Posted On January 25, 2013 by Print This Post

So, How to Wow? with Christine Pride

We are excited to introduce new Romance University contributor Christine Pride with her debut post!

Christine_Pride

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

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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”

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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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19 Responses to “So, How to Wow? with Christine Pride”

  1. Christine – Excellent post and we are so glad to have you here at RU!

    My question has to do with pitches for a series. Do you want to hear just about the first one and then “we’ll see about the rest” or do you want to know that it is envisioned as a series? I’ve heard so many conflicting things . . .

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | January 25, 2013, 6:37 am
    • Hi Robin– thanks so much! So glad to be here. In terms of pitching a series, I think it is helpful to explain how you as the author envision the series coming together. The best way to do this is have a thorough overview of the first book and then just 1-2 lines about the other books in the series. It’s tricky for publishers because, on one hand, series can be be great consistent money-makers when they are successful, but the first book has to break out. Publishers are wary of committing to a series up front, because if the first book under preforms, than it makes the rest of the books in the series that much harder to publish. So, the first priority is convincing the agent/editor that the first book will WOW them (and audiences), and when it does, there is more where that came from!
      Thanks for your great question!

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 8:41 am
  2. Welcome Christine and thanks for the informative post!

    My question on first pages: What are some of the biggest do’s and don’t s.

    Regarding pitches: What do you feel is the key to an effective pitch?

    Posted by Reese Ryan | January 25, 2013, 7:48 am
    • Hi Reese–
      A major, major DON’T for first pages is to have typos. That should go without saying, but I am constantly surprised at how many grammar and spelling mistakes I find in query letters and submissions. It’s worth having a friend or colleague review the pages with a fine tooth comb. In terms of DOs, you should pull the reader immediately with a vivid sense of scene and an introduction of a compelling character. Same with the pitch– tell us what is special about the character and the story. Focus on what is at the HEART of your story in terms of the central question it explores and/or the distinctive wow factor of the book. Editors are always trying to break through the clutter of the marketplace by telling audiences why THIS book is unique (relative to the myriad others). That’s the X factor you should try to highlight! Good luck with your writing!

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 8:54 am
  3. Christine –

    Welcome to RU! You talk about the writer herself (or himself) being “promotable.” Can you give us a couple of examples of what would make an author particularly promotable in your opinion?

    Happy Friday!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 25, 2013, 8:05 am
    • Hi Kelsey–
      When it comes to promotability, editors are looking for authors that can effectively engage with readers, which is to say they can make public and media appearances and connect with audiences. It also helps for authors to have an established social media platform (facebook, twitter, a blog). This suggests to editors that there is already something of a built-in fan base for this author’s work. Hope that helps. Happy Friday to you too. Hope you have a great weekend!
      C

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 8:59 am
  4. Morning Christine!

    Welcome to RU! =) We’re tickled pink to have you on board.

    I have to ask about pitching – I’ve never done it, but I’m pretty sure I’d be a trembling, sweaty mess with my cowlick sticking up and a large glass of liquid courage in my hand. =) I’m guessing then it’d be easier for someone like me to stick to writing query letters – or do you occasionally take pity on someone with a great story – but a severe case of nerves?

    Thanks so much for joining us at RU!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 25, 2013, 9:01 am
    • Hi Carrie
      Thanks again for inviting me to be apart of this community. Tickled pink myself! Believe me, I totally get it when it comes to pitching yourself and your work– it’s completely nerve-racking so we editors are understanding of that. I think it helps to remember that our jobs are to find great talent, so we NEED writers. We’re asking to hear your ideas because we genuinely want to hear them…keeping that in mind may help you feel less nervous. It also helps, I believe, to be very familiar with your pitch so that you can more or less recall it from memory. This will help ensure that you’re getting your key points across when the nerves hit. Practice it with friends or in front of the mirror and when you meet an editor or agent, just pretend they are a friend who is simply curious about the book you’re working on. If all else fails, imagine the editor in his or her underwear– a tried and true (if awkward) trick to calm nerves. :)

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 11:03 am
  5. Hi, Christine. Welcome to RU.

    I’m guessing that throughout your career you’ve had authors you enjoyed working with more than others. I’m curious if you have a top three list of things your favorite authors do? From an editor’s perspective, is the top three more craft related or promotion related or a mix of both?

    Thanks for being here!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 25, 2013, 10:16 am
    • Hi Adrienne– Yes, I’ve been very lucky to have worked with very talented writers who are also really wonderful people as well. And you do develop a rather close relationship with your editor, so a connection is important. If I had to narrow it down to three characteristics that I appreciate it would be * a complete openness to the editorial process (no defensiveness when it comes to suggestions or critiques); availability and responsiveness when it comes to editing and promotional requests, and a sense of perspective about the whole process (no divas!). I like to feel that my authors and I are truly a team. That makes for the most successful (and enjoyable) publications.

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 11:10 am
  6. Hi Christine,

    The importance of the hook, the first sentence, can’t be over emphasized. Especially now when the Internet sites offer the first chapter read before you buy. I can write an entire book and still rewrite the first seven words over and over. Is there a book you would recommend with a WOW first paragraph?

    Great post! Looking forward to more.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 25, 2013, 10:27 am
  7. Hi Christine! Thank you for your informative post today.

    Are you planning on attending any writer’s conferences this year? Thanks!

    Piper

    Posted by Piper | January 25, 2013, 11:15 am
    • Hi Piper- I don’t know if and which conferences I will be attending just yet. But I will let you know if I do. Would be fun to meet Romance U friends in person.
      C

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 5:10 pm
  8. Welcome to RU, Christine – thanks for a fabulous debut post! It’s scary to think that an author’s success could depend on how mediagenic he or she is.

    It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for authors in the pre-social-media days. Agatha Christie, for example, was terribly shy – I can’t imagine her doing blog tours or promoting a Facebook page.

    Even the most extrovert not-yet-published authors have moments of panic while waiting their turn to make a pitch at conferences. (I’d compare it to the “white coat syndrome” – where a patient’s blood pressure shoots up just by walking into a doctor’s office.)

    Is “mediagenic” one of those things that’s hard to define but you know it when you see it? Or can you give us examples of what makes a writer mediagenic?

    Thanks so much!

    Becke

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 25, 2013, 3:49 pm
  9. Hello, Christine!

    We’re thrilled to have you as a contributor!

    I’ve read some tradtionally published books that made me wonder if the manuscript had been given an easy pass by an editor or edited at all. Would you recommend hiring a freelance editor to vet a manuscript before its submitted?

    Thank you for a fabulous post.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 25, 2013, 4:26 pm
    • Hi Jennifer!
      That’s my biggest pet peeve– when a book feels under-edited. With shrinking staffs and bigger workloads, it is getting harder and harder for editors to focus the right amount of attention on each work. But personally, I’ve always valued a very hands-on approach and am a bit of perfectionist, so my authors can expect a very thorough edit! As an editorial consultant, I’ve worked on many manuscripts that writers want to improve before they try to find an agent, and manuscripts that come my way via agents who want to spruce manuscripts up before submitting it to publishers. In the right circumstances, I think hiring a good editor to comment on your work can be a worthy investment.

      Posted by Christine | January 25, 2013, 5:17 pm
  10. Welcome to RU, Christine. I’m a couple of weeks late, but that’s a good thing because that means I’m busy day (day job) and night (writing/editing).

    I work as a freelance editor and I can tell you that I’ve learned to ask more questions before quoting a rate. Because some books need editing, and others need EDITING. Writers need to find balance between overly editing their work and not editing at all before engaging a professional.

    Look forward to getting to know you better.

    Posted by PatriciaW | February 8, 2013, 2:08 pm

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