Category Archives: Writers’ conferences

What To Do When You Sit Down To Pitch Your Novel In-Person

Good practical (and empathetic) advice on pitching from agent Carly Watters! I’ve had good luck recently from listing about eight plot points to keep me on track. No one seems to mind if I use a page of notes. What about you? What techniques do you use to make your pitch sessions work?

Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

After attending conferences around North America for the past 6 years I’ve seen an array of pitching techniques. Some good. Some…not so good. I get it. It’s not easy to pitch your book (your creative project that’s been on your mind for months if not years) to someone sittingin front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.

Agents can sense thedetermination and fear in the room during pitch sessions. It’s honestly palpable and we can feel your energy.

I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizingat thesame time. Having a new project pitched to me every 7-10 minutes is a lot to wrap my head around and sometimes they bleed into one another. And depending on how conference organizers set things up I could be sitting there for up to 2 hours at a time.

When you sit down:

Relax. Then tell me why you’re sitting…

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Correction to 3 Lessons, 4 Resolutions from the Indiana Writers’ Workshop

An earlier version of my post incorrectly stated that Chuck Sambuchino was in charge of this one-day workshop in Indianapolis on Oct. 24. In fact, he was subbing for another volunteer. The workshop was actually coordinated by Jessica Bell, of Writing Day WorkshopsTypewriter publish. I thought folks might appreciate learning about this organization, if they aren’t already familiar with it. It hosts a range of workshops at different locations around the country, and will definitely be on my list of possible conference options.

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3 Lessons, 4 Resolutions from the Indiana Writers’ Workshop, October 24, 2015

Novel!It’s unusual to find a conference that changes the way I think about my novel and about myself as a writer. This one-day conference, less than a day’s drive away, did just that.

The Workshop featured presentations by Brian Klems, online editor for WritersDigest.com. The basic fee covered four all-group presentations by Klems and a “first-page” critique by four agents of randomly selected submissions. Participants could pay extra for ten-minute pitch sessions with up to six agents and for a personal query-letter critique by Chuck Sambuchino, author of a number of books and blogs on writing as well as humor books.

Klems’s presentations covered a huge amount of nuts-and-bolts information most valuable to writers who had not attended many conferences or mined the web for information on the business of writing. The pitch sessions were well-coordinated; all three of the agents I queried were generous listeners. The published schedule did not build in meals or receptions for the social networking that many writers find rewarding.

So what made this conference so productive? Two things: Sambuchino’s critique of my query and the “first-page” session, at which some 20 or so of the first pages submitted were thrown down and stomped upon.

First: Query-Letter Critique

I didn’t receive Sambuchino’s comments until the Thursday night before the conference, and Friday was hectic, so it was evening before I could settle into my motel room to digest the veritable armada of comments he had supplied. Everyone reading this can probably empathize with my stomach-twisting lurch when I realized that the back-of-the-book blurb I had workshopped over and over with multiple audiences was No Good. Basic questions—what is Michael’s wound, his need? What is at stake? How does this event lead to this one?—still loomed. Sambuchino wanted A LOT more information than any back-of-the-book was going to accommodate.

The feeling of utter inadequacy that settled over me produced a complete rewrite. Was that the right strategy? All I know is that when I sat across from agents and talked from the notes they were glad to let me use, not one broke in with a confused frown to tell me I wasn’t making any sense. (Believe me, this has happened.) There’s no experiment that could tell me whether my response to Sambuchino’s comments made the difference. But I do know that when I revise my query letter, the pitch itself will look a lot more like the one I wrote Friday night than the one I have now.

Lesson learned? First let me talk about

First Page Armageddon

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Creative Nonfiction Conference

Check out this conference if you write creative nonfiction of any sort:

Hippocamp15 bannerAugust 7-9, Lancaster, PA.

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I’m in Like Flint

I’ve just been reading Becky Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. At least in the first few chapters, Lerner, a poet-turned-editor-turned-agent (and I gather still all of these things), offers advice at one end of a continuum I’ve noticed. Hers is what I would call a “soft” book for writers: strong on inspiration, on the emotional landscape of writing, on how you’ll know if you’re really meant to write and how to persevere through the cold winter of a writer’s disenchantment. At the other end of the continuum: books like Michael Larson’s book on non-fiction proposals, which I downloaded for help writing my proposal for Survive College Writing (a future bestseller currently interred in a massive data dump of all the things I want to say to the students I saw struggle so hard). Larson is in the “how-to” school; this is what you do and this is what it should look like, down to how long paragraphs should be. Quit yer belly-achin’ and just get going. What’s so damn hard?

In the middle I’d place Susan Rabiner’s Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published. This claims to be a how-to, but there’s a good amount of inspiration here–for example, she maintains that if you’re passionate about your topic, your heart will beat through your prose. But there’s also some of that hard-headed get-on-with=it spirit: All the passion in the world won’t help if you don’t do these X or Y Most Important Things.

Reading Lerner, I find myself thinking about the many conferences I’ve attended over the years. Lerner tells ms, forget about writing the next X or Y; forget about “Marley and Me meets ET.” Write what you’re obsessive about, what haunts you. Write the book that’s your book. Thus far, the implication is that if anything is going to sell and hit, that’s the book that will.

The real question is, where’s that line between “what we’ve seen before” and “we don’t know what the heck it is”? Lerner will presumably tell me if I’ve just gone too far, according to one of the Amazon reviews. I will await the event.

If I were in the inspiration queue–I’m not exactly; I know I’ll always write–I would find some solace in sentences like these from Lerner:

“It takes a certain kind of person to understand and cope with rejection as an appraisal instead of a judgment.” (See this post for another take on criticism of our work.)

“[T]he degree of one’s perseverance is the best predictor of success.”

I value information about what’s not working more than ever, and God knows, I persevere.

 

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Update from 1/27!

I’ve revised to add some new more information about Gail Strickland’s book, Night of Pan. Check out her site. I hope she will visit soon for a blog interview about bringing her book to publication.

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Writers’ Conference VII: Post-Coda

I promised to report on the fates of my colleagues at the conference I attended a few years ago.

I obviously don’t know all their stories. Emails began to circulate, friendly requests for updates. Not everyone responded. I did not.

Now that I’m contemplating creating (from scratch) a “platform” for the non-fiction book I’m working on (tentatively titled Survive College Writing: What No One Will Tell You about Your First-Year Writing Class), I realize that not becoming part of that somewhat nostalgic network was a missed opportunity. At the time, it seemed clear to me that my job had hustled any real involvement in my personal projects right off the stage. So I withdrew, sat silent, packed away the emotional energy I wanted to invest in writing in hopes it would ferment in its dark corner. I think it has. I get up ready to write every day.

So with regard to the fate of my colleagues at the conference, all I have to go on is that flurry of emails. About ten people took part.

Of those few, up to the last email I received, only one had found a commercial publisher for the book she pitched at the conference. Gail Strickland found a small press (Curiosity Quills Press) that publishes the kind of book she has written and offers her the kind of support she hoped for. Her book, a YA historical fantasy titled Night of Pan can be pre-ordered through her Web site. I’m hoping Gail will give a blog interview about her experiences taking her book through from idea to promotion; if so, I’ll post the date.

The most impressive of the several self-publishing stories is that of one of the attendees who perfected his pitch (not about zombies) and scored a review from Publishers Weekly Select. John J. Kelley’s The Fallen Snow is worth a look–and I especially admire the attention his hard work at promotion has garnered. He’s gotten wonderful reviews! With his permission, I’ve posted his very informative account of the PW Select process here.

Another attendee ended up self-publishing a cookbook based on her expertise at gardening and raising bees. At last account she was still at work on her fiction.

John found the conference helpful in expanding his options for his work. I am still thinking about what I learned, including what I knew before and how the conference changed what I thought I knew. Even so much later (nearly three years), I still have much to process. I think that will take another post.

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