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Sarah Gerdes

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Member Since: Oct, 2007

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Cold-calling publishers and studios
By Sarah Gerdes   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, January 10, 2008
Posted: Monday, November 26, 2007

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To call, submit a form, email...or not that is the question....

I'm always asked how I've gotten big names to review my work, with the following up "how-to" question with or w/out an agent. Here goes...self mktg and PR 101.


The summary first. I cold called Walden Media, who looked at Catacombs and the Forbidden City (CTFC), referred me to the publisher at Zondervan, who looked at CTFC, who then referred me to Vulcan Media, who is NOW looking at my stuff. Whew. All three went through the formal review did it all start?


Cold calls.


Rog (my dear, long-suffering husband) got tired of me whining about my agent, the publishing cycles etc. So a few months ago, he yells out from my micro-office with the contact name and information for Walden Media, the movie house that produced the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. While Catacombs is not Christian per se, it does have good/evil arching plot and in the later books, will have some spiritual elements-though this is subtle.


Side note: So many studios and publishing houses provide contact info on the Internet, it's really unnecessary to go buy a book on the subject. The last time I purchased a Writer's Guide was about 10 years ago, well before I had a completed manuscript. All buying the guide accomplished was to make me feel completely overwhelmed and inadequate. Of course, that might describe my earlier years, but I digress...


So first, I assembled my statistics about the first Catacombs book. # of readers/buyers, adoption by schools, number of events, feedback etc. I summarized this into a 15 second pitch, cold-called the head of Walden's publishing and got her assistant. Since I expected as much, I gave the assistant the pitch along with the stats, as well as the fact that my agent was fine with me calling direct.


Side note: for some reason, everyone takes you seriously if you have an agent. Frankly, I'm sure Peter never thought I'd get through, so I risked nothing...and no, neither Walden nor anyone else ever called Peter...and he was fine with my dual efforts.


The asst. at Walden asks me to fax over a summary and the stats, I do, then a the following day, I receive a request for the entire manuscript, electronically. Within a week, I received an email from the publisher herself, who'd read my manuscript, passed it around internally to 3 other readers. Bottom line: the publisher wanted to talk, and would be happy to do so from the road.


Side note: This disgression is a long-winded one, but the learning lessons are important, so I'm making multiple digressions here....this was nearly MIRACULOUS in terms of turn-around-time. Studios read and turn around a yes or no so unbelievably quick it's astounding when compared with the publishing world. And it's an odd thing when you think about it--studios take 3-4 years to develop a movie, so one would naturally assume it takes forever to read a manuscript. But it's exactly the opposite. Scripts get read quickly because the studios seem paranoid someone else will capture the idea first--I love that!


Okay, so back to the conversation. I call up the publisher, reach her on a trip, and she is very curt with me, in direct contrast to her wonderful email. She wants to "cut to the case" and says it's not for Walden. Before I had the chance to get depressed, she told me that she and 3 others in the company read Catacombs, liked it, thought it potential for movies and merchandising was/is great, but that "6 months ago Walden decided not to do any more 'period pieces'". Drat. 6 months off. What are the odds?


Of course she wanted to get off the phone the moment she delivered the bad news. But after months of getting reviewed, receiving glowing comments followed by the inevitable "but.." all pride dropped and I essentially pleaded with her for some guidance. It went something like this...


"How can I have X thousands of readers, 100+ schools adopt my book and STILL not get a publishing deal. Do you have any recommendations on where I should turn."


The woman dropped her professional, hard core demeanor and took pity on me. After all, this is someone who had more than a dozen children's books published herself, and must have suffered something akin to my experience.


She then opened the publishing kimono and gave me some incredible pieces of advice for who, where and when to approach. It was unbelievable. I was sensitive to her time of course, but was able to ask critical questions about the profile of publisher that was in the Walden circle of friends...she ended up offering a recommendation to Zondervan. At the time, I had no clue Zondervan was exclusively Christian. I just knew it from A Purpose Driven Life fame. (in case you don't know this book, it's the top selling non-fiction book of all time. --40 Million copies. yes. million). She even offered to send an email with a forward about my call.


A few days later, I called the publisher and two days thereafter, received a wonderful call from the head of the young reader books. I've covered this in a previous blog, but the bottom line was the turn around was very fast (2 weeks) for Catacombs to go through the entire cycle. When I ultimately received the No--well, that's not accurate. It was a NO unless I wanted to re-write the series with a more obvious Christian slant--but she referred me to Vulcan.


So off to Vulcan I go. Of course, the web site says don't call or write. The standard-your people talk to my people-but I called anyway, and I also submitted an email to the CEO. Now, did I know that the president is over ALL billionaire Paul Allen's companies. Um. no. But would it have altered my approach. Nope. Start high is my philosophy.


The receptionist pretty much blew me off, avising me to have "my attorneys" send over my script, eventhough I know I mentioned it was a book manuscript. This was even after I rattled off the book statistics. Since I'm a big believer that sugar goes down better than salt, I gave him the heads up that in my igorance, I had already sent a form email to the president through the Contact Us section on the web site.


He laughed at me.


But guess what? 2 days later, I receive a call from tthis same person asking me to send a fax of the details about my book and the relevant statistics. Four days after that, I get a call from the director/producer of Vulcan!


Now, this was two months ago, and I have 2 properties that are in reviews for possible movie development. After the first month of heavy breathing (my own, in anticipation), I've eased up, knowing that no news is good news, but it does fall to me to contact the producer at the end of October for the update. I'm late, and that's intentional. I don't want to look to eager, after all.


Cold calling does work. It helps if you have some great stats to rattle off and then be able to talk intelligently about your project. And if you don't have an agent, I wouldn't let that detour you. If a publisher is interested, it will take, oh, about five minutes to call up an agent and present the project for representation. That's a great problem to have.


I write lots of tips and thoughts on my bog at, another resource for writers.

Web Site: Sarah Gerdes

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