Freelancing is Salesmanship

Written by Brendan O’Meara

It goes without saying, or maybe it doesn’t, that all freelancing is is salesmanship.

A customer walks into a speciality running store. You don’t sell them what YOU feel like selling them because YOU find a certain product more interesting than another. You understand the customer’s need and sell accordingly.

When you think of it in those terms, suddenly the pitch or the query takes on a different tonality. If you’re not doing this already, now you’re thinking how to please the customer (editor).

What is it YOU can sell THEM that fulfills THEIR need?

Selling a story is no different than selling shoes. The story is the product. Does it fit their need? If not, you never close and you have no chance to do good work.

When Is It Time to Scrap It?

Written by @BrendanO’Meara

There are rejections and then there are rejections. The latter are ones where you had a distinct leg up. In my latest, most crushing rejection, I had an hour-long conversation with this agent at AWP in March. She loved sports writing and we had a wonderful conversation about sports, writing, and The Last Championship. You can imagine my dismay upon reading this:

I read your proposal right away when I received it.  And I enjoyed it immensely.  But ultimately, I didn’t feel strongly enough about the story to think that I would be successful selling it for you.

It felt like this:

This marks rejection No. 19, might even be 20. That’s a lot, even by my standards. Many of those weren’t adequately placed so that may not actually be as poor an indicator for the book’s sorry performance in the hands of gate keepers. I’m at the point where the reality is to scrap the book altogether.

1. The writing is poor, a possibility. I’m not, how you say, a master wordsmith. Or, let’s say, I’m not good enough to elevate what is a mediocre story to a readable, purchasable story.

2. Well, actually, that’s all I’ve got.

What I didn’t have through the first 20 rejections was a full manuscript. I also shopped it to the wrong agents most of the time. Child’s play, really.

Tell you what. Five more. Five more agents who represent baseball books. If it doesn’t get picked up from any of those five, this story goes in the trashcan.

What is your time table to scrap a project?

Tag Lines: How Netflix can improve yours

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Yes, tag lines. What are they and why are they important? First, it’s a one-sentence summary of your book. In about 30 words, can you successfully and succinctly sum up what your story is about? Second, in your marketing questionnaire, you’ll need to build one so it will fit nicely in a catalog. Or, if you’re lucky enough to be in the presence of an inquiring agent or publisher, you need to pop this sentence off and hook them in the ten seconds it takes you to recite it.

Now that I’ve defined it, how can Netflix help you out?

On the live stream, every show has a tag line below it. Here’s the one for my favorite show, Lost:

After their plane crashes on a deserted island, a diverse group of people must adapt to their new home and contend with the island’s enigmatic forces.

26 words. Quick and easy. It doesn’t mention the greater game at play between Jacob and the Man in Black. It doesn’t mention the Dharma Initiative or time travel. You know a plane crashes on a mysterious island. I’m hooked.

Another one of my favorite shows is Breaking Bad. Here’s the Netflix tag line:

A high school chemistry teacher dying of cancer teams up with a former student to manufacture and sell crystal meth to secure his family’s future.

No mention of escalating drug wars and gruesome grips for power. Perfect.

How about something a little lighter, say, from the movie Thor:

Powerful thunder god Thor is stripped of his power and banished by his father Odin, forced to live among humans on Earth to learn humility.

Here’s Walking Dead:

In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, survivors hold on to the hope of humanity by banding together to wage a fight for their own survival.

Bottom line we see what the stakes are and why we should be interested. You must be able to do this. It’s a good exercise in brevity, getting to the point, and using word economy to sell your work.

And another important matter, if you can’t sum it up in a tag line, you don’t know the what you’re book is about. If you don’t know what your book is about, you can’t distill its essence to a greater public. You won’t even reach that far. It won’t get to the public until you can reduce your 100,000-word tome to 25 words. It ain’t easy. So let’s play.

What’s your tag line for you project? Let’s workshop them in the comments. I’ll start with two of mine.

For Six Weeks in Saratoga:

Filly Rachel Alexandra caps off an undefeated season by beating the boys for a third time en route to being named Horse of the Year.

For The Last Championship:

A son watches his father play senior softball and learns to reconcile to the bitter end to his own baseball career by playing again.

Now it’s your turn!

iQuery: The Query Letter, the writer’s fast ball

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Today’s post deals with the ever-important query letter. It is the fundamental document of any freelance writer looking to make a living. It irons out what your pitch is about and who you are and why editors/agents should take a chance on YOU.

Here’s what got me into Vegetarian Times’s Vegging Out blog:

I opt for very quick and easy to read letters. One, editors are short on time. Two, they’re reading on a computer screen and most people want to read short pieces on a screen.

First, I called Vegetarian Times and asked for the name of the editor I should pitch to. Next, my opening paragraph is the hook and why the story will be interesting to Vegetarian Times readers (important, not what’s important to ME, but what’s important to THEM. Sometimes you have to alter—as in cater—your voice. Nothing wrong with this.)

Then I jump into my credentials so the editor doesn’t think I’m some yahoo (which will be totally discredited when they see I wrote a book on horse racing, but that’s neither here nor there). I also tag a page on my website where the editor can click and find clips of my work. If they want hard copies, I’ll send them, but in two clicks, the editor will have a broad sample of my writing capability.

Ultimately, my approach comes down to two things:

1. Get in, get out
2. Take Your Time with the Query (this applies more to book queries)

The letter needs to be read quickly and have some semblance of voice and a tightness of language that will be indicative of a longer piece of work.

With the second point, it’s important not to rush when querying an agent or a publishing house because it’s a painfully long process and sitting on your query for an extra day or week won’t kill it. Rushing will make it sound rushed. Treat it like a piece of art. It needs time. The publishing process is long. I’m as guilty as an when it comes to a trigger finger when sending a query or email. But let the query breathe. Your book won’t be published for at least two years. Hanging out for a few more days will help, not hurt it. Here’s my query for Six Weeks in Saratoga that had a few agents biting and sold SUNY Press.

This is a tad long, but it grabbed the attention of enough people to be moderately effective.

Undoubtedly my queries will get better as I learn more about them. As I learn more and experiment with what works and what doesn’t, I’ll be sure to share that information and samples. I may even try to get a friend or two to write a guest post about the subject.

(This is a great query blog post by the ever-valuable Nathan Bransford. RSS his blog. Just do it.)

How have your query letters been received? Where do you need to improve?