Writers pursuing publication should learn how to speak well.
I know what some of you are thinking.
Hey lady, I’m a writer. Not a speaker.
Here’s the thing. If you are pursuing publication and your goal is to be a successful author, chances are, at some point, you’ll need to use your voice. And I mean your actual voice, not your writing one.
Radio interviews. Workshop presentations. Speaking to your platform. Pitching to editors and agents. I’m sure the list doesn’t end there.
My debut novel will release in May, 2012 with Waterbrook Multnomah (a division of Random House) and although it’s still ten months away, the marketing department is already discussing ways to promote my book.
Recently, I did an audio recording, or an interview conducted over the phone which will be shared with sales reps and retailers. It also might be used for promotional purposes later down the road.
The questions were deep. And I was nervous. I’d never done anything like this before and usually, when I get nervous, my voice gets shaky. And the shakier my voice gets, the more nervous I get. It turns into this whole vicious cycle.
But you know what?
It ended up being a really cool experience.
Here are some tips that helped me prepare, relax, and have fun:
Find out what you have to talk about and let the topic soak. I had to answer some pretty deep questions. Questions I didn’t know how to answer at first. Letting them percolate for a while helped when it came time to brainstorm.
Type your answers in a bullet point format instead of paragraph format. I wanted to sound conversational, not like I was reading. But the idea of answering from memory terrified me. I needed something to help me stay focused and avoid rabbit trails. So for each answer, I had a short list of bullets to reference.
Practice. This is key. Practice alone. But even more important, practice with an actual person. My husband was kind enough to ask me the questions, listen and offer feedback.
Time yourself. Attention spans only last for so long. The more concise we can be, the better.
The day of the interview, don’t obsess about it. Practice one more time. Then do something to distract yourself. For me, playing some good old-fashioned spider solitaire helped keep the nerves at bay.
When the time comes, take a deep breath, smile, and do your best!
You can use these same tips for almost any speaking engagement. I know I went through a similar process when I prepared to pitch to Rachelle, my agent, and Shannon, my editor, at the 2009 ACFW conference.
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How do you feel about this kind of stuff? Do you enjoy speaking, doing interviews, pitching to agents and editors? Have you ever had to do it? If so, how did you prepare?
Why hello, there. Welcome to the official launch of our blog, The WordServe Water Cooler. A place where WordServe clients gather to build community and help writers move forward in their careers.
Let’s get this party started, shall we?
For our first post, we wanted to offer some tangible tips for anyone searching for an agent. Here’s what helped us. We hope it helps you!
Seek professional feedback on your work before submitting.
Rosslyn Elliott – After I finished my first novel, I had a funny feeling there might be a technical flaw in the novel’s opening. Instead of wondering, I hired a pro editor to look over my first three chapters. Sure enough, the queasy feeling was justified. I fixed the problem, and Rachelle signed me that summer.
Jordyn Redwood – I met Greg during an agent appointment at ACFW in 2009. I had a polished one sheet and the first three chapters of my novel. Next step, he wanted a book proposal. I asked for examples from other authors and paid to have it freelance edited. Keeping my word and presenting professional work tipped the scales in my favor. Greg might say it was my use of dialogue but everything you do counts.
A pass on one project doesn’t mean you can’t try again with others.
Olivia Newport – Years ago I was invited to join a brand new book group. When the dust settled, a group of freelance writers and editors were the core. A couple years later, one of them invited Rachelle to join. We got to know each other long before she became an agent. Three other agents took a pass on what I was pitching. So did Rachelle! But we had a good basis for deciding we wanted to work together and just needed the right project.
The road to representation and publication isn’t usually a fast one.
Anne Lang Bundy – 25 years of composing documents, lessons, and essays developed my writing gift. A passion for all things Bible turned my pen to biblical fiction. After several months of connecting with Rachelle via “Rants and Ramblings” comments, I crafted individual queries for just two agents and obtained representation from WordServe. Three years’ study of fiction craft, five conferences, Rachelle’s encouragement, and the Lord’s grace now bring me to publication’s threshold.
Persevere through rejections.
Deborah Vogts – After a year of representation, my first agent dropped me as a client. Months later, I found the courage to submit my proposal to three more agents. Two doors closed, and Rachelle was Door #3. She liked my work and signed me as a client. Two months after that, we had an offer from Zondervan on my Seasons of the Tallgrass series. I like to think perseverance paid off, but it was also God’s timing.
If you mess up, all is not lost. But even so, learning how to query is good.
Lucille Zimmerman – I wanted to send my book idea to an agent but I didn’t know where to start. I Googled a writer’s conference and found a list of agents to contact. Greg Johnson wrote back and said he passed my email on to Rachelle. I did everything the wrong way, but she still wrote back and told me how to do a real query. Months later we met in person and she agreed to represent me.
Erin MacPherson – If there were an award for the worst query letter ever, I’d win it. When I decided to query, I had no clue what I was doing and no knowledge of the publishing world and it showed. Even worse, when Rachelle wrote me back and asked for a proposal, my response was “What’s a proposal?” Yikes. The good news? God is bigger than my stupidity. After some (okay, a lot of) coaching, Rachelle was nice enough to overlook my terrible first impression and sign me as a client anyway.
When it comes to representation, the right fit is of utmost importance.
Sandie Bricker – All the lunch tables in all the world, and she had to sit down at mine! I’ve had some awesome agents in the past, but I never seemed to find that right fit. Sitting down with Rachelle over lunch at the ACFW conference in Denver cemented the idea that it’s so important to have that “right fit” with your agent. Before they poured the coffee, I knew she and I were on the same page.
Erica Vetsch – At a workshop I attended, Rachelle presented her take on agent-author relationships and described exactly what I was looking for. At that time, I wrote only category romance, something Rachelle didn’t represent, but only a few weeks after that workshop she opened her client list to category romance authors looking to grow their careers. I contacted her, we agreed to work together, and since then we’ve sold several projects.
Marla Taviano – I already had four books traditionally published, then hit a wall. I reached out to Rachelle, and bless her wonderful heart, she threw me a lifeline. I can’t wait to be worth her while! Soon!
Attend a conference when you’re ready and when you’re stuck.
Maureen Lang – Conferences are helpful to writers at all levels, but if finances are an issue it’s wise to attend after you have a fully developed project. I met Greg at an ACFW conference, where we talked about my writing aspirations, our faith, and which publishers would be a good fit for me. It was quickly obvious he knew so much about the industry and that I could trust him.
Katie Ganshert – After devouring every craft book known to man, I reached a point where I couldn’t go any further on my own. I needed an agent. The query system wasn’t working for me, so I saved the money and went to the ACFW conference in 2009 where I pitched to Rachelle, garnered her interest, promptly submitted my manuscript, and received The Call two months later.
Amy K. Sorrells – Oozing with self-confidence after receiving 30+ rejection letters, I hopped on a plane and traveled the farthest I’d ever gone from home on my own, to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2009. After learning volumes from my “Leave it to Chance” roomate and WordServe client, Sherri Sand, as well as spending a week under the tutelage of Mary DeMuth, it’s no accident I came home, revised my manuscript (again), submitted three more proposals, and received “The Call” from Rachelle in January, 2010.
Enter contests. Finals are a great way to get an agent’s attention.
Keli Gwyn – Rachelle served as a final-round judge in a Romance Writers of America® chapter-level contest and requested my full. After completing my self-edit two weeks later, I sent the manuscript. The following day she emailed saying she wanted to “discuss the possibility of representation.” Four days later I was her client.
Jody Hedlund – While we don’t want to be obnoxious, we should be savvy in staying connected to agents who have our manuscripts. Rachelle had my full in her slush pile. After I finaled in a contest, I contacted her to update her. That email spurred her to pull my manuscript out and read it. She offered me representation a couple days later.
Richard Mabry – A door isn’t closed until God closes it. I’d given up writing when, on a whim, I entered a contest on Rachelle’s blog. I won a critique of the first chapter of my book, and when I sent my chapter, she emailed back, “Send me something that needs editing.” That led to a query, representation, and eventually a publishing contract. I thought I was through. God didn’t.
Take advantage of requests from editors.
Karen Witemeyer – At the 2007 ACFW conference, I met with a Bethany House editor who invited me to submit. That manuscript was rejected, but I was encouraged to submit another project. At ACFW in 2008, I visited with editors from Bethany House again, and they showed interest. I also met with Rachelle. Being able to say I had a nibble from a publisher was huge. Rachelle offered representation following that conference and negotiated my deal with Bethany House three months later.
Lisa Jordan – When I met Rachelle at ACFW, I wanted her as an agent. I pitched, but didn’t follow through on her invite to submit. After finaling in the Genesis and receiving a full request from an editor, I pitched to Rachelle again. She asked to see the full first. Once I submitted, she offered representation a week later. Don’t give up on pitching to a specific agent, even if you pitched to him or her in the past.
Ramp it up and embrace the 3 C’s – Conferences, Contacts, and Contests
Camille Eide – Conferences, Contacts and Contests all contributed to landing my agent. At a writing conference, I was encouraged to seek representation. I asked a writing mentor (contact) for a referral. She sent an intro letter and my query to Rachelle, who requested the full. While I waited, I entered a novel contest. The book placed as a finalist, sending it to the top of Rachelle’s pile. She read the full and called to offer representation.
Dineen Miller – I knew of Rachelle by her amazing reputation as an editor, so when I heard she’d become an agent, I put her on my list as one of two top picks. I made an appointment with her at the 2008 ACFW Conference and showed her my work. We clicked. Later I found out that two colleagues had recommended me too. The week after the conference, I happily signed on and am so glad I did!
Network. Participate in the publishing community. Relationships matter.
Alexis Grant – I connected over Twitter with a writer who, unbeknownst to me, was friends with Rachelle. My Twitter friend knew I was working on a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa, and she happened to hear Rachelle say she wanted to rep a book about Africa. That Twitter friend — who had by then become an email-and-phone friend — called me and asked, “Have you thought about querying Rachelle Gardner?”
Katy McKenna – For several years, while writing my first novel, I got to know many wonderful authors (and soon-to-be authors) through blogging. We’d exchange comments on each other’s sites and I happily hosted many author interviews on my blog. When one dear friend learned my novel was complete, she forwarded my proposal (without me asking) to Rachelle with a note of recommendation. That was on a Friday. Four days later, I had an agent.
Megan DiMaria – It’s important to participate in the publishing community and attend gatherings of writers, agents, and publishers. In July of 2009 the ICRS was in Denver, where I live. My publisher got me a pass to attend, but there was a problem at the front desk. Rachelle saw my dilemma and kindly escorted me to the publisher’s office. We struck up a conversation and decided to meet to discuss representation. Obviously, it worked out!
Catherine West – I first ‘met’ Rachelle in 2008. She was a blogging mom who loved books and dogs. She became one of my ‘blogging buddies’ and I enjoyed her posts. I then learned she was a freelance editor. I had a new story idea brewing, asked for her opinion, and when the manuscript was finished, she asked to read it. Around that time she became a literary agent, and a few months afterward, I became her client.
Michelle DeRusha – I connected with writers online, not simply to attract more blog readers but to create mutually beneficial online friendships. One author read my book proposal and then graciously offered to refer me to her agent, Rachelle, who emailed me within a day to request my manuscript. I hope to be able to pass on the favor to another new writer someday.
Martha Carr – I was working on a true story about a possessed house in Pittsburgh and a mutual writer friend, who was represented by Greg, introduced me to Rachelle. I sent her a sample of my work and in less than a day I got a return email asking if I wanted to talk about representation.
Krista Phillips – I’m very new to the Wordserve Group. I signed with Rachelle about a month ago! And really, it came down to the fruits of networking. When an editor was potentially interested in my book (from my networking) I contacted two friends I’d networked with (clients of Rachelle’s) and one of them e-mailed Rachelle a referral. Spoke with Rachelle, who noted she was familiar with me because of my networking on Twitter, and she offered representation!
Beth Vogt – My first book about late-in-life motherhood partly resulted from my established relationships at MOPS International. I was not represented by an agent at that time. I’d connected with Beth Jusino, first as the editor of MomSense, and then as friends when she was an agent at Alive Communications. She gave me invaluable advice as I wrote my book. When Beth suggested I contact Rachelle, I knew I could trust her judgment and endorsement.
Joanne Kraft – Sharing my contract news with a writer-friend, she said, “Now you need an agent. And I know just the perfect fit for you…Rachelle Gardner!”
“Oh yeah? There’s just one problem, I don’t know Rachelle Gardner.”
“No, but I do.” She laughed.
Within minutes, three chapters of my manuscript launched into cyberspace. My girlfriend, who I’d originally met through blogging, became mine and Rachelle’s matchmaker.
Never underestimate the power of girlfriends, blogging, or networking!
Above all else, write well.
In the wise words of Camille Eide, you can do all these things we offer plus stand on your head and gargle, but if you aren’t writing well, following these tips won’t get you agented. So make sure to give attention where attention is due. Good writing must come first.
Do you have an agent? If so, what advice do you have for those who are looking? If not, where are you in the process? Please join in the conversation! Introduce yourself. We’d love to get to know you.