The “Pitch Session” where writers submit their book ideas to editors is the original speed dating game. If you’re a writer or an editor, you know what an editorial pitch session is and what speed dating is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_dating. And you have surely noticed the similarities between the writer-author pitch session, typically held at writing conferences and the speed dating sessions typically held in bars and restaurants across the country.
Essentially, two virtual strangers sit down across from each other at a small table, a timer is set for the previously agreed upon amount of time, and one of the people starts talking about themselves (or their manuscript) as quickly as possible all the while hoping the person on the other side of the table will ask them out on a date (or request the full manuscript) after just about three minutes of hearing about them (the book.) Whew!
Apparently there is a formalized urban legend about the origins of the speed dating phenomenon. The practice supposedly has a known year of establishment of 1998. If you’ve been a writer or an editor for even a few years, you know that pitch sessions have been around far longer than that. They have been a staple in Hollywood for decades. But no matter who is involved, writer, editor, date seekers, or Hollywood producers, the process is incredibly nerve racking!
Almost everybody is uneasy meeting new people. It’s difficult to “read” someone quickly enough to feel comfortable around them in a short period of time. But large writing conferences will often schedule 100 or more writers in pitch sessions with about 20 or less editors, and time is a precious commodity. There isn’t time to get to know someone in the typical three to five minutes a writer is given to explain a novel that is 130,000 words long and took seven years to write. So how does a writer get over the many hurdles and feel comfortable in pitch sessions? The best plan is to be really comfortable with your pitch and yourself. Think SYSTEMATIC DESENSITIZATION.
Systematic desensitization technique is a practice described by Joseph Wolpe to help people overcome their fears. It essentially relies on breaking down a fear into small, manageable, and sequential steps thereby helping someone gradually reduce their anxieties. For instance, someone afraid of elevators would get on an elevator with someone they trust and go up one floor then get off the elevator and walk down the steps back to the first floor. They then would get back on the elevator and go up to the second floor, get out, and walk back down to the first floor. They would repeat these steps until they had reached the top floor of the building walking down the steps at each level. Lastly, the person will take the elevator all the way to the top in one session. At each level, the person with the fear of elevators tells themselves that nothing happened on the elevator. This way they build a new emotional relationship with the anxiety and can usually reduce or completely do away with their fear. Fear of the editorial pitch session can be handled the same way. Practice in baby steps in advance.
Step One: write a powerful sentence from your novel on an index card then write an explanation on the card about why this statement is meaningful to the story. It may not get used in your pitch, but this is the first step to knowing what the most important message is that you want to leave with the editor. Keep this index card with you at all times. Yes, sleep with it.
Step Two: Make a list of the ten to twelve steps involved in preparing for, presenting, and following up on the pitch session. Study the list twice a day or more visualizing each step. For instance:
*Write a great book
*Come up with the meaningful statement from the book
*Write out an imaginary script for the pitch session
*Study the books of this particular editor
*Choose clothing, shoes, and make-up
*Go to the conference
Step Three: Practice your pitch a) in the bathroom by yourself, b) in front of a trusted person, c) then with someone who is not a writer. Ask them if they would buy your book based on the three minutes you’ve had to describe it. Why or why not?
Step Four: Complete the pitch session at the conference. Do this as many times as you can at as many conferences as you can afford, but do not repeat the pitch to the same editor over and over at different conferences!
Step Five: Follow up with a thank-you note to the editor after the session EVEN IF SHE DID NOT REQUEST YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Every little bit of good manners counts.
You can pitch your completed manuscript to me this spring at the following conferences:
April 28, Dogwood Writers Conference, Ashland, Kentucky
June 1, Lori Foster’s Reader and Author Get Together, Cincinnati, Ohio
June 9, West Virginia Writers, Inc., Ripley, West Virginia
Contact me for details. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” ~Lillian Hellman, author
We are here to help, but editors are also on a deadline to get a manuscript as yummy as possible in the time allotted. The Microsoft Word program known as Track Changes is a dream come true for getting the work done in a timely manner on both sides of the writer/editor coin. Your publisher has probably helped introduce you to this built-in program and your editor should be helping you learn the ins and outs of using this feature to keep the progress of editing (by the editor) and revising (by the writer) running smoothly. It really is an ingenious tool for this business and using it is the best way to learn it. Here are a couple of tips for working with someone else on the same document which is all Track Changes amounts to. You may want to check with your publisher and ask if they have any particular guidelines you should follow when working with your editor and the Track Changes feature.
Begin with your own personal Track Changes playground. Create a new file in Word and type a paragraph into it. This is your testing area for learning the many advantages of the program. This shouldn’t be anything you intend to send to someone, it’s just the place you play around with settings, making changes, and generally trying out all the features of the program. Knowing what’s going on with Track Changes makes the work of revisions make more sense. Playing around with Track Changes in your manuscript is not advised. Things get lost forever that way.
1. Settings: The first basic step is to click on the Review tab at the top of the screen. About the center of the new tool bar at the top will be boxes Track Changes and Balloons with arrows pointing down that indicate drop-down menus available. Clicking Track Changes will bring up a drop-down menu of Track Changes, Change Tracking Options, and Change User Name. Play around with these options on your document. You may want to leave the default (automatic settings) or you may need to discuss option choices between you. Note, if you use a pen name for your fiction, you may want to address this and change the user name to your pen name instead of your real name which the program automatically sets.
2. Balloons: It’s clever that Microsoft called this option a balloon. It is where a new comment is created and stored so the other user can see what you thought. They start out small and skinny like a balloon without air in it and grow as words are added to the comment. There are three options in the Balloons drop-down menu and the default setting is usually “Show only comments and formatting in balloons”. Click on an option to activate it and then work in your test document to see what the balloons look like. To get a balloon, you have to first click New Comment and one will appear on the right hand side of the screen. Start typing your comments and they will appear in the balloon. Change your mind? Leave the cursor in the balloon and click Delete in the tool bar.
3. Brevity: This post is not specifically about the particulars of using Track Changes, but it had to start out that way to get us to the talking point about what should and should not go into a balloon. Both editor and author have the ability to click New Comment and write a new balloon. This is a fine place to leave small notes, ask brief questions, make a reminder, or give brief explanations. Balloons are not the place for lengthy dissertations on the difference between the use of commas in lists in MLA and Chicago style guides. Keep comments in balloons brief.
Play around with the feature, agree to settings with your document partner, and be brief when it comes to filling comment balloons. Long discussions can and should take place in the email that accompanies the document or in another style guide document.
Do you have any personal experiences you can share about comment balloons that would help us make better and better use of them?
EDITOR: When it sings. When it literally sounds like a free flowing melody in my head.
After all the toil and trouble you’ve gone through to get the manuscript completed and accepted, there are some days the editing process is a downer. On the list of “things I like to do to myself”, receiving criticism is rarely in the top ten. We remember school days and big red letter grades at the top of papers flying from the teacher’s hands. A wrong answer is a wrong answer on a math test or a multiple choice exam. It’s in the classroom where I believe we learn to receive constructive criticism the wrong way. We take it personally, and we shouldn’t.
Overloaded classrooms, overworked teachers, and over bearing administrations do not make for a successful working atmosphere. Teachers are busy, busy, busy, but this isn’t about school. ( I love teachers, by the way.) It’s about editors who are busy, busy, busy and writers who sometimes need to relearn accepting comments on their manuscripts. Editors are always teachers. They have to be. Writing is a perpetual learning process. Editors and writers are always learning. But teachers are not always editors. It isn’t right to assume that your editor’s comments are the same as what you received in school. The whole process is totally about getting better by learning something new and learning requires CHANGE. Some writers and editors find it harder to change than to take the criticism.
Notice I’m not saying, “Take criticism of their writing.” I’m intentionally avoiding the possessive pronouns (our writing, your writing, my writing, their writing, her writing, etc.) because in order to learn, grow, and change as a better and better writer, we all have to learn to write it, get out of it, then let it go. Only then will the editing process be less personal and less stressful. Constructive criticism is for the good of everyone: author, editor, publisher, sellers, readers, relatives. Editing is the only way a book can be the best it can be because a group of grey matters has contributed to the final product. Several brains have come together and created a group project that started with the seed of your novel’s manuscript. That’s a wonderful thing to behold. But we know from experience it isn’t easy.
But how do we get comfortable with being told to change our baby (manuscript) when we don’t think it stinks? We are the proud parents of a perfect child. How could anything be wrong with something we’ve put our hearts, souls, and DNA into? That’s the point. Super-imposing a writer’s own persona into a novel will cause everybody problems. What’s the answer? Compromise.
The word compromise is descended from the glorious language of antiquity Latin. Compromise is derived from the Latin comprimittere which means “to bring together”. A compromise means pressing together for a mutual goal. The end result is not always completely fifty-fifty. A compromise is the result of whatever it takes from all parties involved to get the job done. And therein is the rub. If the job of editing and revising is a constant struggle, the job is never done and fewer books are written because some aspect of the editorial process is resistant to change.
It’s also interesting to note that one of the many other definitions of the Latin word comprimittere is “to embrace”. Barrel hugging the idea of criticism might be one way for editors and writers to arrive at the compromises needed to complete the project with as little stress, wine, and bandages as possible. The option is to struggle and stagnate or let go and write the next book! Of course, you can always visualize the royalty check and be done with resisting.
Do you have any constructive examples of compromise where writing is concerned? Any good advice on how to avoid the struggle and embrace the process?
Keep in mind that nobody is perfect.
Thank you is a two-way street. Perhaps you feel in the mood to thank your editor this holiday season for the effort and time devoted to your novel. Here are some ways and links that might work. These gifts go both ways and work for editors as well as writers. You don’t have to spend large amounts of money. The special note of thanks you write on the card goes a long way. Whatever your budget, your editor will appreciate being remembered.
1. The post office is in dire straits. Mail a paper card with your signature and a stamp and help save an American institution.
2. Your editor does not automatically receive a copy (print or digital) of your completed book. Send her an autographed copy.
3. Gift cards to buy books or office supplies are a great gift for the editor who never has time to run out to the store for paper and ink.
4. Electronic greeting cards are ok. Search for a special one.
5. Editors read a lot. Anything book related such as mini book lights and book marks are welcome gifts. How about a journal or a planner?
6. A gift certificate to your mutual publishing house would be welcome.
7. Magazine subscriptions cost a lot of money these days. Perhaps you can afford a year of a writing magazine for your editor.
8. Editors are normally overwhelmed by the amount of filing required to keep track of just one book. USB flash drives come in a variety of prices and storage amounts.
9. Starbucks rules the world. A coffee gift card will be sucked up in a month by your editor.
10. With food intolerances and allergies on the rise, send gift cards for large chain restaurants if you want to send a food care package. You might be surprised by the number of people who can NOT eat chocolate, peanuts, dairy, wheat, or corn.
If you have any good ideas for editor/writer gifts, chime in!
Smooches (and sweet holidays,)
Editorial Etiquette by JB