Archive for June 20th, 2007

Set Yourself Apart From the Crowd: Pitch!

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz

In the pitching room at the annual conference, the ensuing seconds after a not-as-strong-as-it-could-be pitch are uncomfortable. The pitcher stands expectantly waiting while the agents and editors on the panel pause in an effort to choose just the right words to critique the pitch in the most educational way for all involved. For reasons not known to this writer, one of them usually opts—Simon Cowell-like—for brutal honesty to get his points across.

This scenario may explain why some of the most confident people I know balk at the prospect of pitching a book at a writer’s conference, while others get bitten swiftly by the pitching bug as soon as they give the idea consideration. Whether you feel nervous or brimming with bravado, take some wise advice from Edna ‘E’ Mode in the animated film The Incredibles, “Luck,” she says, “favors the prepared.”

Often the first person who needs convincing that you have a good idea to pitch is you. And often, you need to keep convincing yourself right up until the moment that you arrive at the conference and pitch…and pitch…and pitch some more. But seriously, what have you got to lose? And couldn’t you stand to gain quite a lot from the experience?

If you do your due diligence, you will feel more on a par with the agents and editors who come from all over the country to attend the conference. You will feel a lot less like give-me-a-book-deal-please (wince along with me, if you know the quiet desperation of which I speak) and a lot more like a writer-teetering-on-the-edge-of-author.

Of course, the only way to confidently project what sets you apart is to know what sets you apart so that you can leverage it and make the best impression possible. I have attended the open pitching session and heard writers offer up good ideas to the panel of agents and editors (though not all ideas were as well developed as others). In some cases, the writer was not as polished in her delivery or as poised as she could have been. In other cases, the writer was not prepared to explain why she was the best person to write and sell the book. Other writers could not explain why now was the right time for their idea. All of these bases will be covered briefly in a thorough pitch.

Scared yet? Or tempted to try pitching? Well, here is the good news: you (and only you) can control how prepared or unprepared you will be when and if you stand up in front of the small crowd in a conference room and pitch. (Thank goodness, right?) How much help will you solicit to get ready? How many friends-in-the-know will you run your pitch by? How many times will you polish it? Practice it? Rehearse it? The answer is until you have it down…and down flat.

Here are the three concepts your pitch must nail:

Why this book?
Why this book now?
Why this book by you now?

Your pitch will answer all three of these questions, not necessarily in this order.

Sue Lick, author of the forthcoming book Freelancing for Newspapers (Quill Driver Books, July 2007), complimented me for the pitch I gave at the 2005 conference that helped me capture Jane Friedman’s attention and eventually landed me a book deal with Writer’s Digest. So I figured why not share that pitch here? Elaura Niles and her husband Mark Renie helped me craft and polish this pitch in preparation for the conference:

Hi, I’m Christina Katz, a freelance writer for The Oregonian and mother of a toddler.

Three years ago I experienced the happiest moment of my life, fol-lowed by the most creativity-zapping, soul-sucking months from hell. I gave birth to my daughter, Samantha Rose, and my writing career, that I had spent years developing, disappeared into a black hole of diaper chang-es, marathon feedings, and sleep deprivation.

Since then I’ve learned how to balance motherhood and writing, pub-lishing hundreds of articles in daily newspapers, periodicals, and online magazines.

Last year my piece on working moms was one of the most popular on the Web and resulted in an interview with Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.”

I teach other moms how to do what I did and continue to do on a daily basis. My book proposal is titled “The Busy Mom’s Guide to Free-lance: 24 Steps to a Profitable, Part-Time Writing Career.”

Pitching is nerve-wracking and perhaps that’s how the conference planners intend it. The prospect of pitching certainly gets folks pumped up to get in there and give it a try. But how do you make sure that you are the writer with the saleable idea delivered with enough poise that makes the panelists smile, nod their heads, and lean forward…and not the negative example that has them sharpening their critical cutlery?

You show up prepared. Be like the Mounties, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Smokey the Bear and Scar in The Lion King. BE PREPARED. This means you not only know why you stand out in a crowd of experts with similar experience as you, you also know how and why your topic fills a void that has not yet been filled both in the world and on the bookshelves.

Another way to say this is that you are the right person with the right idea at the right time for a very specific readership. Or, at the very least, you have an old idea that has been out of print for some time and is ready to make a swift and sure comeback.

This is the beginning of finding your niche in the publishing landscape. If you can do it, you are probably going to land a book deal,––if not at the conference, then eventually. The only thing standing between you and a possible deal is research—something every writer knows how to do. Hallelujah!

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at

Tuning in to the Language of Life

sage.gifMessage from the Managing Editor
By Sage Cohen

“We got held up by a lost dog at a busy intersection.”

When I overheard this in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, spoken by the breathless older woman who was evidently late for her appointment, I pulled out an index card from my purse and wrote it down.

“The evidence is stacked in favor of my confession.”

Jon was telling me some innocent story about his childhood in which this sentence got warped into sounding like he was the hero in a thriller. I asked him to pause while I wrote it down exactly as he said it.

Walking through my neighborhood on a hot summer day, regretting a decision I’d made that had caused me pain, I stepped over a yellow piece of college-ruled notebook paper that was lying flat in the middle of the sidewalk and thought nothing of it. On the way back home, I stepped over the same piece of paper again. This time, I stopped and turned around to examine the paper more closely.

In bubble letters, written by possibly a middle-schooler, the page said: “Can’t take back the things that I did before.” I picked it up, flabbergasted, and carried it home. The first thing I did was pin that paper up on my bulletin board. The second thing I did was write a poem titled “Can’t take back the things that I did before.”

In poetry, there is a type of poem called the found poem. A found poem presents language that you’ve discovered in some other context, such as a matchbook, greeting card, horoscope or advertisement. It works like this: you see or hear something that interests you, and then you use it in a poem. Perhaps you have an entire poem composed of “found” language or ideas. Or maybe just a single thought, phrase or idea triggers an entire poem.

Whether you’re a poet, essayist or fiction writer, tuning in to what we are otherwise socially conditioned to tune out might just ignite an idea that takes your writing in an exciting new direction. Next time you’re in a café, pay attention to the couple at the table to your right. What are they confessing in murmurs over their Sunday paper? Who is the sturdy man in sweat pants walking past the window with his English Bull Dog? What was the barista thinking when she had the word “hardwired” tattooed across her lower back?

Yes, I am suggesting that you become a voyeur, a goal-oriented voyeur who politely witnesses the many wonders of human eccentricity to trigger your own musings of what might be possible in the world—and in your writing. When we wake up to everything happening around us in our immediate, day-to-day lives, we can find much material that could be a starting place for the characters, dialogue or scenes taking shape in our own work. So much of what we’re seeking is already around us; it’s often merely a matter of learning to pay attention.

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at

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June 2007

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