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Acting Auditions & Pitching to Literary Agents

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Acting Auditions & Pitching to Literary Agents

When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be an actress. I remember going to auditions and being totally bummed out when I didn’t get a part.

In the eighth grade I tried out for the role of Scout in our community theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. They were looking for a middle school kid who could play a believable six-year-old. I was already five-foot-five at the time, and yet somehow I thought I could win the part based on my acting abilities alone. I didn’t even get a call-back.

I tended to take rejections very personally. Freshman year of high school I assumed the theater teacher didn’t like me when he didn’t cast me in the spring play. I ruminated about it in my diary: I think I’m good. I AM good at acting, aren’t I? Rejections did a number on my self-esteem.

photo 1-3

My acting headshot from when I was 19.

 

After high school, I decided to go for total self-esteem suicide and move to Los Angeles, where I got rejected even more.

The thing I didn’t realize back then was that it often wasn’t about whether I was “good” or not. It was about whether I was what the casting directors were looking for or not. If casting directors were looking for a blond bimbo, or a gorgeous waif… well then, I just didn’t fit the bill, no matter how good my acting was (although, in hindsight, maybe I wasn’t quite as amazing as I thought I was.)

In any case, it wasn’t that I was bad at acting. It was that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time.

rose

Acting in a community theater play, age 24.

 

A similar thing happens in the world of publishing. You query agents and get rejections, and it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard not to start questioning your writing abilities. (I think I’m a good writer. I AM a good writer, aren’t I?) It can really do a number on your self-esteem.

What you have to realize is that a rejection doesn’t always have to do with whether or not you’re a good writer (although obviously that’s important, too). It’s not enough for your book to be good.  Your manuscript has to make an agent super-duper excited… excited enough to hawk it all over town.

And not only that.  Your book also has to be what the agent is looking for. Maybe you wrote a really great book about time travel, but the agent doesn’t think she can sell a time travel book right now. Or, maybe she already represents an author who writes about time travel and doesn’t want two competing clients. Or, maybe she just doesn’t like time travel for whatever personal reason. Her rejection might have nothing at all to do with the caliber of your writing.

So many agent rejection letters say something along the lines of, It wasn’t right for me, but another agent may feel differently. That’s what you have to remember. It’s not (necessarily) that your book is bad. It’s that you’re not querying the right people at the right time.

cb

Rejection can be hard to take.

 

I’m about to go on a big audition in the literary world. This Saturday (April 9) I’m attending the Philadelphia Writing Workshop, a one-day conference on getting your writing published.  And I’ve signed up for three ten-minute pitch sessions with agents.

These are meetings I had to pay for ($29 a pop), but I am guaranteed ten minutes in which I can talk about my book(s) and see if the agent is interested.

I’m pretty nervous. I’ve read all sorts of things online about how to do these pitch sessions. “Have your logline memorized,” some people advise. “This is a chance to give your query out loud.”

“I mean, should I just sit down and start reciting my query letter?” I asked a friend of mine who’s done one of these before, “or should I talk about my book like a normal person?”

“Talk like a normal person,” she said.

“Oh good. That’s what I’d rather do.”

april twirls

Acting in a community theater play.  Age 26 or 27.

 

Anyway, I do plan on taking advice from several websites that say to give the genre, title, and word count up front so the agent knows what she’s in for.

And I certainly plan on practicing what I’m going to say – in fact I already have. But I’m also going to try to have a somewhat-normal conversation with each agent.  I’ll tell them about my book, see if they’re interested, no big deal.  It might be what they’re looking for, it might not be. Nothing to freak out about… right??

I’m also going to keep in mind that these pitch meetings are not just about me showcasing my book to an agent. They’re also for both of us to decide if we’d like to work together for the next few decades of our careers. (In which case, talking like a normal person and not a query-spouting robot is probably a helpful thing to do.)

In a way, it’s not just the agent auditioning me. I’m auditioning the agent, too. I’ll ask questions: are you a hands-on or hands-off agent? How many other clients do you have? How and how often do you communicate with your clients? I should make sure we’re right for each other.

All it takes is for one agent to say yes. Then I’ll have the role I’ve always wanted: the role of an agented author (again).

Not everybody has to like my book, but I do need to find the right person at the right time. So, fingers crossed that this person is going to be at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop this weekend!

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

5 responses »

  1. Sean P Carlin

    Eva,

    Having taken many, many pitch meetings with managers/agents/development execs here in Hollywood, I can tell you that the simple trick to these things is to go in and have a friendly conversation with a colleague — just two professionals talking shop, nice and easy; the last thing you want to do is come off like an overeager used-car salesman (forgive the stereotype). You just sit down, tell them what you’re working on, and pitch it in a way so that the premise hooks them. For instance, if I were pitching Harry Potter, I’d say something like, “You remember what it was like to be eight years old and to think the world was a magical place — to think that magic and monsters and mystical totems like ‘invisibility cloaks’ might — must — really exist?” (See what I did there? I’m making a personal appeal to the prospective agent’s innocence — to their bygone nostalgia for childhood and all its wondrous possibilities. I haven’t mentioned a single plot element yet. Hell, I haven’t even revealed the title.) “Well, what if you discovered that your parents were actually wizards, and that there was a secret wizarding society that operates out of sight from the ‘real’ world? And you learned upon the occasion of your tenth birthday that you’d been selected to attend a school of magic and witchcraft hidden away in the English countryside, and that you were destined to become a powerful magician that is the only hope to save the world from the forces of evil? That’s the premise of my novel.”

    You see what I’m saying? Questions make the experience interactive — they compel the agent to listen, and to engage his own imagination, versus passively sitting through a by-the-numbers plot summary (which is, let’s face it, a mind-numbing prospect). So, whenever you can, phrase your pitch in the form of a series of questions, and get the agent to ask, “Then what?” And if he doesn’t, you’ll know that either he’s simply not interested (it happens), or your pitch could stand to be refined (which is almost always the case anyway, but it gets easier the more you do it). I suggest, before the workshop, you practice your pitch on your husband, your friends, whomever. You’re not really looking for their feedback so much as getting comfortable delivering your pitch to a live audience.

    Seriously, though: Just plan on giving them the premise only — don’t pitch beyond the inciting incident unless they ask, “Then what?” Ideally, you’ll elicit enough then-whats to get you to the midpoint, and, if they’re still interested, then you say, “Why don’t I send you the manuscript? I’d love to get your reaction to it.” Just bait them along — patiently, methodically. You don’t have to sell them on the entire book from the moment you sit down (who needs that kind of pressure?), you only have to sell them on the premise. If they buy that, sell them on the first-act break. And if they buy that, tease them through the Fun and Games (I assume you’ve read Save the Cat!?). And if they’re still digging it, hit them with the midpoint twist. Reel them in one stage at a time; it’s a much more manageable way to deliver a pitch then to put all your eggs in the single basket of The Project. And remember: You’re not reading off a script — you’re having a conversation; it’s got to feel fluid and natural (so call upon your acting and improvisational skills here). And relax and have fun with it!

    Anyway, good luck! Let me know how it works out.

    Sean

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sean. This is very helpful. I’m sure the agents get tired of being talked “at.” They want to have a conversation. I’ll try to play it cool. 🙂

      Reply
      • Sean P Carlin

        If you sell them on you — that you’re a cool person who’s fun to talk to and enjoys engaging with other professionals in her field — they’ll be that much more inclined to sample (and respond to) your material.

    • Sean P Carlin

      I think those are all great tips, and they underscore what I propounded yesterday: that you’re really there to sell yourself — why you’re cool, creative, and easy to work with. The last thing you want to do in a pitch meeting is recite a scripted plot summary like some fourth-grade book report. It’s more about enthusiastically conveying your story’s emotional hook than it is any concrete story details.

      Last month, I wrote a blog post about a handful of movies I like to watch around St. Patrick’s Day, and my wife surprised me by saying, “I really liked the way you summarized those movies — focusing less on what happens in them then what they’re really about.” I don’t think I did that consciously, necessarily; it was simply a product of years of pitching — knowing how to interest someone in a story on an emotional level. And I was also, in the process, able to convey a lot of personal information — why those movies are meaningful to me. If you can learn to do that with your own material, there’ll be no stopping you.

      Reply

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