Back in the Game – Part 2 of 3

8 07 2008

It was deja vu, all over again…

I woke up in my Westin Heavenly Bed™ at around quarter of 8 am. I usually take at least four or five snooze buttons to emerge from slumber, but not on this day. On this day I bound from the bed, ran through the shower, and was dressed in minutes – the euphoria never leaving me.

See I was headed to the Book Expo America writer’s conference and I was ready to face the fifty or so agents who had “volunteered” to participate in the annual pitch slam.

A pitch slam is where the author has exactly three minutes to convey the key elements of their story, tell a bit about themselves and answer any questions the agent may have – all in the hopes of getting the green light to contact them post event. Why is this so important? Well in previous blogs I have detailed just how difficult the business of publishing can be. Being a literary agent is like being bombarded by junkmail – loads and loads of junk mail that you are obligated to sift through – all in the hopes that you may have won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

Participating in a pitch slam is like the junk mailer (writer) getting face to face time with you (agent). The likelyhood of you (agent) throwing said piece of mail out diminishes once you have seen the living breathing organism (writer) that put their blood sweat and tears into said mailing. Or so you might think.

The one thing I have learned so far throughout this whole process, is that literary agents are tough. They don’t really give a damn about throwing away junk mail – be it in person – through e-mail – or snail mail. They are ancient gunslingers whose bullets are NO’s, blowing holes through the hopes and dreams of writers like myself.

So obviously as a writer you have to really prepare for this once a year opportunity to get shot down to your face.

How did I prepare, you ask? Well, having already participated in the 2007 pitch slam in NY gave me a heads up on the competition, plus I had great support from fellow writer-in-arms Stephanie Casher (www.stephaniecasher.com – read her blog!). It’s really all about putting your mind in a positive space and being open to hearing criticsm.

In 2007 I pitched 5 agents and 4 of the 5 requested pages from me (The DREAM). Then those 4 proceeded to summarily reject my work for every reason from my sentences being too long, to lack of identification with the characters, to no explanation whatsoever. And I was excited about the opportunity to relive this, you ask? Am I mad?

No. Yes. Maybe.

Look, I would rather take the chance at being shot down to my face, once a year, than to suffer through mailing query after query to agents who don’t know me from Adam. At least live I could make the agent feel my energy and zeal and attempt to make some sort of connection. But I still felt like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness – working up my client list.

So after drinking my grande chai latte from Starbucks in the convention center atrium, I ascended the escalator into WRITER WORLD.

Let me be the first to tell you – writer’s are some interesting folks. Most of us stick out like a porcupine’s thorns. The caffeine induced lively eyes and jitters. The fashion sense of a color blind private eye. Computer screen induced ocular corrective devices. The disturbing habit of conversing with the people in your head. You’ve seen us. We are the fiction writers.

Then there are those perfectly coifed, gym toned, well-dressed (and even more well spoken), confidence oozing individuals who are of the non-fiction sect – of the self help variety.

Throw us into a giant conference room together with six hours and counting until the pitch slam and you could tranquilize North Korea with all the anxiety medication working that room.

I had the opporunity to participate in a number of interesting workshops during the day as well with titles like: Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can’t Put Down, Revising Said Novel, and the keynote speech on the elements of all great stories. It can’t be said enough that writer’s must do two things to be successful. They must read incessantly and they must have a relentless dedication to improving their craft. I will provide some of the tips I learned in another blog, but I definitely got something out of the workshops.

So after a morning workshops, an excellent plated lunch (with cheescake for dessert!), and one workshop in the afternoon, it was finally time for the pitch slam.

Here’s how it works. Each writer received a conference booklet upon registration. Within this booklet, amongst other useful information, was a list of each agent, their background, and their respective interests – fiction, non-fiction, and/or screenplays. With more than 50 agents in attendance, it was up to the writer to sift through the list and prioritize the 5 or 6 agents who represented the writer’s respective genres. Hopefully the writer also did some research prior to the conference – googled each agent, read their blogs, tried to find out their track record – in order to be even more precise in agent selection.

I cannot stress this point enough. As a writer, choosing your agent is like choosing a midwife. Would you trust just anyone to shepherd your baby into the world?

So after providing the ground rules, the meeting organizer provided a list of room numbers and names of each agent. Up until this point, none of the writers had any idea where their respective agent choices would be located, so imagine 400 so coffee crazed scribes trying to get their hands on that list.

To make a long story just a little bit longer, I managed to pitch 7 agents during the 2 hours alotted for the pitch slam. All 7 agents requested pages (The DREAM!). I was exhausted and elated. Stephanie did very well also.

We went to this place to celebrate. I drank a cayenne pepper laced martini that nearly burnt my mouth off. The Celtics beat the Pistons. All was right with the world.

Little did I know that a month later I would be re-writing my entire novel…

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