We are excited to introduce new Romance University contributor Christine Pride with her debut post!
Greetings Romance University readers! I am really excited to join this community as a contributor and I can’t wait to interact with and get to know you all more. As I started thinking about my very first post, it brought to mind first impressions, and then suddenly those commercials from the 80s popped into my mind…“Head and Shoulders, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That campaign was a memorable use of the phrase first coined by Will Rogers, and one can’t argue with the truth of the message. Psychological research tells us that we make a judgment about someone within less than a minute of meeting him or her.
This same window applies when an editor is judging a manuscript. After all, imagine the volume of material crossing the average editors desk—about 8-10 submissions a week. I would always look at that intimidating stack with equal parts trepidation (oh boy there goes another weekend) and excitement (the next #1 New York Times bestseller could very well be in that pile). I often liken it to dating: you never know if the person sitting across from you could be “the one” and that possibility keeps you saying, why yes, I’d love to be set up with your dentist’s cousin! And on the same token, when said blind date shows up twenty minutes late and asks what Xbox games you enjoy…well, check please! Similarly, editors are sizing up the field of aspiring writers and hoping for that connection. So, how to wow?
Well, one factor that can make an impression on an editor right away is the agent calling with the pitch. A beloved or respected agent who is genuinely excited can make editors perk up. Then, when a submission arrives, many editors apply the first page test, stopping to read the opening page when a submission comes in. If it intrigues it goes to the top of the pile. That may seem rash… I’ve poured my heart and soul into 75,000+ words and you’re telling me you’re going to judge it on the first 1000!? And, yes, some books do get better, and some start out with a bang and fall apart. But by and large, the first page test ends up being a pretty good indicator and editors are more often than not right on when it comes to that initial reaction.
Which is to underscore the importance of having a killer opening and premise, because even if the rest of your book is amazing, if the beginning is less than 100 percent, you may miss your chance. This is more and more important when it comes to self-publishing as well. As the marketplace gets more crowded with offerings, readers are increasingly downloading samples of several books before deciding which to purchase. That means you have five pages or so to get them hooked and clicking on that “buy” button. Do your own experiment and randomly download five free samples of available works. How many of those would you want to keep reading and why? What stands out? What turned you off? Use that informal survey to inform your own work as to what makes a strong first impression on you.
No question good writing is important, but you too must be impressive. As if it’s not enough to pour your heart onto the page and bravely open yourself up for others to judge your talents, editors are also judging you as a person. In the biz, we call this being “mediagenic”, which is an evaluation of how “promotable” an author is. Gone are the days where a writer can lock herself away and write the Great American Novel and never show a face to the world (sorry, Harper Lee!).
Today, writers have to be writers and marketers, which requires interacting with readers face to face and through social media. I personally feel this dramatic shift can be unfair to writers. After all, it is a very different skill set to be a first rate writer, then it is to be a first rate self-promoter. But that’s the reality to break out these days and to find an audience for your book. That can be intimidating. But the most impressive writers embrace it and show their savvy.
For example, when I attend writer’s conferences—where I love getting to meet eager, creative people and hear pitches—I’m always impressed by the person who’s worn their sauciest dress or power suit and clearly feels very confident. I’m also impressed when I meet writers who have their elevator pitch perfected. Whether you have 10 minutes or even just 10 seconds to pitch your book, make it clear and enticing. I recommend practicing with a friend, selling them on your book and, moreover, specifically why it’s unique (Is it an unforgettable character? Is it exquisite prose? Is it a twist you won’t see coming? Is it going to make me laugh out loud or cry?)
Another way to impress a potential agent or editor is by being conversant and knowledgeable about the publishing industry. This doesn’t mean you have to know or have read every book published in the last five years, but it stands out to have a clear understanding of overall sales trends, how your book fits into the marketplace and who your audience is.
So to recap, if you want to impress the hell of out a publishing type and get them to stand up and take notice of you and your work, you should:
*Have an opening that wows and is your very best work.
*Be confident, friendly, professional and curious
*Have a clear, irresistible, pithy pitch
*Know the unique and particular strength of your book
*Be familiar with recent publishing “successes” and trends
Christine’s post is sure to inspire a lot of questions. Post yours in the comment field below!
On Monday, Blythe Gifford discusses “Setting – The first, most crucial choice for your career AND your character”
Bio: Christine Pride is a ten year publishing veteran, holding positions at Random House, and most recently, at Hyperion Books, where she was a Senior Editor. In fall of 2012, she decided to leave the corporate side to become an editorial consultant, working with publishers, agents and aspiring writers. In her career she has published a diverse range of critically acclaimed and bestselling projects, including nine New York Times bestsellers. Please visit her website www.christinepride.com to learn more.
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