My husband is good at public speaking. He can make entire roomfuls of wedding guests laugh and cry and laugh again in just a quick, ten second turnaround. He knows when to push and, even more so, he knows when to hold back and wait. He can hold his own in an argument with higher up employers and sales-reps on a conference call without bursting into tears (unlike another person in this partnership, who has been known to crumple like a deck of cards under pressure from telemarketers). He doesn’t back down in a conversation with my father, who, once you get him going on a topic (Pokemon-Go is a recent trigger), can be scarier than all of the aforementioned situations put together.
I may be a strong writer, but it’s easy for me to put my thoughts down on paper when no one else is paying attention. Speaking in front of crowds? That’s another story entirely. I can never seem to organize my thoughts verbally like I can when writing. My mother and I recently had a discussion where we likened the inside of my mind to Merlin’s Higitis Figitus scene from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here, get this throwback stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.)
That being said, it’s a little intimidating trying to pare down my tendency to ramble and present my thoughts in an organized manner.
In just a few short weeks, I’m going to be hauling my rapidly expanding pregnant self down to New York in order to network my writing like crazy for four days straight. That means in just a few short weeks, I’m going to need to organize all the unruly thoughts running rampant in my head and tie them up into a neat shiny bow. I’m going to need to be a lot more like my husband, and a heck of a lot less like the rambling, speed-talking, bumbling me. In an effort to over prepare, I’ve been doing tons of research on what EXACTLY I might need to bring with me when attending a national writer’s conference.
Since I know there’s a ton of other people out there in the same boat as me these days, I thought I’d compile some of what I’ve learned for easy access.
So, without further ado, here’s Dowling’s Official “DON’T PANIC, YOU CAN DO THIS” to-do list:
As of this week, I’ve got a box full of shiny new business cards, and I’m not afraid to use them. With any luck, they’ll do a lot of my networking for me. My business card includes a nifty black and white picture of my face, my instagram handle (because we all know I love my book selfies), my email address, and my website. That’s it. Short, sweet, and concise. There wasn’t much space for more than that, and thank the good Lord, because I could have written an entire novel on that little 2 x 3 card.
I designed and ordered my business cards through Vistaprint, which had some pretty sweet deals for first time users.
The most important thing I learned about author business cards?
Have a hook. Give the card holder some incentive to actually visit your website or check out your book. Especially at a conference, where everyone and their mothers are giving out nearly identical cards.
It took me a long time to think of a hook for mine. In the end, I decided to put some information about a giveaway on the back. Everyone who gets a card during the conference will be able to go onto my Facebook page and sign up for the chance to receive a free copy of Rogue Elegance. With any luck, the promise of a potential freebie will keep people from glancing at my card once and losing it immediately in the bottom of their purse or laptop bag.
The 1-Page Synopsis
Ugh. Even seeing that word sends a shiver of dread down my spine. For a girl who has never been good at keeping things short and sweet, summarizing a 350 page novel in just one page is quite obviously not going very well.
Still, there’s tons of fantastic resources out there, and I’ve been utilizing every last one of them in an effort to make Shea’s story sound enticing in 500 words or less. My plan is to have a ton of copies printed out and stashed away in a manila folder for easy access. This way, should I manage to win over an agent with my panic-stricken charm, I’ll have something to hand them for later review.
My favorite resource uses a brief summary of Star Wars: A New Hope, as a solid example of how to put together a comprehensive summary without going over the word limit. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m immediately hooked by anything Star Wars related, so this one was a no-brainer. But seriously, the writer breaks down the daunting task of writing a synopsis in a question-by-question worksheet that gives you a fantastic and fantastically simple formula to follow. If you’re an author in need of some serious synopsis help, I encourage you to check it out here.
As daunting as the synopsis may be, I have ample time to fuss over it and perfect it before actually heading to the conference in August.
The pitch, however, is another story. Here’s where I wish my husband and I could have some sort of Freaky Friday experience, and he can step inside my body for the day. Talking in front of groups is his playing field, not mine.
Luckily, there are countless resources available for composing your pitch. Unluckily, they ALL say the same thing: be able to summarize your manuscript in an interesting way in 3-5 sentences.
Three to five sentences? Three to five?!
I can’t say ANYTHING in three to five sentences.
One late night after a particularly cruel conference related stress dream, I found a pretty helpful article over at Writing World. The author did a great job of quelling some of my panic over that whole 3-5 sentence shtick. If you need a solid pep-talk on how to stay calm in front of an agent and NOT look like a bumbling fool, give “The Perfect Pitch” a read here.
My favorite resource on the pitch slam, and the one which has been the most helpful in organizing my thoughts, was found on Write it Sideways, in an article called “How To Slam Dunk Your 90-Second Pitch“. Sounds promising, right? You can check that one out here.
Basically, the biggest takeaway from both of the articles is this: keep it short, sweet, and interesting. Don’t ramble and bog the listening agent down with subplots and themes. Don’t assault them with character names and places.
If you really need some inspiration, pick up a DVD and read the back cover. What about the first few sentences on the back grabs you? What makes you want to watch the movie? (Or, in contrast, what makes you want to put it down and never look at it again?)
And that’s it. For now, anyway.
From here until the conference, I’ll be obsessing over my synopsis and practicing that perfect pitch.
What about you? What are my fellow writers out there doing to prepare? Or, if you’re a seasoned conference goer, what advice do you have for a nervous first-timer? Leave a message in the comments, or DM me! I love hearing from you!
Here’s a snapshot of Henry, since he hasn’t managed to make it into this post at all, and I’m pretty sure he feels left out right now (although he might just be begging for one of the carrot sticks I’m currently crunching. It’s unclear).