Too Many Hats

HatsHow do you brand yourself when you contain multitudes?

This question comes up all the time when I’m teaching, in discussions online, and even in my own life. For instance, I’m a pitch consultant, I write fiction, I have a mommy blog, and I’m about to launch a podcast. Should I brand myself as a fiction-writing mommy podcaster Pitch Goddess? It’s a small niche, to be sure, but there may be a reason for that…

What I do — what most people do, and what I primarily advocate — is focus on one thing at a time. I have this website for all things pitch-related, a separate one for my mommy blog, another for my podcast. The one place where I cop to my multiple personalities is at LauraBrennanWrites.com, but it’s not an active site. It’s more like a directory with links to all the possible destinations: which Laura are you looking for?

This approach is simple and clean, but it requires maintaining multiple sites, jumping from one identity to another. That’s the big drawback, in time and energy. But when your different facets are that divergent, lumping them all in one place is counter-productive. Someone looking for me as a television consultant doesn’t want to stumble across my mommy post on building leprechaun traps. There’s very little overlap.

Your other option is to claim all of your identities in one place. If you’re a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, it’s a little less of a stretch that someone might be interested in both of your endeavors. Even if your interests are more distinct than that, as long as you have only two hats, there is probably a way to combine them: a dentist who runs a dog rescue, or an antique appraiser/CPA. But you have to own it, either with humor or by being able to show how expertise in one field makes you better in the other.

You can do anything as long as you do it with intention. If you haven’t yet built a site — or if you have, and you’re confronting what I like to call Identity Sprawl — take a step back. Evaluate. Does the new personality line up with your brand or distract from it? Should you redefine yourself to incorporate it, or should you splinter off that facet into its own site, or (third option!) should you simply not mention it at all?

Some things are not enhanced by being online, and I don’t just mean naughty pictures. You may be a crackerjack office temp or movie extra, but those aren’t assets employers or casting directors search for online. Who is the audience you want to attract? What do you want them to do when they get to your site?

Tell them what they need to know about you to get the result you want, and nothing more.

 

 

The Roasted Chicken Rule of Pitching

p0316729I recently threw a dinner party. To say this is a rare event is an understatement, and for good reason: I am not a great cook. I’m not even very good; the most I will admit to is “adequate.” So what did I do?

I did exactly what you should do when you’re going out to pitch. I played to my strengths.

I call this the Roasted Chicken Rule. The main course has to be something you know you can pull off. This is not the place to experiment with truffle oil or fancy trussing techniques.

The heart of your pitch should be something you are comfortable doing. If you want to use visuals, that’s great – just make sure it’s technology you can use in your sleep. Don’t feel obliged to act things out, don’t let anyone insist that you use props. For most people, the best way to present the story of their pitch is simply to tell it, clearly and cleanly. Storytelling has been around for millennia; it’s hard to top that.

But you know what it is that you do best. Playing to the emotion? Clever twists and turns? Surprising characters and deep relationships? Whatever it is you do well, focus on making that the cornerstone of your pitch.  

Side dishes are where one can get more creative. If you want to follow up with something more snazzy than your traditional synopsis – maybe a “Case File” or some visuals – that’s an opportunity to show your personality and build relationship, maybe even snag a little extra enthusiasm. But you won’t get the chance to follow up if the execs got indigestion from your pitch.

A Horse With No Name

p0319826The key to pitching is relentless focus.

Think about it. When you’re building a website, everything, down to the color scheme, reinforces your brand. When you’re pitching a screenplay, even your tone of voice is in service to the type of story you’re telling.

But focus doesn’t start at the pitch. Focus starts long before then. Before you’ve parked that domain name or written Fade In, you need to first turn your laser focus onto your message.

Your message becomes your product, whether you are selling personal coaching or movie scripts or widgets. What you communicate is what you sell, so you need to be ruthlessly clear with yourself about what your message is and why it’s desirable. If you don’t, then like Frankenstein’s monster, your creation will be cobbled together from bits and pieces that don’t always quite fit.

Here’s an example: let’s say you have a horse. There are lots of things you can communicate about your horse. It’s a roan, it’s a colt, its name is Sir Geoffrey the Sixth. But if you want to catch the attention of an investor, only one thing matters: your horse is fast.

We know so much about our stories and our businesses that we get caught up trying to communicate all the details. They are true and they may be fascinating, but they’re not relevant to our customer. Whether we’re selling to a producer or consumer, all they want to know is the single detail that’s relevant to them.

Figure out what that is. Communicate only that. Connect over what matters to your audience, even if it means your horse has no name.

 

 

 

 

Lessons from 2015: Shark Tank

If there’s one thing I want you to recognize, it is this: Everybody pitches all the time. You are constantly pitching to family and friends in order to enroll them into your plans: seeing the movie you want to see, or going to a particular restaurant, for example. Even picking a wedding venue or naming your first child; every negotiation opens with a pitch. You do it so often, you aren’t even conscious of it. 

You’ve got this. You’re good.

Until, of course, there’s money on the table. At which point, pitching suddenly seems very hard indeed.

So, first, I suggest talking yourself down from panic. Remind yourself that you have decades of pitching behind you, from the first time you convinced Mommy to pick you up from the crib. After that, read this Business Insider list on the 18 best Shark Tank pitches.

Eighteen seems a pretty random number, but by golly, having so many pitches parsed out in a row was fascinating. The focus was exclusively on what worked, and while I recommend you read it yourself, here are my takeaways:

– Be prepared. Time and again, the entrepreneurs who had numbers at their fingertips, who had thought about objections and questions in advance were more likely to get a good deal. It makes sense; whether you’re pitching a movie or a shoe, you lose credibility when you don’t have the answers.

– Know your audience. The entrepreneurs who researched the show knew what worked, and the ones who researched the individual investors knew what each brought to the table. This not only allowed them to get offers, it enabled them to make good choices when the sharks competed with each other.

– Have many possible ways to win, and be willing to negotiate. If your only win is walking out with a million bucks in your hand, you’re going to lose all the time. Plus you have to make space for them to win as well as you; if you start out in a combative relationship with people who may become your partners, the relationship is doomed from the start. Acknowledge that their needs are as valid as your own, and show them how working with you is a win-win.

– Be yourself. Time and again, these “winning” entrepreneurs broke rules, revealed their personalities and touched people’s hearts. Yes, be professional, but don’t hide who you are in the inside. Ultimately, we’re all people and we want to be in business with other people, not brands or labels or spokesmen.

Oh, and flavored lip gloss! That seemed a sure-fire winner…

😉

Happy 2016, and happy pitching!

— Laura

 

Juicy Juice

I love loglines. We all know I love loglines. But what you might not know is why. Sure, loglines are the killer app of pitching and a great way to start a conversation, but they are even more valuable than that.

Last post, I talked about how a logline can give you clarity, how it can be your North Star. I’ve been writing a new project myself since then, and I had another epiphany (lucky you!) to share:

A great logline gives you juice.

When you write an exciting logline, something that captures the essence of the story you want to tell, having that vision in words helps you fulfill on the promise of the idea. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is easier.

And you shouldn’t feel obliged to stop at the logline; personally, I’m an outliner, not a pantser, so I work out most of the pitch in advance. I know going in that it’s a story I want to do, and — bonus! — I get to look forward to writing my favorite scenes. That carrot alone can get me through the second act slog.

I’m going to take my own advice and post the logline to my current work-in-progress right here: In my fantasy Steampunk novel, a young woman trained as an assassin must partner with her enemies to spy for queen and country. She may succeed in preventing a civil war… if only she can keep her colleagues from killing each other.

Is it a perfect logline? No. Does it make me want to write the story? Hell yes. It gives me direction and tone and a main character I adore.

You can’t write a screenplay in a day. But you can write a logline that makes you want to write a screenplay. Or a novel. Or a short story. Or a series pilot.

Here’s to finding your North Star.

The Hidden Power of Loglines

Whew! There has been a lot of teaching over the last ten days. Between the Cinestory retreat and the screenwriting residency program at National University, the sheer number of loglines I’ve helped people develop recently defies imagination and possibly the time-space continuum. But there is value in that focus; it has revealed to me the key to a great logline:

Clarity, my friends. Clarity.

Not humor or a snazzy vocab or a killer twist — although those are all awesome. No, clarity above all else. The purpose of the logline is to give just enough information that the person listening can decide whether she wants to hear more or not. That’s it. You’re not selling, you are presenting facts: title, genre, gist of the story.

If she says no after the logline, it is not that the logline itself has failed.

On the contrary, a “No” means the logline has succeeded: you have given her enough information that she can see it’s not right for her. This saves both of you time and energy and gives you the opportunity to find out what she *is* looking for. You might just have another project that is perfect for her.

But there’s a second clarity here that is equally important, and that is your own. When you listen to your own logline, is that the movie you want to write? If yes, then your logline is your North Star. Keep it posted, keep it present as you write. Keep yourself on track.

If it’s not the story you want to tell, however, STOP WRITING.

Loglines distill your story down to the most basic decisions, and that includes who your hero is and what he wants. If you realize the character in the logline is not your hero, and the story the logline tells is not the story you want to write, stop now. Regroup. It’s much easier to rewrite a logline to be both true and inspiring than to rewrite a script that got lost in the weeds.

 

 

Pitching is a Numbers Game

I have a client who shall remain nameless.  (Hi, Bob!)  (Kidding.  I’ve also changed some details.)

Bob e-mailed me to say that he was discouraged because he had not sold his screenplay.  I asked him how many times he had pitched it, and the answer was five.  Five times, no nibbles.

Only here’s the rub.  Of the five pitches,

– One was to a friend and fellow writer.

– Three were to agents or managers.

– One was to a production company that could have bought the screenplay.

At which point I took several deep breaths and calmly told Bob the facts of life. 

Pitching is a numbers game.  Pitching your script to five production companies should be enough to get at least one of them to request a copy of the script, assuming you’ve done some homework and you’re pitching to companies that produce scripts like yours.  However, you may need to get five or ten reads before you get an option or a sale.  That works out to around 50 pitches.  To producers.

Now, I love agents, they’re an important piece of a career puzzle, but take this to heart: Agents aren’t buyers.  Exactly zero percent of the time will an agent pay you for your script or your novel.

The same is true if you are pitching your services to clients, or your business to venture capitalists. It can feel as if you’re pitching all the time, because you’re always thinking about it, always talking about it. But if you are not talking to someone who is in a position to pony up good money to make your business roll, then you are not pitching.

You would not go out on one date with one person and expect to get married; think of pitching as serial dating.  Enjoy it!  Learn to love the dates — I mean, pitches.  Track them.  Keep a database of everyone to whom you have pitched the project, both the company name and the name of the person to whom you spoke.  Get those numbers up. 

Tracking lets you regroup when necessary.  If no one bites after twenty pitches, there may be something wrong with your pitch.  If the pitch is getting you in the door but no one buys the script, or hires you, or invests, maybe something’s missing from your product.  Get feedback.

Whether you are trying to land your first job or sell your first widget, it’s a numbers game, and you have to be in it — in a big way — to win it.

Get It In Writing

I just read an article that posed the question, Do You Need A Collaboration Agreement?

And the answer is…

Boy-howdy. 

Always. Every time. Sooner rather than later.

We know we need written agreements when we’re working with big companies or when there’s money on the line, but the stickiest problems can happen when you’re working with friends or on spec. Why?

Because everyone thinks their contribution is the most valuable. 

And that’s cool. The entertainment industry is all about collaboration; you simply can’t make a movie or television show without a small army. Everyone’s contribution can be supremely valuable. But if you don’t nail down your expectations on both sides and get it in writing, you’re in for trouble.

Just sitting down and hashing out what you expect can save you a world of grief. While you will all be astounded at what each has taken for granted, there are a minimum of three things you must discuss:

What exactly are each of you contributing to the project? If you’re writing, are they setting up meetings? How many and where? In what time frame? Are they raising the financing? How much? 

What are you each getting out of the project? What credits? How much will you be paid, by whom and when? 

What happens when something goes wrong? Who has final creative say? How do you dissolve the partnership? And — this is absolutely critical — who owns the project? If it’s a pitch, can one of you pitch it without the other? If it’s a finished script, who owns the copyright? How long is your agreement in effect?

I’ve found ownership to be the single biggest point of contention. Some people feel that if they have the initial germ of an idea, they should own half — or even all — of a script written by their partner. I once worked with a producer who delayed signing our contract because I might die in childbirth, and then where would that leave her? This, by the way, was after I had already turned in the script (see? I should have gotten the contract signed before I started writing, learn from my mistakes!) She just wanted to make sure I was still around for the polish. Again, this is an expectation that needs to be handled before you write 110 pages — or have a baby.

From bitter experience, I have developed one ironclad rule: I’m either paid up front for a script or it’s crystal clear that I own the property. When I write on spec for myself, I register the copyright. If I want to gift a friend with a scene for their reel or even a short, well, that’s a gift. I expect nothing in return.

But when I do expect something, I learned the hard way to get it in writing.

Truthiness in Pitching

For me, pitching has never been about persuasion. Engagement, yes. Sizzle, love it. And accuracy above all else. Being truthful isn’t just a moral choice, it also makes for a cleaner pitch. I find I can stop talking when I speak the truth.

It appears I’m not delusional — well, at least not in this. Pamela Meyer has an intriguing TED talk on lie spotting. One of the tip-offs is that liars may prop up a lie by surrounding it with words that mean nothing. In his incredible book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker talks about the same thing. By the way, this book is a must-read: it teaches you to recognize sociopaths, and I’m only half-joking when I say that’s a survival skill for a Hollywood career. You may not always be able to do something about it, but it’s still good to know when you’re being lied to.

But back to pitching. The other reason to tell the truth is that you speak with a different authority when you do. The only problem is, we often sabotage ourselves with wishy-washy language. This article in the Harvard Business Review is crackerjack in not only identifying weak speech but giving you an idea of what words to use instead.

Because I love it when people agree with me — really, it needs to happen more often — here’s a post by Ramona Defelice Long that has additional good reasons to be truthy in your book pitch. And just for fun, here’s Mr. Truthy himself, Stephen Colbert, pitching his children’s book to none other than Maurice Sendak.

Enjoy!

You Control The Conversation

Here’s something to remember: when you’re in a pitch meeting, you control the conversation. All the new information that is to be imparted during the meeting? That all comes from you.

So decide. What is it that you want to share? Of course you’ll tell them about your company or your project, but what else.

There are always a few things you need to say about your project to feel complete. To feel heard. Usually, these include the key elements (whether it’s a script or a start-up), what makes it special, and what drew you to it in the first place. There may be something else — if you’re a genuine fan of their work, or if you have a particularly strong personal connection to the material, for instance — that you want to say while you have the chance. Say them. 

There will only be about five or six points that, if you hit them, you will have done all you can. At that point, the project is right for them or it’s not right for them — that, you can’t control. But you can control your communication. You can feel heard.