Tea and Sympathy – Day with Avon, Part Five
Congrats to Cynthia Falcon, Thursday’s winner! Email me with your snail mail addy, and I’ll give you a list of books to choose from.
Ms. Eloisa James took me for tea and scones at the beginning of the day, and she was kind enough to ask about my book. I’d never tried to pitch my book before, and let’s just say – that fact was obvious. I rambled, I hedged, I wanted to stick a coffee stirrer in my eye. But she listened very patiently and then gave me tips on how to pitch it right. Here’s some of her advice:
If you’re pitching to an editor, know the house’s line and how your book would fit in. In my case, since I have a light, humorous Regency I’m trying to sell to Avon, EJ said I should come out and say, “This is a light, humorous Regency, along the lines of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn’s books.” Okay, so just typing that sentence verges on blasphemy, but really – she said to say it. The reason is, publishing houses follow a pattern. Say a publisher brings out 10 books a month, and 3 are historicals. And of those, one is a darker Regency, and one is a romp, and one is a non-Regency historical. They need to know how the book you’re pitching fits into the pattern.
Don’t be afraid to stereotype your characters. EJ kept trying to pin labels on my h/h. “So he’s a tortured alpha,” she’d say. Me: “Well … kinda…but sorta… not.” EJ: “So she’s TSTL?” Me: “God, no! She’s smart, she just … does stupid stuff sometimes.” We get so used to playing up what makes our characters unique – but either you’ve got to be able to communicate that in a few words, or you’ve got to just give them a convenient label, so the editor/agent can get a quick handle on the h/h dynamic.
Cover the major plot points. That sounds kinda obvious, I suppose, but I’m slow that way. Unlike a written blurb or “hook,” EJ said that in a pitch, the agent or editor wants to hear that you’ve got a complete story – beginning, middle, end. Don’t be afraid of labels here, either. She would say, “so it’s a forced marriage,” and I would say, “yeah, but they’re not really forced.” But in a pitch, quibbling like that wastes time. There’s nothing wrong with saying it’s a forced marriage. A forced marriage is a tried-and-true plot device for a reason. Oh, and mention when and why they have sex. Sex counts as a major plot point. 🙂
At the end of my day at Avon, there was another ‘tea party,’ where all the people I’d met throughout the day came together to chat over lovely snacks. By this point, we were mostly just talking about life and kids and current events, but I was able to get answers to a few more questions you’d asked:
How long does it take for a book to come out, from the time it’s contracted?
Anywhere from 9 to 18 months, depending on how it fits into the schedule.
What’s a typical print run for a debut author?
Did I miss any questions? I tried my best to remember and ask them all. The people at Avon and HarperCollins were wonderful to me, and I can’t thank them enough. Nor can I say enough great things about Ms. Eloisa James. Please run out on June 1st and buy Desperate Duchesses – you’ll have to, because I’m not giving up my signed ARC!
But I do still have some stuff left to give away – Winner today gets a hat and two books, TBA. Just leave a comment – practice describing your main characters in three words or less. If you’re not writing, use an H&H from your favorite book. My example? Hmmm. Lucy is a stubborn, reckless hoyden. Jeremy is an intense, haunted alpha.
I’ve had so much fun blogging about my trip with all of you. Thanks so much for hanging out with me all week! I’ll post today’s winner tomorrow, but then I’ll take a few days off and come back next Tuesday. I’ve decided to have a weekly “TMI Tuesday.” Next week’s topic? Kissing technique – the good, the bad, the sloppy. I ‘m on a mission to make the kisses in my next book rockin’ hot – so come back next Tuesday to swap some spit!
Gwen is a starry-eyed, brainiac misfit. Christian is a vulnerable, brilliant, horse’s behind (I decided to make this PG 13).
Oh, dear. I’m pretty darn sure I can’t say my book compares to SEP with a straight face. Woe is me!
So glad you resisted with the coffee stirrer!
Hmmm… 3 words, eh?
Promise Me Always
Forced marriage plot.
Humorous, heartfelt prose.
Stubborn, scarred hero.
Stubborn, scared heroine.
Buy my book.
How do you think that would work for a pitch? I think that last line really sums it up best!
Clarissa is a vivacious, fashionista bluestocking.
Elliot is a passionate, reclusive intellectual.
Prime Numbers is a forced marriage plot with the witty complexity of a Loretta Chase treasure.
(Sure it is,Beth…sure it is.)
Wow–if you had had to do this on fanlit? Ouch.
Wow, great blog! Super helpful!
Lets see in the current book i’m working on…
Leo is tortured, reckless and mysterious
Ella is proper, compassionate and cautious
I love the pitching tips. Much needed and appreciated.
Amelia’s brittle, cold exterior hides a vulnerable, hurting soul.
I would love to think my book has the sensuality of Lisa Kleypas and Linda Howard.
Hero compromises heroine plot.
Missy, forthright and naive.
Awesome info, Tessa! Thanks for sharing all this – it’s been fun living vicariously!
LOL – Eloisa called my heroine TSTL and I bristled too. But yeah. Kinda. In a good way. 😉
Does TSTL count as one word or four?
Gabe: demon from hell
Dorinda: unsuccessful politician
Trevor: ambitious paleo-anthropologixt
Daisy: apprentice tooth fairy
(Hmmm. Those are all “vocation” descriptions. Does that count?)
PLOT: Fish-out-of-water fractured fairytale.
Erica, I know from reading your blog that you’re a pro at pitching already. It helps that your stories are so clever and pitchable to begin with! I mean, how many apprentice tooth-fairy stories could possibly be out there?
Lindsey – same here. When EJ said TSTL, she meant it in a good way – which I had trouble figuring out. But I still don’t think I’d pitch my heroine that way!
Bev – I think comparing the sensuality level is a really great idea. It says, “this book is hot!” but gives them a general reference for just how ‘hot’ is ‘hot.’
Lori – right there, you’ve done a great job showing that Leo and Ella will have plenty of conflict, just on the basis of their personalities. Perfect.
Beth – I’m getting very desperate to read Prime Numbers, I must say! Where are you at in the process? I hope submitting soon, if not already.
Sara – Wow, that’s almost like a haiku or something. That would be a fun blog topic – write a haiku for your WIP!
Amy – I know, isn’t it scary to think of comparing yourself to a bestselling author? But EJ wasn’t saying you should do it just to toot your own horn, but rather to compare it to authors they already publish, so they’ll know where it fits in their spectrum. That said, you know I think Twist of Fate deserves comparison to the very best!
I didn’t ask or try it, and I’ve heard/read pros and cons about doing something like this, but if I had to compare my plot to a familar one, it would go like this:
Think of the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” but replace sardonic, gay Rupert Everett with a tortured, very straight alpha.
Cynical, Guilt-ridden, Alpha male
Clashes with Focused, Fresh, Mystical female
Warning! Hot, pulsing, passion!
OK- so not exactly 5-7-5 but close enough for 8 am 😉
I need to research more who to compare it to. Gaelen Foley comes to mind, though she doesn’t write for Avon… Who writes darker Avon romances? I usually read their lighter authors.
Eve, thank you again for so graciously sharing all week. You’ve done a really great job.
A three-word description? Wow, talk about forcing you to bring your characters and their conflict into focus. My hero is a shuttered (not tortured) alpha male and my heroine is a spunky, speaks-before-she-thinks caregiver. (Aaargh! Now I keep remembering the Lou Grant line from the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show”–“You’ve got spunk! I HATE spunk!”). I can see I’ve got a lot of work to do…..
Lots of good information here! Thanks so much Eve for posting about your lovely day with Avon.
Let’s see: I’ll work on the pitch for Wild Ghost Chase:
A brother and sister ghost-hunting team match wits with another network’s team to rid Harrington House of its unearthly residents.
Malcolm is self-assured empathic medium, his sister Monica is skeptical and scientific
The other medium Irene is narcissitic and fake. Her partner Apollo is a scientist with a psychic secret.
Wild Ghost Chase is a light paranormal romance along the lines of Ghostbusters meets Most Haunted.
Zackly Right is a light hearted Romantic Suspense featuring a reclusive hero named Zack and an outgoing, Holly Golightly detective heroine named Mar. Mar does a strip tease for Zack to get into his apartment in search of a client’s property. He won’t let her leave.
Gareth is a shy ornithologist. Claire is clever, but repressed.
Plot: Save the family.
Oliver is a controlling alpha.
Thalia is a spoiled heiress.
* Laura Kinsale, when she’s being funny rather than tortured.
* Terry Pratchett meets Julia Quinn.
How are those for arrogance?
Darn–I thought it was 3 lines, not three words. We’ll try this again.
First, I am with Sara on the coffee stirrer. Although I was mighty tempted to take a pencil to my eye last night as a horrible bout of writer’s block overcame me.
Now onto my characters for Lord Andrew’s Match
Rebecca: Smart sassy matchmaker
Andrew: Cynical earl
If I add more about andrew I will go dangerously over 3 words.
Troubled Earl + mysterious matchmaker = delicious story
Oh, what great information. I just found this site today.
This is fabulous practice.
Alec: Tortured, alpha, wreck
There is no way I can compare my books to EJ or CD or VA.
okay here it goes
Gavin-selfless tormented alpha
Fiona-willful fiery desolate
great, I thought i knew EVERYTHING about writing, but what the heck is TSTL?
TSTL= Too Stupid To Live.
Lori, TSTL = Too Stupid Too Live
Christina (and others) – the comparison thing wasn’t really about saying, “My book is (almost) as good as EJ or JQ or VA.” It’s more about, “My book has the same tone as EJ or JQ or VA.” Or “My book will appeal to readers of EJ or JQ or VA.”
Welcome, Kelly! (Wow – we’re flush with Kellys on this blog!) Don’t be a stranger!
Okay, *I* am TSTL. Not only did I cross paths with Bev, I wrote Too Stupid Too Live instead of Too Stupid To Live.
I am TSTB – Too Stupid To Blog.
Er…Tessa, my name’s India. Remember? Ahhhh…pseudonyms. Hey, there’s a winner of my pseudonym contest posted over on my blog.
In this chica lit, Antonia, a confident political consultant, is bullied by her mother into a date with Angel, a crafty tabloid writer, and finds her whole well-planned life spiraled out of control.
Portrait of a Nightingale is a Victorian muder mystery romance, along the lines of Madline Hunter’s Seducer series. featuring a prim and practical Nightingale nurse and a charming, haunted, artistic nobleman.
Oooh – Christina, Liese, Manda — those all sound so intriguing!
Sorry, India! Congrats, chris journal!
You know, putting these things into a few words is hard enough – but I’m at a loss when it comes to getting the point across verbally, without sounding like an idiot. Anyone here done face-to-face pitching and have suggestions for how to keep your cool?
Nope. No suggestions. But I have a question to add. Are we supposed to rattle off a memorized spiel? Or are we supposed to try and conversationally work this stuff in. I have a conference coming up and am terrified.
Kristin Nelson suggested a short–VERY short–memorized spiel, and then asking if they have any questions. The idea being that agents eyes glaze over in that little span there! 🙂
Face to face? You are scaring me. I am a natural born rambler/stuttering idiot when I get nervous. Hey I flunked speech class my first time through. I would either get booted out the door with a never come back, or you got just to shut me up.
I wouldn’t be able to do a memorized one either, because it would come out like…
“So, Gavin is like you know, um, yeah so he is what you call like, um alpha, and Fiona is desolate, oh we were talking of Gavin well you see he is just absolutely the most to dieforest hansomest hero ever, he would play golf if he lived in the 21st century, no better make that something more aggressive like um hockey, because he is tormented, but he would do a lot of charity work because he is selfless, Yeah that is it. And so, Fiona, well she would be something like um out of Aeonflux, or um like Linda Hamilton from Terminator, only in the 17th century.”
Okay so I wrote a whole blog worth but you get the point.
LOL, Christina – That sounds pretty much like me.
Well, it seems I’ve missed a lot this week. Just now catching up. Thanks Tessa for sharing your experience with us. Contrary to what Christina thinks, my characters are fully developed. 🙂
So, my as yet un-titled Regency WIP…
Collin is a misunderstood, self-less, closet philanthropist.
Emma is running from her past and is battered, cautious, and starting over.
Well, not exactly three words, but it’s a start!
Look at all these familiar names!
You guys, I would buy ANY of these stories, they all sound wonderful!
Poor Avon–they are just going to have to start putting out more books per month when we start submitting. 🙂 Gillian
Wow, you are flush with Kellys on this blog! What can I say – it’s a darn cool name!
Okay, here I go:
Robert is a rigidly proper, emotionally repressed duke.
Meg is an impulsive, stubborn commoner.
The Accidental Duchess is a story of mistaken identity and self-exploration – and I would love to claim that has the tone and emotional depth of Eloisa James.
These novels all sound so fascinating – Avon’s got their work cut out for them once they get their hands on them all!
Ashbongo10, Hi!!! It’s a FanLit reunion. Right here on Tessa’s Blog!
Okay- I feel that I need to defend myself.:) ASH you “hush”, I didn’t say they weren’t well developed, I just haven’t seen much of them, you know what I mean.
You all she claims she is doing research. Yeah whatever.
Gillian it is nice to *see* another face from Kansas.
Kelly-when do I get to see The Accidental Duchess, see I know you have been writing.:) Sorry Ash, had to do it.