17 July 2011

How to pitch a romance novel

I know it's after RWA Nationals and many of romance writers have this step behind them, but since I couldn't go to NY this year and I'm going to our local RWNZ conference next month, I've decided to give pitching a go.

I have never pitched in person before, but I'm no longer a pitching virgin - at the end of an e-course on pitching I did last month we had an opportunity to pitch to an agent. My pitch didn't get me any requests, but I got very valuable feedback.

From what I have learnt from different sources, although a pitch should always contain the essence of your book, what is that essence varies according to the genre. This is a summary of how to pitch a romance novel.

1. Finish the b***y book. Finish and polish. And polish more.
It has to be ready for submission at the time of query/pitch.

2. Find an agent/editor. Search Writers and Artists  Yearbook, Writers' Handbook etc, browse the Internet (check Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents website), check your favourite authors, writing communities; go to a library or a bookshop; possibilities are endless. You need to end up with a list of agents (editors) who accept books in your genre, preferably with some similar (not necessarily exactly the same) novels published or accepted recently.
If you can compare your writing/your novel to one of the authors/books represented by the agent you're approaching, mention it in your pitch/query. If the agent was recommended to you by your writing friend - mention it.

3. Write your pitch. The length of your pitch depends on the circumstances (see great post by Nathan Bransford), but the one I'm after is so called 'elevator pitch'.
Christine Withhohn at Pitch University suggests that you ask yourself what your book really is about (the hook), while keeping your audience in mind (genre). Write it down in 1-3 sentences. Check if every piece of information is necessary (i.e. the story wouldn't be the same if this element was changed or deleted).
Tidy it up, e.g.
1st sentence - enticing incident, story premise
2nd sentence  - internal conflict of your main character (characters)
3rd sentence - end with a hook; don't tell how the book ends- the pitch is a teaser, designed to whet the agent/editor's appetite for more.

Don't abuse semicolons, don't try to cram too much info into your pitch.
Don't forget to include the genre and word count in your pitch and whether or not the novel is finished (it better be finished - see p 1).

4. Polish. Polish. Polish.

5. Practice - in the shower, with a friend, ask your critique partner or someone form your writing group for feedback.

6. Get ready for the day. Perfect your style.

photo by Ambro

7. Follow through. If you're lucky and the agent is interested in your book, they usually ask for a partial (usually synopsis with the first 3 chapters, or the first 50 pages) or a full manuscript. Usually it should be send within 2-3 business days after the pitch was requested. So there is enough time to check the agent website to tweak details like font type and size, margins etc, but NO TIME for finishing the book (see p. 1).

Include a brief letter, reminding the agent where and when you've met; how you enjoyed the meeting; it's a good idea to include your original pitch to refresh the Agent's memory.
Include a short paragraph with some details about you - your previous publishing successes, professional affiliation (e.g. RWA, RWNZ), any other credits (e.g. writing contests won).
Thank the Agent for their time.

8. Wait.

In the meantime, you can practice pitching and pitch online to a variety of agents and editors - there is a number of websites where you can do it, e.g. Savvy Authors and Pitch University

Have you got any tips for pitching virgins and second timers? Share them!

05 July 2011

The wounded hero

I've just started reading a novel and from the moment the Hero first appeared I've a feeling he's one of those quiet introverts who seem withdrawn if not cold - a lonely wolf, if you like. I've already put my bet on a troubled past - a deeply wounded heart or a lost soul, or at least a few scars.

I admit, I have a soft spot for The Wounded Hero, also known as The Lost Soul or The Recluse. In her 45 Master Characters VL Schmidt links this type of character to the archetype of Hades - the god of the underworld.

photo by smokedsalmon

I've tried to find a good definition of who Wounded Hero is and found a number of references to physical disabilities, but also emotional scars. Love Romance Passion website listed 5 different subtypes of this type of hero, using Damaged Hero as the 'common denominator':
  • scarred hero - has physical scars on his body or face and is usually a man who struggles to get over the loss of his looks
  • wounded hero - is a man who has more than scars - a disability, has lost a limb, a sense (blind heroes seems to be particularly popular)
  • tragic hero - is damaged emotionally; it's someone who has lost everyone and everything that have mattered to him; became a recluse and avoids getting attached to anyone or anything anymore in case he may lose them again
  • tortured hero - is a damage hero 'at the end of his rope'; he's someone who has been abused physically, mentally or emotionally and developed very low self esteem
  • burdened hero acts alone; he doesn't trust anyone as he has learnt over the years not to; he often lives with a horrible secret, is seeking revenge or absolution

Key characteristics: WH has chosen a solitary life - whether physically (e.g. living on a desert island or in a middle of a forest) or emotionally (single, with no or very few friends, doing a solitary job). He has rejected society or society has rejected him. he may also be not much in touch with reality (living in a middle of a forest, leading self-sufficient life with no broadband and no phones). he prefers his own company and often has good reasons for that - has been betrayed or abused in the past. This is a man with secrets, or even a dark and troubled past...

Relationships: as a rule WH is a loner and has been for a long time, if not for the most of his life. He doesn't know how to be close with other people, he doesn't trust anyone.
It's all obviously only until our Heroine comes on the scene and helps him heal the wounds.

Typical backstory: human beings are typically sociable and loneliness is usually a choice made more from push than pull factor. If you want a recluse - think of what could have pushed him aside, on the fringe of society; and the hint is in the name  - a wound :)
The wound(s) are either physical, or (more often) emotional, but these have to be deep enough to make this man choose solitude over human company. A broken heart? Yes, but you need to throw in other more powerful issues, e.g. betrayal of trust, violation of your hero's values.
My WH has a broken heart not because his ex has left him, but because she made him open up and show his 'soft side' for her, and then she ridiculed him; and then she got the job he dreamed off and destroy a team he loved.
Often WH's wound would go really really deep, back into his childhood - to that dark and troubled past.

Typical jobs: since WH is typically a recluse, any job that allows or requires working on his own - from being a monk, a writer/artist, through a being boss ('being a CEO is a lonely business', same for being a king), to such favourites like cops/private detectives, or special agents. WH's job would often foster his reflective nature and rich inner life.

Motivation: WH loves being on his own, usually because he's afraid of other people and being hurt  again. He often also enjoys his solitary lifestyle because he enjoys his own company and his rich inner life. His main motivation is often the urge to know and understand; or need to heal/lick his wounds away from people.

Biggest fears: Obviously, his biggest fear is being hurt again. Often WH would also be afraid of his own emotions, particularly powerful ones, like love or hatred. he may be not only scared of the power of his own, but also of others' emotions - yet another reason to keep away from people and don;t get too close to anyone. Those WH who tend to think a lot may also be scared of loosing their mind, their solitude, their inner world. 

Potential for growth: since we're talking about romance fiction, WH is up for a tough time - by the end of the book he has to be able to be in a lasting (HEA) relationship, and this is what he often fears most. Potential for growth therefore needs to be focused on learning to trust people, getting in touch with his own emotions and 'soft side' if not weaknesses, being able to give and receive, being capable to be intimate, not only physically but mostly emotionally. In a nutshell - a lot!
Think carefully what back story (baggage) you give them so he has enough time to change and his character's arc is believable, e.g. serious, repeated abandonment early on in his life cannot be fixed with even the biggest love of his life.

Examples from literature and film: Beast in Beauty and The Best, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, James Bond in Quantum of Solace (did you also have a moment of 'Ah! Now I understand why he's never committed to any of these girls...'?), Agent Mulder from X-files (more secrets anyone?), Harry Potter and quite a few more characters from HP series.

I like reading and writing WH. probably because first of all we have a great source of internal conflict for Hero - he has good reasons for not falling in love with Heroine, and even when he falls he'd rather keep away from the power of his emotions and her closeness.
I also like WH because I like creating caring female characters with inner healing powers - who is better equip to help WH heal than another of my favourites - The Perfect Nurse? I enjoy the journey of the hero who learns to open up and heals.
And last but not least I like WH because I have a soft spot for man with layers and secrets....

Do you like Wounded Heroes? Why? or why not? Do you prefer physical or emotional wounds?