Thursday, March 26, 2009

After Lunch at the Virginia Festival of the Book

Sarah and I went to the panel on Polishing Your Pitch. Ron Hogan and Bella Stander first reworked some written queries, and then took "elevator pitches" from audience members. They showed the audience how to boil down a plot synopsis and get to the meat of the book in a couple of sentences. Using the mantra "tell and sell," they said that you have to get three points across: introduce your protagonist, what is happening, and why it matters. Use short words. Three syllables or less with plenty of verbs and few adverbs will give a pitch more punch.

Agent Deborah Grosvenor, publicist Elizabeth Shreve, and Chuck Adams of Algonquin joined Bella and Ron for the next panel: "What About My Book? Navigating the Industry Now." The main differences in publishing since the economic downturn are that advances are smaller, but more likely to earn out, and decisions are taking longer to come through. Publishers are cautious. Like most of us with our personal finances, editors are buying, but more carefully. Smaller publishers have the advantage because historically they haven't overspent on advances. Publicity is becoming more the responsibility of the author rather than the publisher.

Deborah Grosvenor stuck around for the agents roundtable in the late afternoon. Ken Wright and Rosalie Siegel joined her. They spoke about what they are looking for. Ken said it was a lot about voice, which is a subjective thing. They all agreed that the most important factor in getting an agent is good writing.

To me, that's the best advice out there. Write well. Help each other write better. The rest will come with hard work and persistence.

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