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.
An unintended theme of this blog seems to be that I, as a human being, a woman, wife, writer, employee, dog owner, et cetera, have no idea what I’m doing. Thankfully that seems to amuse people, because that’s pretty much how I feel most of the time and I am really, really bad at hiding it.
I hope, and hope springs eternal, that this is true, but sometimes it doesn’t feel true, now does it? And those are times of low motivation and general feelings of malaise. But let’s leave that unpleasantness behind us and move on to greater, more fulfilling things, shall we? Without further adieu, I present three writing related things that are awesome!
- I tweaked my query letter! I continue to query agents about my novel and even though I haven’t sent out very many, oddly enough, they are not yet beating down my door. Weird, right? So I tweaked my letter a bit and now feel that surely it cannot be improved upon and the storming of my home by literary agents should commence momentarily.
- I wrote, and completed a short story! Since I have given up my life to my novel, I stopped writing short stories a few years ago. But, I got this idea a few weeks ago while I was staring blankly out my office window pretending to work. Then, I did something weird. Instead of just shrugging at what might have been an okay idea, I turned to my computer and started to write the story that I had just thought of. Basically, it was like a miracle occurred right there in my office. As if that isn’t mind-blowing enough, this morning I finished the short story. That means I wrote an applicable ending. The weirdest thing is, it doesn’t suck…
- I listened to this podcast! (Henry and Heidi Podcast, episode 14) Because my husband is awesome, he passed this along to me. It’s Henry Rollins talking about the writer Hubert Selby, Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream). They were good friends and it’s about writing, mentors and getting the hell out of the way. Enjoy!
As far as meanings of life go, the best I have been able to come up with so far is to learn as much as humanly possible during your stint on earth. That makes sense to me and seems reasonable. I think if you pay attention you can always learn new things, you just have to pay attention.
I like learning new things. One of the things I miss most about being in university (I would be a professional student if I could) is that every single day for four years I learned something that I didn’t know before and since I’m a nerd, this perpetually blew my mind. Every day the moment would come in a lecture, tutorial or library where I would think to myself, or occasionally exclaim out loud to the unfortunate student beside me, DAMN! I had no idea! And every single day that moment would be followed by a silent reflection along the lines of, whoa, there’s so much that I don’t know! How did I not know that? How have I NEVER EVEN HEARD OF THAT BEFORE? What’s wrong with me? How much more do I not know? The world is so big, the universe is so huge, how can I ever know everything that’s important to know? Why am I so ignorant, GAHHHHHHHH! And so forth.
Because I lack common sense and reason, I have embarked fully on the journey to get an agent for my book and I’m learning lots of stuff, yay! Hear are some of the things I have learned so far:
1. Getting a rejection is much better than getting nothing at all. I’ve had three rejections so far and all of them have been very nice. I’m starting to suspect that contrary to popular belief, literary agents are actually human beings. Further research is required.
2. Writing a synopsis for your novel is worse than breaking your nose. Much worse. I am still not done this. (@#%&**^&) I started it in FEBRUARY. I mean I am done, but it sucks. I called in a professional for help, but I feel stuck until he emails me with some kind of strategy. I have nothing positive to say about this, I’ll just be glad to move it off my plate one day, in about fifty years or so.
3. You actually are your own worst enemy, like actually for real. Really. This one is hard to explain, but I seem to slowly be learning through some strange osmosis that I really do chart my own course in life and how I feel about myself and what I do directly impacts what the hell is going on. Now I know I’m a little slow on the uptake some times, so this might be one of those things that everyone else already knows and I’m just figuring out, but it’s pretty crazy. Like if I get a polite rejection or I can’t find a good agent to query, I start to feel sad and a little depressed. I leave my desk and go pull weeds out of the garden or something and think, maybe my book sucks, maybe this is a stupid idea, maybe I’ll never get an agent and I’m a terrible writer and I should get a real job and be a normal person. It’s terrible, this doubt and fear, especially when I don’t really believe any of those things. I’m pretty stubborn and stupid, so I don’t see myself succumbing to these thoughts any time soon, but they scare me and make me sad. How many people don’t do things, how many things don’t I do just because of stupid, baseless thoughts and feelings like that? Need to nix that kind of thing.
4. I suck at Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for a while, but I don’t post much because I never know what to post. I just don’t feel like I’m all that interesting, to be honest. I’m getting into it though with all of this agent researching and I enjoy other people’s Twitters. I’ll just go with a practice makes perfect for that.
I’ve also learned it’s hard to try and get an agent for a book and start writing another one. These seem to be very different wavelengths for me and I have a hard time flipping between them. My next mission will be to start the next one regardless. What good is a writer who isn’t writing?