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If you’ve been following in recent weeks, you already know the things I did to get ready for the Writer’s League of Texas (WLT) Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, TX. This week, I’ll wrap up my adventure and tell you how I ended it on a good note.
After an exceptionally good night, 8:00 came around way too soon. I got up and polished off any rough edges to make myself as presentable as possible. I harp on this a lot, but I think it’s important to say that if you want to be treated as a professional, you must present yourself as a professional. There was only one time that anyone would have caught me not wearing a nice tie, and even then I was dressed professionally. On the final day, it was black slacks, a grey shirt and purple tie. It’s the last thing they will remember about you.
I still didn’t have any appointments to speak with an agent or editor, but I found that I really didn’t need to as long as I was confident and could sum up my work in about 30 seconds. Again, it’s not rude to approach an agent or editor, but keep in mind that by this time, they have been approached by hundreds of writers pitching hundreds of ideas, so don’t expect to stand out unless you have something exceptional to sell.
If you have nothing better to do, go back and talk with the connections you’ve made. Say “hi” to that agent in the hall without mentioning your work, especially if one says to see them about a card because they’ve run out. Talk to that editor you were sitting next to during breakfast. Go hang out with the group of awesome writers you clicked with on day #1. From here you must realize that you’re headed back to the real world in a few hours, so make sure you can maintain connections.
The closing session was the Wild Pitch – a panel of editors, published authors, and agents who randomly pull written pitches and critique them. Mine did not get pulled.
Things I learned from this panel:
1) Be prepared to answer question that aren’t about the book. These people are interested in making money, and will want to know if you are a one hit wonder or a cash cow. They’ll want to know: Who do you emulate? What is your writing process? What sort of support structure do you have at home? And, most importantly, do you actually have time to write? These are NOT easy questions to answer if you’re not ready for them.
2) Promotion of your book should start up to two years before publication. Reach out to people in the field you are writing about to build your credibility. Get involved in anthologies and writing for magazines and newspapers.
3) Your pitches need to show that your story is unique, and you must convey that in 30 seconds or less. Generalities kill. One of the panelists became fixated on a detail of one pitch. The story itself he didn’t care for, but that one aspect, a minor aspect, he couldn’t stop raving about and wanted to go back to it over and over, ultimately telling the anonymous writer to see him after the panel. Which brings me to another important aspect: Be prepared to change your story for the sake of the market. This is a business, and I realize you are all as brilliant as I am, but it’s a business, we can make money or not.
I did, however, get into an argument with a writer sitting at my table. She asked probably the worst question you could at an Agents and Editors Conference, she asked why we needed them at all if she could just go and self publish. It’s a fair question, but not in the way she asked it. The panelists didn’t answer her question, be we had a conversation about it. I explained that subpar novels have flooded the market, making it more difficult than ever to get published traditionally, but the reason we needed “them” was because of their resources. Your average self published author doesn’t have the distribution capabilities, the marketing staff, or the clout to branch out to book sellers and international audiences. On a personal note, I want that recognition from industry professionals that I am a good writer; that I deserve to be published. She argued that some of the top selling authors are self published. True, but for every Suzanne Collins there are thousands of unsuccessful writers who couldn’t get published otherwise. She walked away.
Another moment of right place/right time: I was checking out of the hotel when I ran into Ken Sherman, Ken Sherman and Associates, from LA. I’d run into him several times in elevators, dinner, or just wandering the halls. A pretty nice guy. I asked him if I could give him my pitch about a new kind of monster, and he stopped me and told me to e-mail him. His brain was already saturated by pitches, so I was lucky.
I have gone about getting contacting everyone I talked to through social media. I also have bought high quality thank you cards for the industry professionals. This may sound like brown nosing, but I am honestly grateful for their time and see a thank you card as a postal handshake.
I hope you all learned something from this little epic, and keep reading!