Screenwriter Marvin Baker knows how to tell a story.
I met Marvin in 2014 when I sat down for breakfast at the Willamette Writers Conference. Armed with my coffee, I settled in to share stories and talk pitching with a group of writers I did not know. After I introduced myself, Marvin launched into a story – one I just can’t forget – about how difficult it is to break into the business.
I met with Marvin again this week at his favorite coffee shop in West Linn. Over another cup of coffee, I asked him to share that story once more.
“I went through the same years of rejection as most people,” he said. “Then in 2007, everything changed. I finally broke through. I had a television pilot optioned out, and we went down there for two weeks at the end of August. It was perfect. I celebrated my birthday, and we spent two weeks in Hollywood checking out housing, and looking and seeing the possibilities – what it would actually be like to live down there. We were ready to move.
“And then the writer’s strike came along and derailed all of that.”
The entire conference table groaned as he said those words. To be that close – and to have it all slip away – was unimaginable to us.
“That was kind of tough to take,” Marvin said. “I’ve had other things happen like that since then. It doesn’t get easier. But, now, I’ve just accepted that it’s a business. It’s not me, it’s them. It really truly is.”
I nodded my head, knowing the feeling, knowing the frustration. We’ve all felt it before: the sting of rejection. The form dismissals.
But that still leaves the question: how do we do it? How do we walk into that pitching room, grab their attention, and keep it?
Marvin explained that the first thing to know is it’s actually not all them. I tilted my head in confusion, and he explained.
“I know. I said it was. But it’s not all them, exactly – it’s the subjectivity of the business.”
“You have to strike right at the right moment with the right person,” Marvin said. “That’s all it really is. You have to hit it exactly right. Which is why you gotta do it over and over and over again.”
Sometimes, you can have the perfect pitch, but you can pitch it a year too late for the market. Or sometimes, you’re pitching to the wrong ears. So how do you manage this subjectivity at the Willamette Writers Conference?
The first step is research. Choose five professionals that you are interested in pitching. The next step, according to Mary Andonian, a former Willamette Writers literary coordinator, is to learn as much about those professionals as you possibly can. She suggests taking a look at Writer’s Market, Publishers Lunch, and Preditors and Editors. These sites will help you find out more about what your professionals want, and what you should avoid.
But Mary explains that research will only get you so far. When you walk into that pitch room, you have to make them want to read YOUR book. You’re not just selling your words, you’re selling yourself too.
And Marvin knew this. He’d worked through the Writer’s Market, and he had done his research. He’d found his agents, and he’d queried them like mad. But the rejections were still piling up. Or worse, he’d get no response at all.
“I decided I didn’t want to go through that anymore,” he said. “And I thought, you know, if my writing still isn’t at a point where I’m able to make an impression, then I need to up my own game.
“I started thinking, what is it about me that an agent would find appealing – that they would really want? And I finally threw everything up and I went in and I just began talking to them.”
Find out more in Pitching with Confidence- Marvin Baker’s Story Part Two.
By Kate Ristau