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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.


Writer’s Digest Annual Conference – Pitch Slam

As I mentioned in my last, long ago post, I will be attending the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference this August in New York. I’ve never been to a writing conference before and I’m pretty excited. It’s still a few months away, but there is quite a bit of preparation involved and I’m making some progress on that. Aside from the many sessional offerings, I’m also doing the pitch slam, which is both an exciting and deeply terrifying notion. Since I have no experience in this regard, I read some blogs by people who have attended writing conferences with pitch slams to get some idea of what to expect. Some were very encouraging and some read like the stuff of nightmares. One thing they did agree on is that I’ll need a pitch and I’ll need to know what agents I want to pitch to.

The Pitch. Short, sweet and well rehearsed seems to be the consensus there. I don’t have a pitch, per se, but I have a few similar notions from various attempts at query letters and such that I can get started with. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about creating a pitch and made a lot of notes, so that’s something I’ll be working on for the next little while. Last year my closest writing pal passed away unexpectedly, so I guess my dogs will be judging my delivery. I figure the German shepherd will be the most critical.


Nuka: Your book SUCKS!


Know what agents you want to pitch to. Here’s where a lot of the blogs I read took on a frightening tone – long lines, lots of agents not at every pitch session, mean agents, tired agents, horrible ghoul type agents sent from hell to destroy your soul, basically the pitch slam sounds like a land of chaos, where nothing makes sense and everyone is confused. Maybe this is accurate, maybe not, I won’t know until I get there. I figure the best I can do is be prepared and just think of it as an adventure. My own brain and its horrible, horrible thoughts are what screw me around more than anything else, so I’ll just be as prepared as I can and see what happens.

Writer’s Digest has a list of the agents attending, so I made a list of agents that represent my genre. Now I’ll research them all further and rank them in order of who I’d like to pitch to most to least. Once I’m at the pitch slam I can use that based on what agents are there and how long their lines are. Seems like a reasonable approach to me, I guess I’ll find out!

Writer’s Digest Conference 2016

The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference is taking place August 12 – 14 at the New York Hilton Midtown, and guess what, I’ll be there!

I’ve never been to a writer’s conference. I’ve thought about attending before, but since I live all tucked away up here in Canada under a pile of snow, it’s a bit of an undertaking and it has never quite come together for me. This is the year!  I’ve read Writer’s Digest magazine for years and used their Second Draft services as well. I follow the blogs of their editors and enjoy their articles and tweets. These are informative people and it will be pretty cool to meet them in person.

I’ve also never been to New York. This adventure is still in the early planning stages, but I’ve bought my registration for the conference, including the pitch slam and the hotel is booked. What to expect from a writing conference? Well, I really don’t know. The schedule is just starting to take shape on their website, but it looks like many incredible authors and agents will be giving workshops and participating in panels on many different aspects of the writing life. If nothing else, it will be great to be surrounded by a bunch of other enthusiastic writers for a few days. I like my own company as much as the next writer, but a little boost of comradery in this largely solitary pursuit can go a long way.

The next few months will be spent making travel arrangements and deciding which of the many offerings of the conference I want to attend beside the pitch slam. I’ve got some research to do about what to expect and how to be prepared, especially for the pitch slam, but I’m excited about this opportunity. I look forward to meeting some like-minded folks and maybe even get a few requests for my manuscript. There will certainly be plenty to learn.

If anyone knows some good resources to help me prepare or if you’ve been to one of these before, please comment! I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The early bird pricing ended January 31, but you can still register until April 1 for a better rate. I’ll be blogging about this more in the months ahead, I’m sure. One thing we know as writers is that you have to continually invest in the craft of writing and this seems like a great opportunity to do so.

Check out the website for all the details, see you in New York!