Now that I’m going to be submitting the paranormal romance novella other places, I find myself faced with the fine art of writing a ‘query’, otherwise known as a ‘pitch’. I also need a 2-5 page synopsis, which I’m learning in the publishing world does NOT mean a plot summary, but rather a longer version of a pitch, albeit one that goes into more plot detail and tells the ending.
Nothing stirs up my insecurities like pitching. Pitching implies and demands that you believe in yourself and your work. Afterall, how to do you convince editors that your story is the coolest, sexiest, most original thing to ever hit their desk if you yourself are not convinced?
The problem is that I’m not always convinced my stories are the greatest thing ever. I mean, sometimes, I’m totally in love with my own creative ideas and really do think they’re great, but other times I fear my writing sucks! I suspect I’m not the only writer to feel this way. I’ve always been a modest person by nature, often to a fault, so trumpeting the greatness of myself or my story just doesn’t come naturally to me.
Pitching was what I always hated about writing freelance articles, back in the days when I did that. I spent more time pitching than I did writing. My life felt like one relentless, unending pitch. In fiction writing there’s less pitching, because you’re working on longer term projects. But it’s still an important part of the process. And I realize, if I ever want to see my stories on the printed page (or the glowing e-reader screen, etc…) I need to learn how to pitch.
When we think of creative writing, we don’t often think of sales and marketing, but it’s just as essential a part of the process as coming up with ideas, writing great prose, editing and revising. I remember a story I read in the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” (btw, I’m not commenting on the financial philosophy of that book, which I have HUGE problems with, I’m just using it as it relates to writing). Anyway, in the story, the author Robert Kyosaki is approached by a young woman who is a writer. She says to him (I quote from memory): “I don’t get it. Your books sell millions of copies, but your writing SUCKS!” (It does; I read it). She continued, “I wrote a book, and I know that my writing is of a lot higher quality than your writing. But I don’t have a hundredth of the readership that you do. Why?!”. Robert replied, “That’s because I’m a best “selling” author. You’re right – I suck as a writer. But I’m really great at sales. You get on the bestseller lists not by being a great writer but by being a great seller.” He read the young woman’s book and agreed that it was excellent, but he advised her, “if you want to be a success as a writer, don’t take another course in creative writing, take a sales training.”
I gritted my teeth when I read that, because I’ve always hated sales. But I think that’s because the sales mentality that works for some sales people just doesn’t work for me. Back when I used to work in sales (not a happy time) a sales manager showed us a video clip from the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It was the infamous, “ABC: Always Be Closing!” scene. (If you haven’t seen it, you can google the movie and find the clip on Youtube, though I’m not sure I recommend it)I’ve still never seen the rest of the movie. That one scene was enough for me. My sales manager showed us that scene to “inspire” us to sell better. Personally, I wasn’t inspired; I was HORIFIED. I felt physically ill after watching that clip. I didn’t see the type of selling Alec Baldwin’s character describes as necessary or even desirable, and I wouldn’t want to be that kind of person for all the Cadillacs and steak knives in the world.
I figured this meant that I just didn’t have the type of personality to work in sales, and it was what eventually led me to quit. But was I a horrible sales person? Actually, no. My sales record, while not that of a shark, was actually quite solid. What I learned on the floor was to sell using my innate personality strengths: a warm, friendly smile, an approachable presence, the ability to engage people in conversation one-on-one about what mattered to them, and a genuine interest in what they had to say. I was still an introvert, but I used my introverted strengths to my advantage. The customer talked; I listened. And eventually they convinced themselves to buy, without me having to convince them. The customers who bought from me were the customers who hated the hard sell and appreciated my ‘soft’ sell.
I need to find a way of pitching that’s authentic to who I am. Because that’ll be a pitch I can stand behind.
I wanted to end this post by giving advice on how to pitch, but that’ll have to wait for a “Part II”, because frankly, I’m still figuring it out myself. I’ve done several drafts of this story’s pitch, and it still needs work. But each successive draft gets a little bit “pitchier.” In that way, it is kind of like writing a novel.
One thing I’ve learned is that getting feedback from other people is immensely helpful in writing a pitch. As a writer, you’re so close to your own story that sometimes it’s hard to describe it. Thus, a fresh perspective can make all the difference.
And I thought of my own version of the Glengarry Glen Ross motto,”ABC: Always Be Closing.” My version: “ABC: Always Be Creating.”
I find that much more inspiring 🙂
P.S What have you other writers out there learned about pitching? How do you sell, without selling out? How do you make pitching a creative process? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!