Jan / 13
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but there are some bizarre similarities between ABC’s Shark Tank and the querying process. My husband and I watch it just about every Friday night–part of our weekly routine that would bore the socks off anyone else, but one we shamelessly love. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Shark Tank is a reality show with 5 wealthy, successful entrepreneurs (the Sharks) who listen to the pitches of other entrepreneurs who seek out the Sharks’ investments and business expertise. So that may seem a little far-fetched considering it has nothing to do with writing, but it does have a lot to do with making a pitch and getting someone to work with you. In fact, I think we querying writers could learn a lot from it.
Example A: The Pitch
The entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have a short amount of time to impress the Sharks and get them to invest in their business or product. As in querying, a lot is riding on a successful pitch. I’ve seen the Sharks pass because of a weak pitch and an inexperienced entrepreneur. But, as with writing, a superior product trumps a poor pitch.
The entrepreneurs only have a short amount of time to hook the Sharks and describe their product. They have an advantage over us writers in that they can then have a Q&A with the Sharks. Our queries have to do it all: hook them, describe our beloved MS, and give a little background on ourselves for around 250 words. No wonder we’re usually cursing our queries or crying over them!
Example B: Know Your Product
So just about every week, the Sharks jump on some poor guy or girl for not knowing enough about their market. They’ll come on with something they think is totally unique, for example, and basically get laughed off the stage.
Poor, sad entrepreneur:”I have for you a brand new metal box that browns bread!! No one’s ever had a box that can brown bread this good!!” <huge, excited smile>
Sharks <snickering>: “And…how is this different from a toaster?”
Poor, sad entrepreneur: <face falls comically>
So maybe nothing that extreme has happened, but they do need to know a lot about their potential market: what other products are like theirs and more importantly, how their product differs. This is the same for us querying writers. We’ve all heard agents say they can’t stomach another vampire novel. Okay, we get that, but we also need to know what other parts of the market are overdone. As I learned (the HARD way) with my last MS…the YA paranormal romance market is flooded, too.
We need to be able to articulate how our MS stands apart from the rest. There’s a saying that every story has already been told, which may be true, but we can put a new spin on it. I think two good examples of this are revamping old fairy tales and creating new genres (like speculative fiction). Though that last one can be tricky. I think agents tend to frown (or run away) when you say you have a romantic mystery with paranormal and sci-fi elements and a dash of horror. The best place to start is to figure out where your book would be shelved in a bookstore (fiction? teen? children’s? romance? sci-fi?) and go from there.
Example C: Experience Will Get You Everywhere
The Sharks seem to especially like when the entrepreneur has some background working with the product or in business. This works to our advantage as writers, too. This is not to say we need to have previous publications, but it does help when we’re active in the writing community. Critique partners or groups are essential to being a good writer for almost all of us. I never would have learned as much as I have if I didn’t have someone to read over my work, tear it apart, and help me build it back up. Writing contests are an easy way to gain experience, get some editing advice, and maybe even get an agent! Researching and following agents on Twitter are also two ways to really start learning about the Do’s and Don’ts of the pub world.
And Most Importantly:
Almost always on Shark Tank, the people who are arrogant or nasty to the Sharks don’t get any offers. Same thing applies to us. For most of us, this is an obvious thing. Of COURSE we aren’t going to email an agent back and lay into them after a rejection! Well, some people do. Or say nasty things on forums. The writing world is small, so it really is in our best interest to be polite and professional–even on Twitter.
Okay, now I really want to watch Shark Tank.