Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writers helping writers at Pitch University

One of the things I love about the writing community is writers helping writers.  Diane Holmes is one of those rare people, following her passion, dedicated to helping writers connect with agents, editors and readers.  This year she founded Pitch University, and was kind enough to consent to an interview.  So, here goes - questions, and answers from Diane.
What is Pitch University?
Pitch University is the only website on the Internet where authors and novelists learn how to verbally pitch their book, to literary agentseditors, and ultimately readers.  This includes online PitchFests! And it's absolutely free.

But more than that, we take a broader view of pitching and look at all the surrounding sales issues before, during, and especially after publication, whether your traditionally or Indie pubbed.  Our guests include literary publicists, freelance editors, marketing experts, authors, and dozens of related fields.

Why do writers need Pitch University?

Boy, do we writers need Pitch U.  We need a place to learn from experts who  pitch for a living, and we need a place to practice and get feedback from pitching our own books.  

It's not enough to look at examples of good pitches and think the examples will help us with our own pitches.  And it's not enough to have another writer share a format or craft-of-writing technique that "creates" a pitch.  Just because you've filled in the blanks doesn't mean you've done your book any grand service.

Frankly, most of us suck at pitching our books.  There are two main skills in pitching.  The first is figuring out what the pitch focus should be, so that it's accurate and compelling.  The second is stepping forward and talking with another human being and sharing that pitch.  We pretty much suck at both.  Everyone reading this knows that I'm talking about.  :)

We just can't seem to verbally answer the simple question, "What's your book about?" in a way that shares our excitement, quickly communicates the key details, and motivates agents, editors, or readers to say, "Yes!  I want it!"

And yet, we absolutely know this is important to the success of our careers.  We even force ourselves to sign-up for pitch sessions at conferences, even though we're pretty much terrified.

So, is it possible to go from terrified and sucky to comfortable, at-ease, and dynamic.  That's the tribe of writers we're creating at Pitch U.

How do you suggest a writer/author use Pitch University to get the most from their efforts?

Pitch University is a fairly massive site, even though we've only been around since January 1st, 2011.  But we've worked hard to create a usable format so you can get to all our content and not be too overwhelmed.

If you're new to the site, take a moment to check out each of the following features, and you'll have a good feel for everything we offer.

Pitch U BLOG - This is the workhorse of the site. All new content is posted here in blog format, which means you scroll down to see past content.  Also, you'll see the big red box where you can sign-up for our newsletter, The Monthly Pitch. There's more fresh content, schedule updates, and even early entrants into our PitchFests. (Look to the right-hand column to sign up to have each post sent directly to your email.) 

Main Overview - This "mission control" page will give you an overview of current content by category.    Of special note is the official Pitch U Calendar.

Pitch U Learn! - There are 4 pop-down sub-menus to our LEARN tab, including Pitching Education.  Once you click on one of the 4 sub-menus, you'll see widget box with the content further divided.  For example, the Pitching Education page has a tab called "Start Here," which was created just for newbies who don't know which articles/posts to read first. 

Pitch U Forums - This is a brand new feature, and we're so please with it.  Come post your pitch and query letter here, and get peer help.   We have to moderators (Taylor and Heather), who will also give some feedback.

We have only two rules in offering and receiving help:  (1) Be encouraging.   Education and improvement is easier if making mistakes is just part of the fun.  Seriously.  Lighten up.  Remember you're writing because you love it.  

(2)  There are way too many (frankly) odd rules about what how you're "allowed" to  create a pitch or query letter.  Our only rule is that you want your pitch and query to be effective.   It just makes no sense to teach that a pitch should be, say, 17 words long.  A pitch should be awesome.  That's the rule.  A pitch should make the listener want to say, "Yes!"    Yes = Effective.

Pitch U Case Studies - This is my personal passion!  

Have you ever seen someone take a kinda-sorta limping-along pitch and fix it?  What about a query letter or a 1-page synopsis?   Yeah, I hadn't either.  Somewhere along the path of founding Pitch U, I became adept at not only creating pitches/queries/synopses that worked... but also fixing those that didn't.  

I've posted 2 full case studies,  with 4 more in the works.  And, yes, they're completely, totally FREE.

What's coming up the rest of 2011 - any special activities you want to highlight?

We've got a whole lotta fun ahead.  We're busy gathering a panel of 6 agents and editors for our June PitchFest, where we'll focus on Romance and YA.  And then we also have a September PitchFest, which will focus on Non-Fic, Thrillers, YA, and a more!

We're always bringing in experts, publishing case studies, and finding ways to help writers practice pitching, learn about marketing, and participate more fully in their careers.

After being repeatedly asked if I offer consulting, I'm creating a consulting page with information about working directly with me to create pitches and queries that work.  

I truly believe in offering the great content, forums, PitchFests, and case studies at no cost to writers.  But if you find that you're still hitting a brick wall (and I've been there), I know that sometimes, you just need one-on-one help.   So big stuff coming up!

For fun, tell us your about your favorite latte - the coffee or the coffee shop, or what makes it perfect.

A  good writing friend (Laurie F.) came into possession of an espresso maker, and she asked, "Would you like it?"  One, "hell, yes" later, and I was in business.  And then, a Twitter Peep (Heather W.) appreciated my help with her pitch so much that she shipped me chocolate that oddly enough was probably the only gourmet chocolate I can eat.  

So, I've been working 80-hour weeks on Pitch U, fully fueled by friendship latte and thank-you chocolates, and that has to be my favorite type. ;)
Thank you Diane, for all that you do for the writing community - for your welcoming and giving spirit, and the expertise you so willingly share.  Be sure to check out and report back.  We at Working Stiffs want to drool over your success.


Annette said...

This looks like a great site, C.L. I've bookmarked it and will definitely spend some time exploring.

Joyce Tremel said...

Thanks Cindy and Diane! What a great service to writers. I can't wait to check it out.

C.L. Phillips said...

Diane should be watching for comments today, so if you have any special questions, I'm sure she will help.

And when you go to her site to sign up for things, be sure to let her know you are from Working Stiffs.

She runs great events with big name agents, so you can get fantastic one-on-one attention.


Diane_Holmes said...

Hello, Annette! Yes, please explore to your heart's content.

One of my goals was to do really insightful, in-depth articles. I feel like the Internet is full of information for beginning writers. But there's must less out there for the more advanced "student," including published authors.

So, dip your toe in. I think you'll like it.

Diane_Holmes said...

Dear Joyce, Come meet us! We're very supportive, and that includes all the experts. :)

Diane_Holmes said...

Thanks for the shout out, Cindy! It's a pleasure to meet the Working Stiffs.

And I've got a question for WS peeps: Do you think it's harder to pitch a mystery/suspense/thriller?

I'd love to hear your thoughts

Annette said...

Diane, I've never pitched anything OTHER than mystery/suspense, so I can't really say. But I think our genre is challenging because the stories all basically fit into a certain mold, yet we want to make ours sound unique. It's too easy to offer cliched pitches: Our hero must stop a killer before someone else dies. Well, duh. ;-)

Diane_Holmes said...

Annette, You touched on one of the biggest goals of pitching... for all authors, it turns out. It seems that ever genre or type (even diet books) can easily sound like "all the others."

For me, it really comes down to reviewing your pitch and replacing every generic with a specific.

So....Our hero must stop a killer before someone else dies.

Becomes... A dog walker who's "in hiding" from his psycho family accepts an innocent petsitting job not realizing that he's working for a secret service agent who protects the First Family. When the agent turns up dead, his family tries to claim their 15 minutes of fame, but now they're turning up dead too.

That's quite a bit different from, say, this story: When an Oil and Gas accountant agrees to cover up a minor mistake to help her friend and co-worker out, she finds she's part of a sting, and the only way to stay out of prison is to help with an on-going investigation into accounts that aren't even on the books and clients that are turning up dead. Except... the federal agent and the co-worker may be lying.