Interview Transcripts

Pitch Perfect! with Janet Wellington 3/23/06

Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello, all!


Welcome to our Professional Connection live interview, with Janet Wellington.


Janet's latest two novels are paranormal romances. FOREVER ROSE was a 2000 Prism finalist in the time travel category and her new novel, DREAMQUEST, from Dorchester Love Spell, is an "alternate reality" love story that features a Kumeyaay Indian hero and a contemporary ethno-botanist heroine. DREAMQUEST is available now and her newest release: Sweet On You was out from Thorndike Press in January 2006. BACHELOR FOR SALE will be out June 2006, also Thorndike Press (large print) Visit her website at:

Mary Rosenblum

Janet, welcome! I'm sure we have a lot of people who are anxious to hear about pitching tonight.

Janet Wellington

I always love doing these chats!

Mary Rosenblum

And we love having you!


First of all, Janet, you were just at the Spring Into Romance conference.  


Can you give us a report? What interesting things did you learn?

Janet Wellington

It was an awesome conference and, as with all regional-type conferences


there was a more intimate feel to it -- with lots of opportunities


to connect in small groups.


I'm going to share some general thoughts if that's okay?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, please.

Janet Wellington

Okay, let me try to stop my whirling brain and connect with some things.


One thing seemed clear, that the competition is fierce out there


so your work must be polished and ready to go.


Editors don't have time to edit much anymore, so your work has to


shine. And you have to be able to "talk your story" in a way that doesn't


turn OFF an agent or editor.  


And there was definitely some difference of opinion on whether to  


write the book of your heart vs. a marketable book


My opinion is to try to do both! But, the industry is out to make money,


which we all know, so it's important to think about the story you  


want to write and MAKE it marketable!


One thing that was different at the conference was that they offered


"critique sessions" with agents where attendees brought


a few pages to read after they'd given a brief pitch or story summary,


and that sure was enlightening!   I attended one of the sessions as an observer


and the agents there were so NICE and gave such helpful comments to the attendees.


Actually -- an announcement -- I have a new agent (YAY!!!) so I went to her session, of course.


But what I wanted to share was this: little to no backstory in that first chapter,


and try to find something a little different -- I was surprised to hear the agents


say that they enjoyed hearing a story with a "different" setting, a "different" time period.


So, my "take home" from that is that I think the industry is finally catching up with


the idea that readers are sophisticated and want something a little different!


The last thing right now -- I know you have questions -- is that I saw the reactions


of the agents to the writer's passion for their story. Okay open to questions -- thanks for listening!

Mary Rosenblum

That's great that the industry is perhaps loosening up a bit! And congrats on the new agent! I hope you two make a great team


As to that first chapter so now the trend is to begin more like a short story


to start with the plot ongoing and weave in the backstory?

Janet Wellington

Absolutely. An editor commented, "No more than one line or so of backstory


in that first chapter." So it's a matter of writing as the action begins (inciting incident) and


then you are creating all sorts of questions in the readers' mind --


which feels "wrong" to us as we're writing because we think we're confusing


the reader, but what you're doing is INTERESTING the reader and making them


turn pages! Also, no more than 3 POVs (points of view) in that first chapter


and preferably one or two -- and not too many characters introduced in the first chapter as well.

Mary Rosenblum

Ahhh  {Mary, the short story writer, who always starts her novels like a short story is happy}


Some of us have never attended a conference - what are they like? What should a newbie expect?

Mary Rosenblum

Good idea, Janet. What is a conference good for, if you're an aspiring writer?

Janet Wellington

I have to say that I started going to conferences right away.


I attended the RWA national conference and immediately started taking advantage of pitching appointments


as well as attending workshops. At first I concentrated on craft –  learning


story structure and POV, etc. as well as going to all the panels I could.


Panels are typically offered where they gather groups of agents and/or editors and/or authors


and it's a great way to get an idea of what's happening in the industry


as well as specifically what a publishing house might be looking for (or not looking for) as far


as submissions go. So, if there's a regional writing conference in your area


I highly recommend you go if you can afford to. It's an amazing experience when you get


that many writers together. As a newbie, try to find someone


to either tag along with the first day, or to talk with before you go. You can also


usually order tapes or CDs from past conferences (check writers organizations websites) and


get an idea of what workshops are like. Do email me {  }privately with other questions on conferences, etc.

Mary Rosenblum

That's generous of you, Janet! And I want to 'ditto' what Janet says.


When I first started trying to break in, I went to every local conference I could drive to, and it helped me enormously


and gave me a lot of lifetime writer friends.


How do you find out about the conferences/workshops?

Janet Wellington

One way is to Google "writers conferences" to start a list.


If you're writing romance and are a member of RWA, the conferences are listed


in the monthly magazine (if you're writing romance, do join RWA -- you'll save a lot


of time and effort and the information is vital for your success )

Mary Rosenblum

Shaw Guides is good.




Is there anything like RWA that you know of in Canada?

Janet Wellington

There are RWA groups in Canada, I believe -- check the map at the RWA National site.


Are the publishers looking for more fantasy or realism?

Mary Rosenblum

What's your impression, Janet?


I know romance seems to be branching way out.

Janet Wellington

Well, there does seem to be a demand for fantasy (as its own "genre") -- LUNA is a  


sort of division of Harlequin Enterprises, though they are considered their own publishing house


but utilize Harlequin editors.  LUNA is a fantasy house that is looking for submissions


If I'm misunderstanding you, though, and what you want to know is if


publishers in romance are looking for realistic stories or not I'm not sure what they


want are good stories -- ones that tap into the readers' emotions.


Did I answer you, beryl?

Mary Rosenblum

And I think, with a bit of research, you'll find out which house wants what type of story.


You surely did, thank you

Mary Rosenblum

Janet, let's do some definitions here


What is the difference between a pitch, a synopsis, and a query?

Janet Wellington

Oh, I love this.


Okay, one thing that you must understand is that a pitch is not a synopsis or story summary.


This is vital for you to wrap your mind around.


A pitch is a little bit about the setting, how the story begins, a bit about


the external and internal conflict of the characters. It doesn't tell the whole story but may imply


and ending or resolution at least.


When I teach on pitching (and I do this at conferences and also online -- see my website)


I follow a general method where you describe your hero and heroine


in a certain way (using a descriptive adjective and noun).


Then you have to be able to say what each wants (the initial story goal), why they want it (motivation),


and why they can't have it (external conflict; roadblock).


Then you have to be able to describe the internal conflict -- the emotional element


of the story; and finally describe the resolution (the ending) .


Now, the synopsis is more about the turning points of the story.


A chronological listing of main events that push the story in a new direction.


Sure, you'll be throwing in some characterization but …and here's a secret for you


the synopsis is WHAT happens, not HOW it happens! I think that's important to keep


in mind at all times .


So, the purpose of a pitch is to get the listener or the reader (if it's a query) to ask for more.


A query is typically a letter which tells a bit about you, what your credentials might be (if you


have any previous publishing experience), and a paragraph or two about your story .


That is formulated more like a pitch. Whew! Does that make sense?

Mary Rosenblum

That does indeed make sense sounds as if your 'turning points' in a synopsis are the high points of the main plot?

Janet Wellington

Yes -- when I begin to put together a story, I try to figure out the plot points (or turning points)


first and then write a "bare bones" synopsis so it stays really simple ...and


then I'll write the "my eyes only" detailed synopsis for myself where I


put in lots of details.

Mary Rosenblum

But that 'my eyes only' detailed synopsis doesn't go to the editor or agent, right?

Janet Wellington

Nope. That's the other secret -- write the detailed synopsis for yourself.


And you can also do that one first, of course -- I sometimes will


look at the detailed synopsis and then draw lines across the page where I think


chapter breaks will be. There's a cool "pitch generator" on  


Kathy Carmichael's website I wanted to mention.


You do need to "know your story" in order for it to work.


You need to know: title, length, genre, setting, setting time period ,


primary character's name and gender; identifying tag (that adjective and noun that  


describes the character like pampered southern belle, for example …


and what the primary character wants (overall story goal), why he/she wants


it (motivation), and why he/she can't attain it (conflict). So you fill in this nifty


chart and a pitch is generated


Sometimes you have to tweak it to make the sentences work, but  


it's a fun tool to play with:

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you, Janet!


Hello Janet! A pitch sounds kinda like the blurbs on some of the book covers I've read except you give away the ending.

Janet Wellington

They are similar -- the blurbs are more of a teaser, in my opinion


and the pitch is definitely carefully crafted to make the listener want to know more .


And one thing I also wanted to add was that I've heard and read


agent comments where the writer went on and on about their story


and pretty much talked them OUT of asking for more -- so do be careful and put some


thought into learning how to pitch, so that you tell just enough so the agent or editor


wants to know more. Yes, you must tell the "good stuff" in the pitch and give the ending.


In a really short pitch, like a one-liner, you might not be able to do the ending, though.


But in a long pitch, you should. Here's my one-liner for my first time travel.


I really liked how it ended up and I worked a long time on it.


And remember, this is HARD -- it's writing about your writing!  Okay:


A contemporary heroine goes back in time to 1888 San Diego to prevent the assassination


of Wyatt Earp by the revenge seeking hero. It's not perfect


and I didn't do the "adjective and noun" description, but I think it works pretty well.

Mary Rosenblum

Nice pitch, and you could have easily inserted those adjectives instead of 'contemporary'


fiery Irish redhead, or whatever. J


So how long IS a pitch? Only one sentence? More?

Janet Wellington

I did eventually add those, but didn't "know" about that part when I wrote it.


Okay, there are a few different lengths of pitches you'll need to work up for every story.


I can hear those groans from here!


I recommend you do the "long" one first because you'll be able to pull info from it


to make the shorter ones. First you'll need a 5-7 minute pitch


designed for an individual appointment with an agent or editor.


You would follow some kind of formula, like the one I presented earlier


describing the hero/heroine, external/internal goals, motivations, and conflicts


and the resolution. You would also want to make sure you talk about  


anything "special" in the story for me it was Wyatt Earp in that time travel, right?


So I made sure to talk about that in the pitch because it's kind of a "hook" for the story


You also need a one-liner that you would use to provide that


sound bite used at cocktail parties at conferences, for times when friends and family


ask, "So, what are you writing?" Believe me, they don't really want to hear


more than a one-liner most of the time. The worst thing is to go on and on about


the plot (which is scene after scene after scene) when you are describing


your story. And that's the thing -- it's the story that matters, and the story


is the "good stuff" -- and describes how the character is different at


the end of the story than they were at the beginning. One thing to remember


is that we read in order to observe (and feel) how characters solve their problems.

Mary Rosenblum

So how do people use these pitches, and when?

Janet Wellington

The longer pitch (5-7 minutes) is used at conferences at individual appointments or


if you really have an agent or editor's attention at a function (though I would rather


see you create a 2-minute version!) The one-liner is great for


group appointments. If you have an opportunity for a group appointment at


a conference, it's just as good -- sometimes better -- you end up giving your one line


and typically all the participants are asked to submit something. My new agent (gosh I love saying that)


shared that she really wants to see the writing, and doesn't really like appointments!


What essentially is a 2-minute version of your pitch is good for a query letter, also!

Mary Rosenblum

I personally suggest that a one liner is best for a social situation if an editor or agent seems really interested.


I've seen aspiring writers at publishers' parties at conferences start gushing about


their book and the agent or editor's eyes glaze over nearly instantly!

Janet Wellington

Oh, yes!!!


Sorry if I've confused you -- I agree totally with Mary's comments.


You must not keep talking if the person's eyes glaze over. What I meant was to be


prepared to be able to talk your book IF SHE ASKS YOU for more info.


As a rule, yes, the one-liner is  for "mixers" at conferences AND I want to add one thing.


I'm a believe in NOT talking your story to death anyway -- I think, sometimes, that


a certain energy is lost if a writer continually talks about their work, but that's just my opinion .


No matter what, though, you've got to find a way to describe your story that's appropriate for the situation.

Mary Rosenblum

Janet, do you want to explain how one gets a pitch appointment?

Janet Wellington



Typically at conferences, agents and editors are invited to attend so that


attendees can sign up for an appointment with them -- either individual or group appointments


are offered (sometimes there is an additional fee). Attendees need to  


research who the agents and editors are, too, so that you can choose an appropriate


agent or editor for your work.


Is it considered "rude" to ask someone who their agent is?

Janet Wellington

Oh, no! In fact, it's a great way to start gathering information.


Another way to find these things out is to spend some time in the bookstore


and start pulling books off the shelf and check for the author's


acknowledgement page or the author's note in the back.


And look for the author's "thank you" to her agent! It's a great way to start


an "agent list" for yourself (editors too!).


Super advice--thank you!


I read from writers in the know about breaking the rules to get noticed. How can we do that with the query to an agent or publisher?

Janet Wellington

Hmm I can't say that I would necessarily endorse breaking the rules as an unpublished


writer -- I guess the example that comes to mind would be to maybe


present things a little differently -- for example


I wrote a query letter for a children's book I'm trying to market from the point of view of


the main character -- don't know if it "worked" any better I since changed the query letter


to a more traditional approach -- using a summary paragraph. I have heard agent and editor


comments that they don't like things like colored paper; hate confetti or anything like that


that falls out of the letter. Hope that helps?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, I have heard agents and editors specifically talk about how much they dislike 'cute' letters, enclosures, etc. Stick to plain paper!

Janet Wellington



In that same vein, what are the general rules of etiquette at a conference?

Janet Wellington

Good question.  One thing I always say in my workshop;


"Do not solicit agents or editors in the restroom!" I've heard horror stories


about things like that! Okay, general etiquette:


Don't gossip. You never know who's listening!  


Listen and absorb as much as you can -- don't monopolize


any one person's time (I'm thinking an author or fellow attendee).


Especially in regards to practicing your pitch or telling your


roommate about your story or whatever -- ask if she has time and limit yourself


to a reasonable amount of time. Roommates are great to bounce ideas off of and that


sort of thing, but don't make her a prisoner in your room! (can you tell this


has happened to me once or twice?) Otherwise, I guess it's a matter


of acting professional; be nice.


In your experience if given the choice at a conference to have a pitch session, or a critique what do you feel is the better option?

Janet Wellington

Oh, there so different. Although in the critique session I attended, the pitch actually


was part of it and, I have to add that the agents were not impressed if the pitch


was not ready -- ALWAYS BE READY -- some attendees thought all they


had to do was read a few pages -- but the agents wanted some kind of story


set-up -- so, have your pitches always ready. Okay, if you had to


choose, I guess I'd choose the pitch because, with any luck, you'll be sending the


pages in anyway, right? The critique comments were more like:


The writing is good; I liked the way you handled descriptions, etc ..


Even in the critique session, the agents actually commented more about


the story idea -- liked certain story elements, time periods, etc. and commented on that.


oops typo -- I hate when I do that -- Oh, they're so different sheesh!


How can you tell when a piece is ready? Even peer reviewers can always find something.

Janet Wellington

Difficult question. Some writers depend on their critique group and/or  


critique partner. If you have someone you trust, who is at least at your same level


of writing -- or, better yet, someone who is ahead of you or even already published --


then you can more likely trust her opinion. Yes, peers will always find something


and you have to be really, really, really careful to NOT make your story


too "vanilla sounding." Editors say they can tell when a manuscript has been


through a critique group a time or two -- the writer's voice is vanilla. Yuck.


So, you have to keep practicing your craft; know story structure, and


be certain you have crafted a story that works. You can also get non-peer


feedback from people you know who love the type of story you are writing.


And sometimes you just have to make the leap and get the story out there.


How long did it take you to get your first novel published?

Janet Wellington

I love to share my story


I decided right around my 40th birthday that if my dream of getting published


was ever going to come true, I'd better start working at it!  


I researched the romance industry and realized they were always looking for  


new writers and began studying the romance genre .I joined RWA at


the national level


and also joined 2 local chapters and went to meetings each month


as well as attended national conferences. I started pitching


right away and sending out queries after I'd finished my first manuscript .


I kept studying and listening; and I sold 3 years later. I didn't sell


that first manuscript, though, -- it made the rounds and I put it away


and I wrote 2 short contemporaries which sold and then I did end up


selling that first ms. (which was the time travel with Wyatt Earp!).  I feel


I worked very hard, I had the courage I needed to keep trying, I persevered


and there is always some luck involved!

Mary Rosenblum

You know, Janet, that's a really solid testament to the fact that just because


that book doesn't sell NOW, it may sell LATER. J

Janet Wellington



Hi Janet, its Babbles, I want to thank you for encouraging me to continue writing after a few set backs. I just finished with a critique, rewrite and now my agent has sent my Young Adult out into the world of publishers? Crossing fingers :-)

Janet Wellington

Oh, how exciting!!! The Young Adult market is really looking for good stuff! Congrats!!!

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, congrats, Babbles!


I've never seen any writing conferences in my area. Since I'm not familiar with them--is there a ballpark figure of how much it costs to attend?

Janet Wellington

They do vary a great deal let's see this conference I just attended was a couple hundred


dollars I think? Gosh, you can check the website to see:   


The RWA national conferences are pricey -- $200 or so plus the cost of airfare


and hotel .So do choose wisely -- though regional conferences tend to be 125$ or so


and if they are close enough you can drive, of course.


And you can also cut costs by squeezing more people in your hotel room.


When I attended that first RWA national conference we had 5 people in our room,


which was crazy, but it really helped cut costs, and I'm still friends with those


women -- I didn't know any of them and I was so lucky that year!

Mary Rosenblum

I still room with one or two other writers at cons -- none of us are rich. :-)


So, Janet, let's backtrack a bit


It can be so daunting to face a 350 page story and try to distill it down


to a pithy few sentences. How does someone begin?

Janet Wellington

It is hard.


I want to share another method with you.


Author Laurie Schnebly Campbell teaches at


conferences and online  and I really liked


one of the methods I learned.


She also starts with that her/heroine description I've already talked about


using and adjective and noun (it can also be the profession for the character).


Then she figures out the "what" which is the initial goal and says this in one phrase.


So, using one of her examples:


For Gone With the Wind (she has given me permission to share)


Pampered, strong-willed Southern belle


Who wants the love of a good-looking blue-blood


 next is the why, which is the motivation in one short sentence


She's used to acquiring whatever she has her heart set on


 Then do the same for Rhett:


Swashbuckling, black-sheep gentleman who wants to succeed on his own


(why?) He's impatient with his family's and society's expectations .


 then you have to state: How these two wants bring them into conflict with each other .and


write this in one sentence ."He wants her independent-spirited love, while she resents


their similarities but wants his support." Then, here's the final part.


Now you combine this into one sentence or a short paragraph you may end up


tweaking it a bit or moving things around and using some of that external and


internal conflict you already have worked on.  Here's here final pitch paragraph:


A pampered southern belle is determined to win the love of a weak man


while struggling to get her family through the Civil War, but reluctantly allies


with the swashbuckling black sheep whose independent spirit matches her own." It's


not perfect but it begins to tell the essence of the story, right?

Mary Rosenblum

That's a nice example, Janet, and one I bet everybody knows. Thank you. J


And that's really adaptable to any type of story not just Romance.


Would it be proper to use part of your pitch time to talk to the agent about what he/she is looking for, etc.?

Janet Wellington



I know of several attendees at the conference who


just wanted to see if they clicked with the agent. With that said,


if you can attend an agent panel at the conference, though,


you should already have a clear idea of what the agent is or isn't looking for,


so you don't want to "waste" the opportunity to get direct feedback


on your story idea -- and always have a backup story ready to pitch as well.


In case the one you pitch isn't getting a good response!

Mary Rosenblum

What if you freeze up and TOTALLY blow your pitch?

Janet Wellington

I always had some little note cards with me


so I could read my pitch if I absolutely had to -- Many agents


and editors don't like it, necessarily, but it's better than rambling on


about your story and not getting it across AND, I just have to say --


Your pitching appointment will not make or break your career.


You need to understand, too, that agents and editors are


there to FIND new talent! Maybe it's you!!! So, your best defense


is to be prepared -- and it's hard I hate to do it and most writers


do hate it but it's part of the profession!

Mary Rosenblum

And some conferences offer 'pitch practice sessions'. I know the Willamette Writers Conference does.

Janet Wellington

That's great!


Would you say the market for Christian romance is growing?

Janet Wellington

Yes! I just skimmed an email today


that referred to a new line .I think it was Harlequin Historical Inspirational or  


something like that -- email me tonight or tomorrow and I can provide more detail.


I think we are definitely in a time where there is a desire to feel better


and the inspirational market is growing to fill that niche!


Sure thing. That's my favored genre. Thanks so much for all your help, Janet. You've been great! I'm printing all this information out for future reference.

Janet Wellington

You're so welcome!

Mary Rosenblum

Janet your information is always great! Before we run out of time, I'd like to have you tell us about the new book that is just out


and the one coming out in June.

Janet Wellington

Oh, well they are both reissues of my first two sales!


They are coming out in hardback "library" editions through Thorndike Press.


So they are large print romances that are available to purchase, of course,


but they are high-priced! So, do ask your library to order them J but


they are indeed the same as the paperback editions. I got my rights back


to those first two books and then resold them, which was fun! There are blurbs


and excerpts on my website. SWEET ON YOU is about a high-powered


newly widowed woman who gives up the fastlane to open up  


a cookie delivery business .and BACHELOR FOR SALE features a bachelor auction and  


pairs up a hairstylist with a single dad who is a llama rancher!

Mary Rosenblum

That is so cool that your books have gained a second life! Want to explain to people how that works?

Janet Wellington

Well, in my case


the books came out originally as Kensington "Precious Gems" that  


were available only at Wal-Mart -- but the contract had the rights


coming back to me after 3 years...but I had to "get" the rights back by


contacting the publisher's legal department and after a couple letters,


I received a letter back from them giving me the rights back so, then


I contacted Thorndike to pitch the stories -- they are specifically interested


in books that have already been in print; short contemporaries. They give  


the books a new cover and a second life!

Mary Rosenblum

So that is really important when you sell your novel! Make sure you know how and when you can resume your rights.

Janet Wellington



Though the market is somewhat limited, it's great to get those books back in print.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, Janet, thank you very much for a highly informative chat. You've really covered the 'pitch' topic thoroughly


and I really appreciate it.


Do you have a new book in progress?

Janet Wellington

My pleasure! And anyone interested in my online class, go to my website   


I do have a great book in progress that I need to finish up and get to my new agent.


It's a long contemporary -- still a romance, but more a "single title" in format.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool! And we have one final question from someone who had to duck out earlier.


When I asked earlier about how to write a query that gets you noticed, I meant the content of the information, something that really wows an agent/editor.

Mary Rosenblum

Any thoughts?

Janet Wellington

Oh, yes


But, I really believe that if you can get across what makes the story special


and your passion is on the page within that query letter, that's what works.


You have to tell the "good stuff" and provide enough in that description to  


either elicit an "oohhh" or interest that agent or editor to ask for more.


And agents and editors are really impressed when you pitch your story properly.

Mary Rosenblum

Janet you were great!


Thank you so much for coming, and good luck with the cool new book!

Janet Wellington

You're a wonderful group!

Mary Rosenblum

And congrats on that new agent, too!

Janet Wellington

I'm on cloud nine!

Mary Rosenblum

That's so cool!


Thank you all for coming, tonight!


I'll be back in the LR universe on Sunday for our regular open chat!


We won't have a Friday Forum, but do drop into the chat room and visit.


We'll be back on our regular schedule starting on Sunday.


thanks again Janet and Mary very informative

Janet Wellington

You're so welcome -- all of you -- best of luck with your writing!

Mary Rosenblum

You, too, Janet!


Good night.


Good night, all.


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