At some time in our lives, we have all been on an interview. Most of us have been on so many interviews we can elaborate the do's and don'ts of each one – where we did well and where it went horribly wrong. Coming up is the RWA conference in New York City. If you are a published author or aspiring published author in romance, this is the place to be. New York is the one conference no one wants to miss. The hotel gets booked way too quickly and thousands of authors clamor to sign up so they can spend 5 minutes pitching their manuscript to an editor or agent. This is where the interview looms over our heads. How do we prepare for this 5 minute do-or-die moment where we present our babies to another person who will decide if it's good enough to publish?
- You can wing it. Come on – you know you've been there. You've thought about this a million times. The thought goes through your head – I'll just walk in and wing it! I don't need to memorize anything. I know what my book is all about. I know my characters. I know the plot. I'll walk in, shake his/her head and then just wing it!
- Write out your blurb on index cards – You've done this one too. Before you left for the conference, you wrote down all the important points – the genre, word count, hero's arc and heroine's arc. The main plot points to entice the editor/agent. Then once you got there, you practiced it over and over again UNTIL – you decided – forget about this – I'm just going to wing it!
- Worked on your pitch with a partner. You sat down with a fellow writer, someone you trust and did your pitches together. Of course, you both decided they sounded great and you were ready to go. In the back of your mind, you thought about all the things you would change if you were the other person and then realized your own pitch needed work too. But you just couldn't tell your friend because then they would worry that theirs needed work too. Ah, the blissful feeling of ignorance.
- If you are member of a critique group, not only have you worked on this pitch with a partner, but you've brought it to a meeting and done it out loud in front of everyone and waited, palms sweating, as everyone told you how to tweak it. This can be a harrowing experience. The moment of dread when twenty people tell you how to fix what you thought was perfect in the first place. (Remember my last journal entry about imperfections?)
The pitch is essentially a job interview. You are applying for the most important job of your life – published author. This is even worse than giving birth. When you give birth, no one sits you down all dressed up in your professional best and asks you to tell them all about this newborn who will come squalling into your life. After all, you don't know what this baby's character arc will be. You don't even know his/her personality yet. No one asks you if you are prepared for the next lord-only-knows number of years to raise this baby. When you bring your book in front of another person, it is like bringing out your baby – presenting it to the world and saying – Isn't this wonderful? You should buy this because I have poured hours upon hours into raising this baby into the perfect book.
If you are lucky, the editor/agent will request either a partial or full manuscript. I have yet to leave an interview without a request. But here's the rub – just because they requested it does not mean they will make an offer. Remember when I mentioned thousands of authors are present? This means many of them (the unpublished like me) will be jostling for a chance to become published. The last time I pitched, I was extremely excited. The editor loved my concept. Loved my hero and heroine and requested a partial. I mailed it off and over two years later still did not hear back. Oh, I waited the appropriate amount of time before sending a lovely email and asking how she was. When she finally responded, it was to tell me she had misplaced my manuscript and finally located it. When she read it – she loved it! BUT – unfortunately they no longer needed strong hero books and wished me luck finding a place for it. WOW! It was good, but now they didn't need it. Makes you wonder if she had read it two years before if her company would have needed strong hero based books.
Okay, so let's go back to the interview – you have now prepared your pitch. I know you have. Whether you decided to wing it, write it down on index cards, OR you practiced in front of a mirror until you knew it by heart, you are ready. ALMOST. Now it's time to find the perfect clothes to wear. What do you mean I have to find the perfect clothes? Shouldn't my pitch be enough to sell me as an author? Wish this were true, but you are a product too. You go along with your book. When you walk into the room on trembling knees to meet the editor/agent, it is your appearance which will make the first impression. The head to toe look. Remember how the hero perceives the heroine for the first time and vice versa? It is the same with an agent/editor and you. When you meet eyes, you immediately do the head to toe scan. DO you like what you see? Does this person look like someone you can trust with your baby?
My advice – be comfortable and professional. If you are not comfortable you will look miserable. Be you. Add the one touch that shows a tiny bit of your personality. Perhaps it's a treasured pin from your great-grandmother or you love scarves. Remember you are part of the product. It makes me think of American Idol. Come on, admit it, you have seen it and heard Simon Cowel state – "you're the entire package". Remember that not only your book will be packaged, but so will you. You will go on book tours. You will meet people. You will speak to newspaper reporters and television hosts (once you sell big-time, which you will). Your picture will be inside the book. If you are historical author – do you look the part? And I don't mean you wear a period piece costume to the interview. I mean do you look romantic and yet serious at the same time? If you're not sure what I mean, look at the pictures of authors you emulate. When you read their brief bio, do you say – "Wow, I want to read her/his books?"
A dear friend at my writer's group – Chicago-North – who was also an actress would come to our meetings right before conference and explain how to pitch. She would give us pointers on presentation and enunciation. Her advice always made me realize that it wasn't just the book that was being analyzed, but me as well. So remember – when you prepare for your pitch, it's like going on a job interview. You have to convince this person you and your book are worth taking a risk on. So what's my advice?
- Write it out – what is your brand? Your main characters' arcs?
- Practice, practice, practice – I cannot emphasize this enough – practice alone in front of a mirror, with a good friend you trust, and before your group if you have time. You want to be careful of your hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions while presenting. Body language is important.
- Find the right clothes – remember comfort is important, but the overall appearance is essential.
- Relax – I know this sounds hard, but you need to relax. There is nothing worse than shaking hands with the editor/agent of your dreams and realizing too late that your hand was sweaty or shook the entire tie.
See you at Nationals! And . . . knock them dead!