Though I’m an introvert, meaning I’m more interested in thinking about the stories in my head than making small talk at dinner parties, I’m not socially awkward or shy, and I don’t suffer from any kind of stage fright—except when it comes to talking to strangers about my writing. My face heats and my blood pressure spikes. I either go brain-blank or start babbling, speaking in disjointed sentence fragments with lots of “um’s.”
Now, I have no problem discussing a plethora of other subjects with complete strangers. I can go on endlessly about equine digestive anatomy, infectious neurological diseases of cattle, oil-painting glazing techniques and DIY home remodeling. (Just ask me about installing LVT plank flooring. You won’t be able to shut me up.) But when someone asks me, “So, what’s your book about?” I make a hash of my logline and turn my pitch into gobbledygook.
Obviously, I’m not a “natural” salesman. Because I’m not, I’ve always avoided the meet-and-greet parties at writing conferences or ducked out of them early. This fall, however, several of my writing friends are going to the same SCBWI conference that I’m attending and have convinced me to go to the Friday night pre-conference schmooze.
Over the last few weeks, my writing friends have been helping me polish my logline and pitch. Not that I think I’ll sell my story at any conference—I think that’s an urban legend—but because selling is an essential part of the publishing industry, and I need to practice it to become comfortable with talking about my writing. But by working on my pitch, I’ve realized that I don’t show how enthusiastic I am about my story when I talk about it to people outside of my group of writing friends. I apologize for my story instead of selling it. Instead of sharing what makes it special to me with others, I let my fears and insecurities burst out of the gate and take the lead.
I have what I call Wannabe Writer Apology Syndrome. If you are an un-published writer and love your story but wind up minimizing and dismissing it and feeling guilty about wasting another person’s time by discussing it, you might have WWAS, too. (OK—that acronym stinks, but it’s the best I’ve got.) So, what can you do if you have it?
1. Go to a writing conference and force yourself to mingle at the schmooze. It will be the most sympathetic crowd you’ll ever get. If you attend with a friend, challenge one another to talk to strangers. Be polite and interested in other people’s work and ask questions. Then, when it’s your turn to discuss your book, be enthusiastic, NOT apologetic.
2. Know the essence of your logline and pitch. Don’t memorize them to the point of sounding like you’re reading from a book jacket blurb but get across the one or two things that make your story cool. If your story resonates with you, it will resonate with someone else. (There are tons of websites out that have logline and pitch generators. You simply fill in the blanks using the details of your story and the generator will give you a rough logline that you can polish. Here are links to a couple of them to get you started: http://thestorydepartment.com/storydr/drafts/logline-generator/ and http://www.mitchmoldofsky.com/LoglinePage0.htm
3. If you are having a professional critique, be polite and professional and come armed with a list of questions for the critiquer: Am I starting the story in the right place? How is the pacing? Is the language appropriate for the target age group? Are the characters engaging? If not, do you have any suggestions for improving the characters? Are there any places where the writing comes off as “telly?”
If the critiquer has negative comments, don’t get defensive or try explain what you were trying to do (which makes you sound defensive.) Instead, listen and learn. You’re goal in the critique should be to come out knowing where your ms still needs work and how you can turn it from good to great.
If the critiquer’s comments sound harsh, take it as an opportunity to show the editor or agent how you would respond to people saying cruel things about your book on twitter—because when you do get published, odds are that someone will be offended by something in it. Are you the kind of writer who will lash out and give a knee-jerk response, or will you be the writer who can concede good points but also graciously stand her ground?
Anyway, that’s my plan for this conference. Above all, I’m going to show my enthusiasm for my story when I talk about it with strangers. I’m going to show people I believe in my book. After all, I wrote it because I think it has something to offer. It may not be great yet, but it’s already good.