Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to Promote Your Work Without Being Pushy

For many, the primary goal at a writer's conference is to get their work in front of agents and editors. There are usually first-come-first-serve appointment slots available, and there are also more organic opportunities to meet these professionals, as well. Ashley wrote a fantastic post about pitching last week, but I wanted to expand on that fine line between promoting yourself and being pushy.

Now, I know all of our Alley readers are decent human beings with the best intentions. But sometimes nervousness and introvert overcompensation can cloud our judgment, and my hope is that we can find a healthy balance between the natural tendency to undersell ourselves and giving our work the visibility it deserves.

Allow me to demonstrate (pretty please).

At my first conference, before any of us were agented, some friends of mine and I approached an agent to thank him after a really informative panel. None of us even had the intention of pitching to him at that conference, but he ended up talking with us for at least thirty minutes at the bottom of an escalator about several different things, including what we write. It was such an excellent conversation!

And then this woman we didn't know approached, eyes zoned in on the agent, hovering uncomfortably close to us for a few minutes until he finally--reluctantly--made eye contact and she felt it okay to interrupt. This is not the way to get someone's attention. In fact, this is pretty much a surefire way to get an agent to tell you to email an assistant at best and flat-out reject you on the spot at worst.

In my experience at conferences, working commission retail, pitching authors to media outlets, and even what I learned mattress shopping tonight, there are better ways to promote your work than being pushy. Because I want you to be bold and own your talent without banishing yourself to no-man's land.

1) Form some kind of relationship before you begin to sell. Whether you get seated next to an agent at a conference meal or you're meeting the professional for the first time at your 15-minute appointment slot, briefly talk about something else to break the ice. A favorite book they edited, a client they represent, something he or she said in a class or panel. Anything to ease into the conversation and calm your nerves. Don't wax poetic and waste half of your allotted time, but don't immediately launch into your pitch without silently establishing that you respect this person as a human being and not just a means to accomplish your goals. Rule of thumb: remember to consider it a conversation.

2) If you have to be negative about something else to sell yourself, you're doing it wrong. Remember that authors, agents, and editors are often friends with each other even if they've never worked together. It's a very small world in publishing, so make sure your focus is on the positive aspects of your work and what you have to offer them. Make sure you're not stepping on someone else's face to get a leg up. Or else you're no better than the political candidates spamming your mailbox with hate mail every election season.

3) Use discernment. Pay close attention to nonverbal cues, tone of voice, posture. I'd venture to say that generally you shouldn't pitch to someone unless it's invited. Though chance pitches are successful occasionally -- my critique partner got a full manuscript request from her agent at the hotel bar -- it's best not to catch a professional off guard, engrossed in something else, or when he/she is clearly clocked out for the day.

4) Remember that your pitch sets the tone of what kind of person you'll be to work with. Be confident in your work and show them you're serious about publication without being arrogant. Take advantage of this opportunity to highlight the key, sellable aspects of your book with boldness. And make sure to keep it real. Agents and editors have heard about many life-changing, ground-breaking, sure-to-be bestsellers, so that aspect alone will not sell your book :)

A gracious, confident conversation will, on the other hand, give you the best chance for success!

Have you had successes or failures pitching to an agent or editor at a writing conference? Will this be your first time? Let us know in the comments!


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business. 

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson


kaybee said...

This is good, Laurie. It's basic human good manners, but we often forget those when we're "out there." I haven't pitched in years, I've been working on craft, but I will keep these tips in mind.
Kathy Bailey

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great suggestions, Laurie. And I agree with Kathy: It's all about relationships. Agents and Editors don't want to feel like targets, they want to be treated as people. I've found, like you mention, that when I can open a conversation during a pitching session with something other than, "Okay, here's my pitch!" We're both more at ease and the agent/editor leads into the pitch. Mentioning something I've read by them (a blogpost) or something we have in common, or something they're interested in (one editor I spoke with last year is a huge football fan--finding something to open with in that vein helped).

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Kathy - True! Sometimes nervousness kind of debilitates us and we do things we don't normally do. Kind of like having an "out of body" experience :) Hope you can get back to pitching soon!

@Jeanne - Yes! Love the idea of bringing up something he or she has written!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post, Laurie. I wish this one had gone viral because it could help so many of us strengthen and soften our approaches. :)