Monday, October 8, 2012

A Writing Debate


The fact of the matter is …debates are not fun. Not for everyone! What if you had to verbally convince an editor, agent or publisher to buy your novel. I'm not talking about a ten-minute pitch. Picture this:
You’re at a writers’ conference. Instead of signing up for the Early Bird Seminar, you’re participating in a Writer’s Debate: You will stand at a podium with another writer and verbally try to convince editors and agents to take a chance on you and your manuscript.

Here’s how it plays out:

You have no notes and no teleprompter. You know your novel and characters--you’ve lived with them for a year so why would you need a cheat sheet? You've memorized a killer hook and a concise synopsis that sounds great. This time, because you're speaking, you’ll be judged on how you dress, how well you converse, your body language--everything visual. Could you do this? Would you want to do it?

Here’s what you should cover in the first round:
The title of your book and why you chose it. Give your one sentence hook, not a tagline. A sentence that creates interest in your manuscript. Recite your brief overview of your book--similar to the blurb on the back cover. Remember, pay attention to the way your speak, your tone of voice should be vibrant. Everything you say should make the editor/agent/publisher want to read your manuscript.
NOW IT'S TIME TO HEAR YOUR COMPETITION. SHE GIVES HIS OR HER SPIEL IN THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME.  
Back to you for more detail: Speak about your characters this time, their internal and external conflicts, and how they overcome and grow. List some plot points. Tell the editor/agent/publisher briefly your beginning, middle and ending, and how you want the reader to feel once s/he has finished reading your book. How many words is your book and how many chapters. Is the manuscript complete--no more revising and editing? Have you written or thought about book club questions and if so, how many have you created?  You'll also share information about what qualifies you to write this book. Where you've been published, Magazines, other books? What are your sales figures if you're a published author? Have you won any awards or have special degrees or certifications in creative writing? If you have nothing, no credits, etc, then tell us why. How long did it take you to write the book? How many books do you think you can write in a year? Are you a plotter or pantser? What kind of support group do you have? You should answer all these questions in your spiel. 
NOW YOUR COMPETITION SPEAKS AGAIN, MAKING HIMSELF SOUND VERY PROLIFIC AND KNOWLEDGEABLE. And this time he can point out weaknesses in your verbal proposal.

Your turn again:
Speak about your platform and how you are able to reach your target audience. Tell what you’ve already done, what contacts you have and what plans you have to market your book. Explain your social media presence and connections. Remember to speak with confidence. If you say you plan to be on Oprah, get ready for a heehaw unless you can prove that her people have contacted you.
Here comes the tricky part -- comparable books: you’ll want to tell about several novels that you see as similar to yours in some way. It’s your goal to develop a big-picture understanding of your book. This will show that you’ve done your research because you’ll recite the title, author, release year, and a couple of sentences about each book and how your book is similar and why/how it would appeal to the same audience.

YOUR COMPETITION DOES THE SAME. WHEN S/HE IS FINISHED, IT'S TIME FOR EACH EDITOR/AGENT/PUBLISHER TO CHALLENGE THE TWO OF YOU. THEY MIGHT SAY AND DO THE FOLLOWING: 
They will ask each of you questions about each character’s motivation, jab holes in your plots. Once they’ve finished using you as a punching bag, they’ll ask questions about your market. Questions you should have thought of and have the answers to--like, who you see as the audience for the book? What will make someone buy your book? How you read your audience? Do you have any special relationships to the market?  What your audience does in its spare time, what books and periodicals they read, favorite TV programs, and how and why you feel you understand your audience?  They’ll ask personal questions about your writing and your home life, your support groups, professional affiliations, and how you give back to the writing community. They’ll ask what you see as your biggest challenge when it comes to writing.
When they finish their third degree, you will have a few moments for a last ditch effort to convince the powers-that-be to offer you the publishing contract instead of the other person.

Your competition has the same.

After such an event, no doubt you will duck into the hotel bar for a stiff drink, or to your room. Right before you pass out, you'll vow never to participate in such a brutal, demoralizing event again. Ever. But of course, you will because you'll do whatever it takes to sell your book.

I don’t blame you. I'm already practicing for the day selling a book comes to a writing debate.

4 comments:

LD Masterson said...

Good Lord, no. That sounds terrifying.

Lexa Cain said...

I'm not bad at queries and synopses, but I can't write a decent pitch. If I had to hawk my book/book idea by debating it on stage I'd rather not write another word. I was a good debate team member when I was younger -- but that was a loooong time ago, and now I definitely have better things to do than participate (or even watch them).
It's a creative and clever idea though. :-)

Lynn said...

Definitely terrifying!

Jori said...

That sounds like a bad dream, like the one in which you forget your locker combination in high school, or the one about delivering a speech in your birthday suit! Yikes!