Yesterday, I showed you how to pull the marketing building blocks we have been generating over the last couple of weeks into a hundred words or so that would enable you to open a professional-sounding conversation about your book with anyone in the industry, anywhere. Those magic hundred words, more or less:
”Hi, I’m (YOUR NAME), and I write (BOOK CATEGORY). My latest project, (TITLE), is geared toward (TARGET MARKET). See how it grabs you: (KEYNOTE).”
The beauty of the first hundred words formula (if I do say so myself) is its versatility. If you learn them by heart, you can walk into any pitching situation — be it a formal, 15-minute meeting with the agent of your dreams or a chance meeting at the dessert bar when you and an editor are reaching for the same miniature éclair — with ease and grace.
Why is so important to introduce yourself gracefully? Well, agents and editors are (as I believe I may have mentioned seven or eight hundred times before) MAGNIFICENTLY busy people; they honestly do prefer to work with writers to whom they will not have to explain each and every nuance of the road to publication.
(That’s my job, right?)
It’s natural to be hesitant when approaching someone who could conceivably change your life. But think about what even a brief flare-up of shyness, modesty, or just plain insecurity at the moment of approach can look like from their perspective. By the time the average pitcher has gotten around to mentioning her book after several minutes of shilly-shallying, the agent in front of her has usually already mentally stamped her foreheads with “TIME-CONSUMING” in bright red letters.
Which means, in practical terms, that in any subsequent pitch, her book is going to have to sound amazing, rather than just good, for the agent to want to see it. And in a hallway encounter, she might not get to pitch at all.
By introducing yourself and your work in the lingua franca of the industry, however, you will immediately establish yourself as someone who has taken the time to learn the ropes. Believe me, they will appreciate it.
Practice your magic first hundred words until they flow out of your smoothly, without an initial pause. And not just in your mind: out loud, so you get used to hearing yourself say them. Only repetition will make them feel natural.
One caveat about using these words to introduce yourself to other writers at a conference: it is accepted conference etiquette to ask the other party what HE writes before you start going on at too great length about your own work. If you find that you have been speaking for more than a couple of minutes to a fellow writer, without hearing anyone’s voice but your own, make sure to stop yourself and ask what the other writer writes.
In this context, the very brevity of the first 100 words will ensure that you are being polite; if your new acquaintance is interested, he will ask for more details about your book.
I mention this, because it’s been my experience that writers, especially those attending their first conferences, tend to underestimate how much they will enjoy talking to another sympathetic soul about their work. It’s not at all unusual for a writer to realize with a shock that he’s been talking non-stop for twenty minutes.
Completely understandable, of course. We writers are, by definition, rather isolated creatures: we spend much of our time by ourselves, tapping away at a keyboard. Ours is one of the few professions where a touch of agoraphobia is actually a professional advantage, after all.
It can be very lonely — which is precisely why you’re going to want to use the magic first hundred words to introduce yourself to as many kindred souls as you possibly can at a conference. What better place to meet buddies to e-mail when you feel yourself starting to lose momentum? Where else are you more likely to find talented people eager to form a critique group?
Not to mention the fact that some of those people sitting next to you in seminars are going to be household names someday.
This is, in fact, an excellent place to find new friends. Let’s face it, most of our non-writing friends’ curiosity about what we’re DOING for all that time we’re shut up in our studios is limited to the occasional, “So, finished the novel yet?” and the extortion of a vague promise to sign a copy for them when it eventually comes out.
(Get out of the habit NOW of promising these people free copies of your future books, by the way: nowadays, authors get very few free copies, and you don’t want to end up paying for dozens of extra copies to fulfill all those vague past promises, do you?)
Back to my original point: a writers’ conference, or even at a pitch meeting, the euphoria of meeting another human being who actually WANTS to hear about what you are writing, who is THRILLED to discuss the significant difficulties involved in finding time to write when you have a couple of small children scurrying around the house, who says fabulously encouraging things like, “Gee, that’s a great title!”
Well, let’s just say it’s easy to get carried away. For the sake of the long-term friendships you can make at a conference, make sure you listen as much as you talk.
By all means, though, use your fellow conference attendees to practice your first hundred words — and your pitch, while you’re at it. It’s great practice, and it’s a good way to meet other writers working in your genre. Most writers are genuinely nice people – and wouldn’t it be great if, on the day your agent calls you to say she’s received a stellar offer for your first book, if you knew a dozen writers that you could call immediately, people who would UNDERSTAND what an achievement it was?
On Monday, I shall move on to the elevator speech (that’s those pesky three sentences we’ve all heard so much about), and after that, pulling it all together for the pitch and the query letter. You’re doing really, really well — keep up the good work!