Service. Most e-book companies can convert your manuscript in less than an hour, depending on the number of graphics you have in your book. This can be a great asset to indie writers who want to produce a large number of books over the course of their careers.

Con #1: Quick service can often lead to mistakes, and it often comes at the sacrifice of quality. E-book services tend to offer formatting options only, which means you'll have to hire an editor, a cover artist, and a layout designer, among other professionals.

Pro #2: An e-book company can create digital formats that are compatible with different e-readers. This means you can get the right format for the Kindle, the Nook, Sony Reader, and other devices all from the same company.

Con #2: Like many facets of the self-publishing business, e-book services don't have a regulating agency. That means that any old Joe can open up an e-book service. While e-book services can create different formats, those Joes may only offer one type of formatting. That's one of the main reasons why you need to shop around to find the best service.

Pro #3: Low-cost publishing. When you're starting a business, you need to find inexpensive ways to produce a top quality product. Using an e-book service is a fraction of the cost that you will pay to use a full-service publisher.

Con #3: As with other businesses, e-book companies tend to outsource their work to overseas markets. This often leads to underprivileged workers doing what most Americans would consider slave labor. You can still get savings by using an e-book service even if you use an American-based company.

Pro #4: Be on the forefront of the industry. As with full-service publishing, this is another area where there isn't a con. Traditional publishers are still trying to figure out digital rights and publication, but e-book services have been working with the literacy for years.

Tips for Working With an E-book Service

Photo courtesy of goXunuReviews at FlickrIf you plan to work with an e-book publisher, keep the following things in mind:

  • Check the qualifications of the people who will be handling your account. Some companies, like eBook Architects, have founders who have actually pioneered developments in the e-book world.

  • Look for e-book publishing companies that are willing to offer you a warranty. These companies will guarantee their work for a set time so that you don't have to worry about errors. If you find one that you can contribute to the company, the e-book service will correct the error at no cost to you.

  • Compare publishing services and ask about a discount for return business. Some companies will give you a discount if you use their services for more than one book over the course of a year.

E-book services can be a great way to get your book ready for publication; however, many indie writers believe that producing an e-book is one of the easiest tasks to perform as a publisher. If you have a technical mind, you can check out the information at Lulu blog. The amazing Suzan Harden also gave some great tips for creating an e-book when she was our guest blogger last month. You can also find some insight from Michael Hyatt.  

Using an e-book company can be a fast and effective way to get your book up for sale, and it may be just the thing you need to launch your writing career. I'll be back later in the week with more indie publishing options. Until then, happy writing.


Publishing Options for Independent Authors

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Option 1: Full-Service Publishers

By Tara McClendon, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to work with a variety of writers. Some of them knew from the beginning that they wanted to indie publish. Others tried to sell a book through traditional methods and failed. No matter which path these individuals thought they were going to take, they all found themselves facing the task of trying to decipher the publishing process. You very well may be at this point yourself.

For this next series of posts, I'm going to dive into the options for indie publishers. And, let me be honest, I will include some print options that many "real" writers and industry professionals sneer at. Before we get started, I do want to toss out a disclaimer: I am not endorsing any specific method for publication. Of course, that does mean I can give you the negative sides as well as the positive, because I'm not trying to sell you on any one type of publishing. You will have to evaluate the pros and cons and determine which option will best fulfill your goals as an indie writer.

Full-Service Publishers


Photo courtesy of Helen Cook at FlickrFull-service publishing companies try to bridge self-publishing and traditional publishing options. Companies, such as Outskirts Press, market their businesses as giving you complete control over book publishing, but this isn't always the case. Let's take a closer look at what you can and can't get with these companies.

Pro #1: You can usually get professional help with your book. This can be a great asset to newbie indies who aren't familiar with all the ins and outs of producing a book.

Con #1: Most companies won't tell you what qualifications their "professionals" have. Usually, these companies will have staff members who at least have some experience in the industry; however, you most likely won't be working with a professional editor who has worked in traditional publishing.

Pro #2: You get to control how much you want to charge for your books, which can directly influence how much money you make.

Con #2: Setting your own prices can be beneficial, but this is only part of the equation that will determine whether you're able to sell your book. If you set your prices wrong, you may hurt your sales.  

Pro #3: Most full-service publishers offer an array of services.

Con #3: Each full-service publisher sets its own list of services, so what you get with one company for one price usually varies from those offered with other full-service companies. For example, Abbott Press connects your book with Writer's Digest, a nationally recognized resource for writers. Others will register your book for an ISBN and help you list your books with online vendors and other booksellers.

Pro #4: You have a larger voice in your book's production when you work with a full-servicePhoto courtesy of David Joyce at Flickr publisher.

Con #4: The more voice you want, the more you should plan to pay. Full-service publishers will work with you to create your book's cover and layout, but you aren't going to have an unlimited say in the process. The people who work on your project will usually have guidelines that will outline what you get for the money you plan to pay. Some companies believe that your ability to approve the final look is enough control for most writers.

Pro #5: Retain the rights to your work.

This one actually doesn't have a con. When you work with a traditional publisher, you often give up certain rights. I know an author who can't publish additional work based on his original idea without violating his contract with the traditional publisher. Unfortunately, the publisher has decided not to move ahead with more books; however, it has not released the author's rights. If he wants to be able to write the sequels to his story, he'll have to get legal help, which he can't afford.

Using a full-service publisher can be a great option for writers who want to spend less time on production and more time writing. While many of these companies produce quality work, I hope you can see that you will need to look beyond each company's marketing to determine whether a company is the one you want to hire.

We'll be looking at some of your other indie publishing options as we continue with this week's series. In the meantime, you should review your business plan for writing and determine the areas of book publishing that you know you will need help with as you continue your writing career.       


Level the Playing Field, Home Insurance for Writers, and Save the Cat (a.k.a. our Pitch U writers rock)


by PitchU Minion Tina Moss, our fearless Comments Samurai

Each month we will be reading your comments to find the most useful, insightful, heartfelt or inspirational responses to Pitch University articles. The top poster will be featured here along with honorable mentions.

The August Best Comment Award goes to...

Best Comments Award

good-work-medal Pamela for her response:

“Thanks, Diane et al.  I have watched with great interest over the last year as the balance between e-book and print book has shifted faster than most experts predicted. 

A leveling of the playing field is occurring, whether it is temporary or permanent remains to be seen, but talented authors I know who couldn't get their books in print are doing quite well putting their books up for sale digitally, especially those authors with multiple titles to sell. 

Not getting rich, but then most print book authors haven't been buying Caribbean vacation homes either!  Thanks again for the post and good advice.”

- August 23, 2011

Additional wonderful comments for the month of August come from our Honorable Mentions:

good-work-medalFrom Angelica R. Jackson in response to Day Two: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing.

“When our insurance was up for renewal a few months ago, I got a call from our agent that writers are no longer covered under the home-based business umbrella. My freelance photography, yes, but not the writing. I would need to get a separate rider for that. Apparently, too many writers getting sued. Haven't done it yet since I don't have a book lined up for publication.”

- August 8, 2011

The need for writers to protect themselves is at the heart of Angelica’s comment. Thanks for pointing out the insurance issue.

good-work-medalFrom Lynne Kelly Hoenig in response to Despicable Tara

“I love Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (website) too! I'm not sure why I hadn't heard of it till recently, but I bought it a few months ago after I heard three people rave about it in one weekend.

Some people like to keep that one-line pitch on their writing desk to keep them focused on what the story is really about.”

- August 5, 2011

Love the idea of keeping the one-line pitch in your writing space so that the story stays focused. Whether this is in the first draft or during revisions, it is a helpful suggestion.




How to Sell Your Genre Book: 8 Advanced Tips For Creating a Powerful Genre Pitch

by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch U

Genre Pitches Have Added Pressure

When you pitch a genre book, you have two added goals to accomplish:

  • Each sentence, each element of your story, must sound like it belongs to that genre PLUS…
  • It must all sound innovative, fresh, and exciting.  The message needs to be, "Genre fans will love this, and they will choose this book over all the others."  Because, basically, that's what happens.

(Tip #1) Genre readers, well-versed in the furniture and language of their story form, must choose a single book to read next and must disregard all the others that aren't as exciting.  You need to make them choose your book.

Today, we get tips from Colleen Thompson, a much-loved, multi-published author of romantic suspense novels, who has also written epic fantasy and historical romance. 

When it comes to creating a solid story focus, selling on synopsis, and capturing the full potential of a genre, she has a good deal of experience.

Diane:  Colleen, welcome!  Let's talk about your upcoming release, "Phantom of the French Quarter." 

As you pitch this book to readers who love the Romantic Suspense genre, how do you shape your pitch so their ears perk up (they recognize it as "their" genre) AND they quickly get a taste for why this book will be exciting, juicier, and something they haven't seen before?

CT: From the time I first begin noodling with a project, I think about its hook.

Whether you're pitching to your agent, an editor, or readers, it's critical to quickly get across the kernel of the story—not the writing style or ambiance or any of that good stuff.

Readers want to know that what happens will be interesting, yet within their range of expectations.

(TIP #2) One way to do this is by taking a known scenario and giving it a surprising or intriguing twist.


For my newly-released Phantom of the French Quarter (Harlequin Intrigue), I wrote:

“Lured to a crumbling French Quarter cemetery, Caitlyn Villaré stumbles across a darkly mysterious man who disappears into the shadows…and the body of a woman who looks enough like her to be her twin.”

To Intrigue readers, "darkly mysterious man" equals "dangerous love interest," and the body that looks like the heroine adds the twist.

Innocent DeceptionsFor an example from another genre, in my historical romance Innocent Deceptions (written as Gwyneth Atlee for Kensington Publishing and now available for Kindle) my pitch went something like this:

“Trapped in her occupied mansion during the height of the Civil War, Memphis belle-turned-spy Charlotte Randolph becomes engaged to a string of Union officers…only to fall for the one man who could expose her.”


(TIP #3) In a romance, love often is not the goal—it's the obstacle, and what could be more of an obstacle than falling for an enemy officer who's duty-bound to see you hang?

Diane: You recently gave a workshop called, "Notch Up the Tension, Pick Up the Pace," and I loved your focus on character sociology versus character psychology.  Is this something you can communicate when pitching as well?

CT: Character sociology—the web of interwoven relationships and conflicts—gives the story depth and richness, along with layers of tension. Sometimes, a story really is in the big ensemble and its interplay (for example, in books/movies such as Friday Night Lights, Peyton Place, and Crash) rather than any individual character.

(Tip #4) In my opinion, this is notoriously tough to get across in a brief pitch. You can hint at it, as I have above in the Innocent Deceptions pitch example, but you're far better off in most cases focusing your approach on one character's dilemma and how the "closed society" of the story impacts him/her.

The big picture is more likely to emerge as the reader gets into the book.

Diane:  One of the hallmarks of Romantic Suspense as opposed to, say, Thrillers is that your romantic leads, who often haven't met prior to the plot, are forced to stay together for the length of the book.  After all, there's a romance story developing as well as a story of personal danger.  How do you address this genre requirement in your pitch materials?

CT: Romance readers in particular absolutely live for the interpersonal tug of war between the dual (and often dueling) leads throughout the story.

These readers basically put up with whatever else needs to happen to string those scenes together and drive the story forward in order to get to the "good stuff": the evolving dynamics of the characters' relationship.

(Tip #5) As an author, I give a lot of thought to finding a way to force proximity between a pair of polarized characters. If not, they would simply repel, avoiding each other, and never work out either the story problem or their own issues.

I might have the two reluctantly teaming to solve a crime or combat a greater enemy, or ordered by a superior to work together on a project, or forced to call a brief truce in order to fight for survival or save a child's life. But even as the leads are working together, I "heat the crucible" with reminders of important issues/tensions simmering between them.

Diane:  Whether it's the back blub of your book or a query letter to an editor, writers have to learn to quickly sum up the "what happens" in their book in a way that implies complexity.  It's no easy feat!  What's your approach?

CT: (Tip #6) One way to do this is to focus on a situation that sets up some question that really has no "right" answer, a question that implies a difficult moral dilemma, a "Sophie's choice" that forces the reader to ask herself how far she would go, say, for family honor, or to save a loved one or herself.

Diane: Romantic Suspense novels can be creepy, psychological nightmares or head-long rushes as characters run for their lives.  How do you set the expectation for the "speed" of the story?  If the story is more about what happens in the characters' and reader's mind, what can you do to communicate a fast-paced read?

CT: (Tip #7) I craft external circumstances that force the characters to swiftly act outside their normal boundaries.

Beginning with high stakes, I continually escalate them, rarely allowing the hero and heroine to relax.

Under such stressful circumstances, the characters' normal, everyday psychological defenses are stripped away, exposing the real people and real weaknesses beneath and creating an opportunity for significant and lasting change.

Whenever the reader eases into the belief that the characters are on some set course, I lob the kinds of "plot grenades" that force them to change direction (or even change goals) before they're blown off the pages (sometimes literally!)

(TIP #8) Even in a quieter book (not that I've ever written one of those!) some catalyst must occur that changes everything, forcing the character to make new choices.

In these stories, the choices won't necessarily be life or death decisions. It's left to the writer's skill, however, to make them seem equally important by creating strong emotional engagement with the character's dilemma.

Colleen, WOW.  This is not only a lesson in pitching genre books, it’s a lesson in writing them, as well. 

I encourage all our readers to read Colleen’s books and follow her bogging at Boxing the Octopus (also where Joni Rodgers, yesterday’s featured author, blogs).