agents, Brad McLelland, Brooks Sherman, Chuck Sambuchino, Dustin Bass, editors, Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, fiction, Gloria Bankler, Kat Patrick, Marcy Posner, networking, novel, Taylor Martindale, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, Writers’ League of Texas, Writing, writing conferences
If you followed last week’s post, you already know the steps I went through to get ready for the Writer’s League of Texas (WLT) Agents and Editors Conference. I’ll tell you right now that even if you follow everything to a tee, you will forget something. I know I did.
To add to my list from last week: Sign up for everything. It will cost you, but it will be worth it from both an exposure and education standpoint. When I found out that I was able to attend, I signed up for the Pre-Conference Workshop and the Keynote Luncheon. I was not, however, able to sign up for any of the sold out agent and/or editor one-on-one slots (10 to 20 minute sessions where it’s just you and them in a speed dating interview).
My intended timeline for Day 1 (Friday) went as such: 8:00 wakeup and shower; 9:00 have copies of my first chapter, synopsis, and query made, and package; 10:00 pick up rental car; 10:30 pack the car and head to Austin; 11:30 check in and sign up for any one-on-one sessions that may be available; 3:00 Pre-Conference Workshop; 5:30 Writer’s Coffeehouse Welcome Session and Mixer.
It was a good plan.
8:00 – I got up and got moderately ready, had a cup of coffee and was out the door. The copies and packaging was not as easy as I thought it would be, but looked good in the end.
10:45 – I got home and had to take another shower because, frankly, I was starting to freak-out and was nervously sweating. I threw on my Day 1 daytime look (brown slacks, tan shirt, cornflower blue tie), and was out the door again.
11:00 – The rental place didn’t have a car ready, saying that I was supposed to pick it up at 10:00. A reasonable person would have thought it would have been ready an hour before, but arguing got me nowhere. Eventually I got the rental car… at about 11:45.
12:00 – I was on the road. I really hadn’t counted on hitting Austin’s lunch-time traffic, which I admit was a tad naïve seeming the conference was in downtown Austin.
1:45 – I arrived at the hotel, checked in, threw my luggage in my room, grabbed my writing bag, and made my way to check in with the conference.
The conference had a Wild Pitch Box. The idea was that you could print off a copy of your written pitch – the abbreviated presentation of what you have to sell – that could be up to 250 words long and, on the last day, it could be randomly drawn and critiqued by a panel of industry professionals in front of all of the agents and editors. Having done extensive homework, and being very confident in my abilities, I had this ready to go and dropped my submissions in the box.
From there I walked around and met a few of the other early arrivals. I noticed right off that I was one of very few that wore a tie.
3:00 – I sat at the nearest table to the front of the Pre-Conference Workshop with the Keynote Speaker, Chuck Sambuchino. With pen and pad in hand, I prepared for a class from the expert on “Prep your Pitch.” 20 minutes in, I abandoned my notebook and started making notes directly on my “polished” work.
What I learned about making a 3-10 sentence pitch:
1. Identify your main characters (no more than a few).
2. What is unique about your main character?
3. What is the inciting incident?
4. What is the plot?
5. What are the complications?
6. What are the stakes if your protagonist fails?
7. Don’t give away the ending.
Mention your credentials if they made you money. Nobody cares if your friends and family love your work, or even if you’ve been published in a high school/college newsletter. The industry is a money making industry. Generalities will also sink a pitch. Be specific. Elicit emotions. And, what qualifies YOU to write this novel?
I spoke with Mr. Sambuchino after his brilliant class, and ran my pitch by him. He said it was “terrible.” It’s a little humbling when the Keynote Speaker tells you that, but it’s exactly what I needed to hear, and he gave me some suggestions to be more effective. I left the class feeling more nervous than ever, and pulled my terrible pitches from the Wild Pitch Box.
5:30 – I changed into my Day 1 evening look (charcoal gray slacks, black shirt, and bright pink tie), and headed to the Welcome Session and Mixer. Again, not very many people dressed up for the event. Conscious to not get any snacks or drinks that would ruin my breath, I took a seat and started conversations. I hadn’t noticed that I was sitting next to Marcy Posner, an agent with Folio Literary Management, who is a very nice woman that doesn’t represent my genre.
After the formal introductions of the faculty and welcome to the 20th Annual Agents and Editors Conference, they opened the bar and encouraged us to mingle. Hundreds of writers meandered about, most of which seemed to know someone else there, unlike myself who didn’t know a soul. What I had on my side was an outgoing personality, quick wit, was dressed to be noticed, and an in-depth knowledge of the industry. I talked with quite a few writers, practicing and refining my pitch until I felt comfortable enough to actually approach an agent.
Remember going to middle school dances and wanting to ask a girl you like to dance, but you had no idea how to approach her? What if you panic? What if she says no? It’s a lot of pressure.
But I had done my homework. At the top of my list was Brooks Sherman, an agent with Fine Print Literary Management, whose bio included a line about opening with a funny story. I also knew he’s done work with the Peace Corps in Africa, so I shook his hand and told him a story about when I was in Korea that got him laughing. I then asked him if I could give him my pitch for a horror novel, which I did, and he gave me his card and told me to send him some pages. SUCCESS! I shook his hand again and got a drink as fast as I could.
An unexpected success happened while I was talking with another writer off to the side. I was telling him about a YA novel I’m working on, and Taylor Martindale, an agent from Full Circle Literary, overheard the conversation. She gave me her card and told me to send her some pages. Talk about a confidence booster.
I later ran into Chuck Sambuchino, who remembered my name and noticed I had changed my outfit. Again, dress to be remembered.
After the event was over at about 8:00, I was enjoying a glass of wine, and fell in, quite by accident, with an amazing group of writers (Brad McLelland, Gloria Bankler, Dustin Bass, and Kat Patrick). We practiced our pitches and laughed until we went hoarse over dinner. Again, networking and making friends.
Next week, I’ll go into Day 2: lots of classes and a chance meeting that opened doors.