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Writer’s Digest Conference Part II: Pitch Slam

Ah the dreaded pitch slam. For many writers, this is the big reason to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference and also a truly terrifying proposition. All of that was true for me. There were four Pitch Slam sessions on Saturday of an hour each and you signed up for one of them. There were over sixty agents in a big room sitting at tables in alphabetical order, you had three minutes to pitch your book to however many of them that you could and get feedback and hopefully, a request to see more. The pitch slam is really its own beast. Here’s what I learned from participating in the pitch slam.

Prepare, prepare, prepare! All of those months of preparation I was yammering on about in my last post? This is where it paid off. Write a pitch you feel good about. Tell the agent about your book and get them interested in seeing more. Be yourself. Remember that you are one human telling another human about your book – that is all! You have ninety seconds, so keep it short, the shorter the better, in my opinion. Don’t ramble. There are a ton of great resources out there to help you do this, so google away, little grasshopper! I had a pretty good pitch when I arrived in New York, which I then tweaked a little after the pitch perfect information session and yammering with my fellow writers. I felt pretty good about my pitch and knew it by heart. This is key.

They limit the number of people in each pitch session. I read some horror stories about long lines, agents that were not there and all of this stuff. None of that was true for me. There seem to be a million people when you’re waiting to go in and that is terrifying. It seems like you will never get to any agent, but the room is big and there are a lot of agents. I had a list of ten agents I wanted to pitch and I made it to seven of them, which is pretty damn good. Best advice here came from Chuck Sambuchino – do not stand in long lines. Go to agents that have a short line or none at all. If Chuck is there, he will hustle you to a shorter line anyway. He knows what’s what, listen to him. On average, I had one person ahead of me. Several times I went right up to the agent. Time was not an issue.

When you’re getting ready for this, it’s easy to believe that agents are mean, scary dragon people just waiting to crush your dreams and spit in your face. Maybe, but not any that I spoke with. They tell you way ahead which agents will be there, so research them like a crazy person. Yes, the list changes, yes, there are additions and subtractions, but you need to know who you want to pitch to. Ten seems to be a good number. Anyone I didn’t make it to is getting a query. My strategy was to avoid long lines and also not to pitch my top agents first. This was my first pitch slam, I was nervous and very, very tired. I didn’t want to blow my first pitch on my top three agents. This worked great for me. My ‘last’ agent had no lineup when we first went in there, so I went for him. He was very nice, liked my pitch, asked me some questions that let me know that he understood what the hell I was trying to get across, and guess what? He requested more. First one, bam, feel good, flying for the rest of the slam. That was key for me, to start on the right foot. I tried to set myself up for success and it worked. I pitched seven agents and got five requests. Some of the best advice I read ahead of time was to remember that agents are just people and all that is happening is that you are having a conversation with them about your book. I tried to be happy, friendly, relaxed and normal as possible and it paid off in a big way. The two agents that did not request were just as excellent. One said my pitch was great and sent me to another agent she thought would like it, that agent was not on my list. She requested it. The other agent also complemented my pitch and suggested some comparison titles I hadn’t thought of whose agents I might want to investigate. She also told me that if I wrote anything with a more literary bent in the future to send it her way because she liked how I presented things.

So I got five requests to see my book and a massive boost in the confidence department. No one I spoke to at the conference regretted doing the pitch slam. Even if they didn’t get requests, they got valuable experience speaking about their work in a concise way, and some great feedback. That alone is worth the price of admission.

The Dreaded Book Signing

I made a quick run to Chapters (insert laughter here) a few Saturdays ago to pick up one magazine (more laughter).  The store was busy, as it always seems to be and I was on an in and out mission, so I strode confidently in and toward the magazine section.  That’s pretty much where the mission falls apart.

On my confident, purposeful path to the magazines, I noticed an author table to my right, away from the centre aisle near the Starbucks.  I was walking too quickly to see who the author was or what the book was, but my little writer antennae started wobbling.  There was an author, a table with his books and that was all.  No line ups out the door, just a dude and his coffee.  I noted that he was standing.

I predictably enough got lost in the magic that is a bookstore and wandered around like a giddy lunatic for an hour until my arms were laden with hardcovers.  Between that and my gigantic purse that I can’t successfully downsize, I was getting pretty tired, so I headed over to the checkout.  That’s when I remembered author and looked over.  Yep, he was still there all right, with his coffee, all by himself, standing.  I went over.  Here is a summary of our conversation:

Me, nodding to his book because I don’t have a free arm: “Is this your book?” (Oh, the insight, good job.)

Author: “Why yes, it certainly is.” (He balances one on top of my book pile for me to look at)

Me, looking at it: “That’s awesome.  What is it about?”

Here the author gave me a pretty decent elevator pitch that I don’t recall well enough to recount.  He was prepared though, that was what was good, he had it ready.

Me: “Sounds interesting.  Is it your first book?”

Author, smiling: “The first one published, yes.”

Me, smiling back: “I’ve only published short so far.  How does it feel?”

Author, really smiling: “Awesome.  Writing it was the easy part, it’s the publishing that’s hard.”

Me: “Is it worth it?”

Author, nodding: “It’s pretty cool to see it in print, yes.”

He made some observations about the books I was carrying and we had a discussion about Abebooks.  He was very polite, well-groomed without looking like he was trying too hard and engaged me in conversation.  I might be getting ahead of myself here, but I both crave and dread the book signing, so this was a cool experience for me.  I thought he did a lot of things right when I approached him, I suppose it’s getting people to approach you that’s the hard part.  I have every intention of paying my family and friends to rotate through the store at my first book signing so I look like someone important, and I am okay with that.

I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s up next after the last installment of the millenium trilogy.  In case you’re curious, the author was Sean M. Douglas and his first book is From Storm Clouds Come Angels.  I’ll do a review here when I’m finished.

*In the interest of full disclosure, it was not a quick run to Chapters.  I forgot to buy the magazine I went in for and came out with four books instead that cost about a hundred bucks.  I live with a great deal of shame.