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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Do's and Dont's of Pitching

I went to the Agent and Editors conference in Austin, Texas, recently, and participated in their sessions. While I'm still on the fence about transitioning to more traditional markets to publish my books, I wanted to learn more about how the industry has evolved since newer technologies like Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasting turned the publishing outlets on their heads. 

Although many traditional presses have struggled to survive, especially during Covid, the traditional publishing market is still very much alive and kicking. Those who rode the Internet disruption wave were those who were willing to adapt to all the new changes by merging with other publishing houses and taking advantage of those newer technologies, themselves. One of the guest speakers, who opened the conference, Sean Desmond (VP and Publisher for Twelve books) stated that the best publishers were the ones who are willing to adapt, and that's certainly what some of these publishers have done, and why they are still around today. The downside to that is that mainstream authors are flooding the online market and that has left many new indie writers struggling to compete with these giants in that arena. So now, as an Indie Author, I'm having to adapt and innovate for this change as well. 

Since I've written novellas and short stories, I'm tempted to start querying again to see if I can turn some of those stories into longer length books, or perhaps pitch my current work in progress when I attend again next year. There were about a total of sixteen Agents and Editors combined at this conference. I did find a few who caught my eye, and I'm hoping to query soon: Noah Ballard Verve from Talent & Literary Agency, Caroline Bleeke from Alfred A. Knopf, and Martha Wydysh from ICM Partners . Most agents require a completed manuscript, so I need to get it finished. Which is why I really enjoyed participating in their pre-conference sessions on pitching a story idea to an agent or editor, conducted by Lance Fitzgerald and Becka Oliver. It was definitely good practice.

First, what is a Pitch? The pitch is the story idea that makes an agent or editor wonder what is going to happen in your story. It's the hook that reels them in. The right bait and technique will ensure that you catch the biggest fish. If you are able to reel one in, the agent will request to see your first ten pages of your book. A pitch is not a synopsis, which is a complete summary of your book. It is usually verbal when you have a face-to-face meeting with an editor or agent, and I say usually, because there have been occasions where people get so nervous they write down what they are going to say. Which reminds me, and please forgive me for not remembering who said this, but someone at one of these sessions related an account of an author who got so nervous, she gave the note to the agent during their meeting.The agent loved it so much that the writer got a book contract- ha! So, moral of this short story: some wishful dreams do come true. 

Anyhoo, here's what I learned: 

What Not to Do When You're Pitching

1. Don't list your characters without descriptions: The example given was mentioning that the characters in your story are Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Phoebe, and Chandler. And? Details, please, tell them more.

2. Don't pick a theme: For example, saying it's about man vs. nature doesn't necessarily hook or entice.

3. Don't pitch a question that is left unanswered: If you open with a question, be sure to answer it.

What to Do: 

1. Do say what the book is about.

2. Do say why it's relevant.

3. Do say why someone would want to read your story.

In addition to the things you must do, be sure to include what they call the Four C's when you are pitching: (I'm going to use my current work in progress as examples.)

1. Connection: What is the reason why you are contacting this particular agent? Did you meet at a conference? Did you find this agent online? I talked with one during a meet and greet. Patricia Nelson was her name. She's from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  She accidentally spilled wine on me. She felt so bad, and although she's not in my current genre, I guarantee you that if I was pitching to her, I would open with: Hi, we spoke during the meet and greet. I know you've met with many people during this conference, but lucky for me, you spilled wine on me, lol. Hey, whatever helps break the ice or helps them connect, works for me. Some of you are probably thinking, no, that's not what I would do. But hey, if my agent can't have a sense of humor, then I'm not the right fit for that person. That's just the way I roll.  In case you're wondering what she was like, she was very personable, friendly, and she represents Women's Fiction. If I ever end up turning my novella Run Mama, Run into a novel, she is one I would love the pleasure of receiving a rejection or acceptance. 

2. Context: Where does your book sit on a book shelf? Think of comparing two books to use. So mine, for example, is a speculative fiction book that started as a novella, but with currently at 60,000 words, I can see it turning into my first novel. I started writing this book when my husband introduced me to Michael Crichton. I read two of his books: Prey and Next, and I was baffled with how little I knew about what was happening with technology and science during that time, so I immersed myself into researching and learning as much as I could about bioengineering, nanotechnology and CrispR gene editing. As I read more, I immersed myself into the world of A.I. and read Kai Fu Lee's A.I. Superpowers, and James Barrat's Our final Invention, and The End of Life as We Know It, by Doctor Michael Guillen. I sifted through magazines and other resources, and I couldn't help but wonder why this wasn't at the forefront of anyone's concern? I began to ask questions like what would that look like to average, every day individuals who had no idea about the capabilities of these new technologies if unethical scientists where left went unrestrained?  How would average, every day people deal with the disruption in their lives? So I crafted characters from different walks of life, most who were born before the year 2000, and I fell completely in love with them. One was a homeless vet, a retired missionary/ teacher, a disillusioned law enforcement officer, a disgruntled former investigator, a Kurdish refugee, an angry self-defense instructor, and a thirteen-year-old Gen Z-er. This is a generation that is caught in that transition between the older technology and the new interconnected technology that we ourselves are on the verge of reaching. The world they once knew will change dramatically, and they are thrust into an even bigger life challenge when they realize that they have to pull together if they want to survive.

3. Compel: Use a meaty paragraph that tells them enough about a story by describing with the four W's:

Who is the book about?

Where is your setting?

When does it take place?

What is happening when the book opens?

Mine opens in the near future. Our society has collapsed and these group of individuals are making their way through El Chapo's underground tunnels, the notorious drug cartel leader. Those tunnels were modified as escape tunnels from Missouri to Texas to help this group survive, and they must live because they are being hunted by genetically modified humans, who no longer have any humanity left in them. Why not come to the surface you ask? They face an even bigger threat: self-aware humanoid robots and genetically modified giants.  

4. Credentials: Do you have any publishing credits? If so, state so. Why are you the person to tell this story? Agents need to know that you are serious about committing to see this to the end. If you have any credits for writing, say so. 

I've been writing since 2004. I have three publishing credits with the Chicken Soup series, one with Black belt Magazine, Spotlight on Recovery, a first place award with Mutuality Magazine, a first place acknowledgement with the Latino Writers of San Antonio, and an Honorable Mention acknowledgement with Writer's Digest. I was also the resident writer for the Krav Maga self-defense center of San Antonio, writing human interest stories for clients who made amazing transformations. This journey has been a long one. I've had several missteps and a series of unfortunate events that may have thrown me off track, but I never gave up, and that should speak for something. My Instagram profile reads "Writing while Life-ing" and that's exactly what I've be doing for several years: Finding time to write even when when life kept getting in the way. 

If I can't find an agent who doesn't find this remotely appealing, then I'll continue to forge my own path, holding tight to my vision, until I do. God has his reasons and his own timing. If this is right for me, I know I will find one who was worth the wait. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Why Hire A Writer for your Business Needs?

I'm deviating from my usual content to engage in a little shameless self promotion. People who are serious about writing for a living do plenty of side hustles, and I'm certainly one of them. I do this to maintain a writing momentum that will allow me to continue my fictional work projects. Since it's getting around that time of the year where I take a break from working outside the home to working from home, just thought I'd share a little about what I do for business owners interested in hiring me for their social media needs. I do this during the summer months, but I was lucky enough to have a flexible steady source of income, working with some amazing women for the past few months this year. In most cases, when the work dries up, I get back to side hustling for more contract work. I have a handful of clients who will keep me busy for a few months, right before I go into my fiction writing hibernation during the months of November through January, so I'm thankful for the blessing. So here's a little about what I do, and how I promote my work.

As a freelance writer and indie author, when I’m not publishing through different media outlets or my own novellas, I work with business owners and sole proprietors in real estate, self-defense, fitness, and with medical practitioners in Functional and Integrative medicine. 

I know your time is valuable, and reading information online can be time-consuming, so I’ve customized three business pitches for you to read from below that best suits your busy lifestyle:

1. The “I Don’t Have time for a Sales Pitch,” Pitch!
Tired of keeping up with online marketing? Writing is my Superpower! I work with sole proprietors and small business owners in the real estate arena, fitness, health, wellness, and self-defense industry. If you need content graphics for a website, blog, social media engagement post or client testimonials and staff bios, I help you shine online, so your business can be your focus! 
(see my samples below)

2. The “I’m on a Coffee Break, so Keep it Short and Sweet,” Sales Pitch!
Today’s business owners are met with an incredible challenge: the daunting task of engaging an online audience through writing. If writing isn’t the best use of your time and would like to hire an experienced professional, I can adapt my style to suit every job. I work with sole proprietors and small business owners in the real estate arena, fitness, health, wellness, and self-defense industry. Need content for your social media networks? That content can come in the form of motivational quotes, an informational fun fact, or perhaps a post highlighting a client testimonial for your organization. I’ve got you covered (see my samples below). I help you shine online, so your business can be your focus!

Informational Fun Fact for Real Estate Agents

Informational fun fact for Fitness or Medical Practitioners

Motivational Quotes for Personal Trainers

Testimonial for Medical Practitioners

Social Media Post for Healthy Restaurants

Testimonials for Self Defense or Fitness centers

As an independent author, selling my own fiction stories online, I know the challenges that come with engaging people online. Let’s face it, people don’t like to feel like they are being forced to buy something. They get enough junk mail both on paper and online, that if you’re not careful, what you think are amazing marketing ads can quickly make their way to the blocked or unfriended list. The key to a successful marketing strategy is to stop selling and start engaging! Why? I have a secret that most business owners, who are still relying on the old system of advertising, haven’t quite caught on yet. If you’d like to learn more about that, move on to the next sales pitch below, or if you’re thinking, “Heck, I’ll take her word for it, I’ll just mosey along to the bottom of this page and click on the Instagram link to contact her right now. I want someone else to handle all that annoying writing stuff for me,” then I look forward to hearing from you and getting to know you and your business!

3. The “I Own my Own Time, and Can Read a Long-Winded Sales Pitch, like a Boss,” Pitch!
Picture the day you decided to “Be-your own-BOSS!”
If you started this before the arrival of the Internet, and, if you were one of the lucky ones, then word-of-mouth brought people through your doors. But, if you were not so lucky, you probably sold your products or services by placing an ad in the newspaper, or perhaps you sold a kidney to pay for a television ad- kidding! Then, your product or service would magically bring in those customers or clients.

Then Internet arrived, and bosses everywhere found themselves in unknown territory when it came to sending out newsletters, posting blog posts, adding content to their website, or engaging in social media. You thought it was going to be easy and free. All you had to do was advertise on your own by flooding followers, friends, and potential clients through post or emails by asking them to buy your product or service, only to find yourself unfriended, blocked, or spam reported. What happened?! Who knew that the internet would grant so much power to the client, who with the push of a button, would block your business from being seen or promoted?

Let me let you in on a little secret: People don’t like the idea of being sold. They want to be engaged! Especially online. Some may want to know a little about your personality, be entertained, moved, informed, or all of the above, before they buy in to your product or service. Most importantly, they want to know that you care about your customers/clients, before they care enough to purchase what you have to offer. Today’s consumer is savvier and far more powerful than yesterday’s buyer. The internet granted them new power to block the ads and shut off the propaganda that used to work for years. No longer do they sit passively in front of their television sets, buying in to whatever messages telling them will make them richer, stronger, healthier, and/or safer. Today, word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire, not just locally, but globally; a review can make you or break you, and they are more informed.

Which is why, posting on social media requires careful planning, strategizing, and lots and lots of writing of your own original content in ways that will not only entertain, inform, inspire, or all of the above, but that will also benefit your brand and help you build your business image online, so that it converts mere onlookers to consumers of your product or services. Now you’re probably thinking, “You mean to tell me that in addition to the 40+ hours I’m investing in my business, I also have to make time to engage potential clients online?!”

Well, umm… yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Your potential clients want to build friendly and positive relationships through social media. If you’re too busy trying to sell something to them like it was done during pre-Internet commercials, they will smell you a mile away, and once again, you will find yourself blocked, unfriended or spam reported. Sheesh! Who has time for this, you might ask? I have enough on my plate already! I want to focus my time and energy doing what I do best. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I also had to be a WRITER to interest people to buy into my product or service!

TA-DA, no reason to fear, there’s a writer right here! You’ve come to the right page. This is where I come in to save the day. As a professional writer with thirteen years experience selling my own indie stories and books online, I can help you shine, so that your business can be your focus. You can finally start doing business the way you were meant to enjoy it without the time-consuming hassle of strategizing your next social media posts. If you want to see more samples of the type of work I do, visit my Instagram page @Jax.Cortez where I muse about my work and life moments. You can send me a direct message to contact me there. 

Occasionally, I run promotional bundle packages during certain times of a particular month on Instagram, so please follow so you don't miss out. If you have further questions, would like a price quote, or you simply want to get started with hiring a writer to help you shine online, visit my Instagram page . Looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

What's the Difference Between SEO and SEM- and Why it Should Matter for Writers

So you've probably heard of SEO and SEM but not quite sure what they actually mean and why it's important for a writer to know? The Internet has made some significant shifts with the way websites are found on search engines, and while this new shift may prove a bit challenging for the small business owner and sole proprietor, there are abundant doors of opportunities that are opening for creative writers and storytellers who want to earn a living providing content for digital marketing companies to use. But first, an explanation of what the difference is between SEO and SEM: 


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. If you have a website or run a blog, certain keywords you use in that platform will increase the chances of your website to appear higher in a search engine's rankings. Knowing what keywords people are using to search on a web browser, like Google, for example, and craftily displaying those keywords on your online platform will increase your chances of your website to appear on the first page of a person's search results, rather than it appearing on the second or third page. 


Search Engine Marketing lets you buy ad space in the search results. In other words, businesses pay to advertise to people who are searching for a specific keyword online. This works in the form of an auction system, where businesses compete to get their ads displayed by bidding on certain keywords.The highest bidder wins that ad space, which will often turn out on the first page of this search engine's page. Google anything and your search results will render a list of major companies ranked at the top of that list first. This is often frustrating for the little guy who owns a small business and cannot compete with corporate giants with large budgets, who are taking up that space on those search listings, but many small businesses and sole proprietors are leveraging the power of content to stay relevant and even crush their Goliath-like competition. So, why is content crucial for a business survival?

Content is Important 

Although a website is important for all businesses to get found on today's web listings, the average consumer uses the Internet in many different ways. Understanding those ways provides a great opportunity for business owners to engage with an audience and potentially convert them to customers. So what are those ways? People watch videos, search for recipes, read e-books on their Kindle or Nook, listen to podcasts, get on social media and re-share posts, read and share relevant email, subscribe to blogs of interest and sign up for newsletters. A saavy business owner, particularly one with a digital marketing budget, understands the power behind word-of-mouth advertising and knows how to provide content for some or all of these platforms that are linked to his/her website. Why, you may ask? Because it can potentially turn a follower of that content into a loyal customer. 

Once again, the small business owner doesn't always have a sizeable monthly budget to pay thousands of dollars a month for someone to manage a blog, social media, etc. and competing with large companies for ad space in search listings is even more of a challenge. They simply don't have the time. Many of them turn to content mills like FIVERR, but paying $5 for something is really a toss up: sometimes the stuff you get is good and other times, you know how the old saying goes, you get what you pay for if the person contracted has no understanding of the business person's goals, brand, clientele, or how to use words and phrases that motivate the observer to a call to action. That call to action may be in the form of persuading the follower to perhaps sign up for a newsletter or Ebook, purchase a product, or like a page. 

More Writers are Needed

With that said, if you are writer, with experience in a particular field and would like to make a living writing, digital marketers are looking for writers who can create content for blogs, video scripts, crafty informational post for social media, newsletters, and email. You're probably wondering, how do I start? 

My advice is to start with what you know. Do you have experience in a particular field of interest? Are you currently working for someone who could use a writer to perhaps start a blog for their business? Or, perhaps this business owner may want to add content to their social media site in small bits of information that people on their social media platforms will find helpful and shareable (see sampe to the right). They don't have to be long-winded and drawn out. Most people don't have time to read long-winded posts or emails anymore. But if you enjoy research as much as I do, and can break things down into easy-to-understand digestable chunks, there are so many creative ways to distribute that information, and this is where being a creative writer will come in handy.  

Once you've selected your writing niche, if you don't have basic skills in marketing, blogging or copy writing (which is the skill of mastering the power of persuasion through writing, and not actual copyright laws), go to your local library and teach yourself how to strengthen your skills. Sorry, I'm old school. I still go to the library and read books, but yes, you can also use the web, since it also provides many opportunities to take online classes that can help you harness those skills.  If you're interested in digital marketing, find an online group in-the-know that you can learn from. I'm partial to the Content Marketing Institute, but there are several that I follow on Twitter. Find out what your area of interest is and bookmark the ones you want to stay abreast with the latest trends and news. 

I've been blogging, selling stories to different media outlets, and indie publishing my own novellas and short stories for the last fourteen years. I had to stradddle work I didn't like, overcome some difficult health issues, and LIFE-ing made it more challenging, but I finally burned my ship at the beginning of this summer to dedicate myself to my business full-time, so I can fund my own story writing projects, and I absolutely LOVE the freedom of managing my own time around my family and myself. 

Now, I use that experience to provide services to other independent authors who need Kindle covers or book trailers. If you want to see samples of the type of work I do, click here, or the "Freelancer" picture on the right margin of this site. I also help create social media content for small businesses and sole proprietors like personal trainers and coaches. Occasionally, I run packaged deals like the one I'm doing for this week (see below)

Because I also publish my own novellas, I limit my clients to only a few a month to ensure that I don't bite off more than I can chew, since I don't like to rush through any projects. I'm not a content mill, and providing quality work is important to me. But, you can decide how many you want to do. It's your business and you're in control of your own ship!

I'm not gonna lie. It won't be easy, but if this is something that you feel you always wanted to do, the Internet has opened so many doors for writers to dive in and explore the endless paths available for them to make an actual living writing for a living, and I encourage you to never give up trying to find a way to bust open that door of opportunity and seize it. The possibilities are endless. I wish you well in your endeavors. Keep writing!