Last year’s writing competition at the Create Something Magical Conference was a wild ride, not to mention a growth opportunity for me and my nervous self, and this year’s pitch sessions were no different. I haven’t pitched any of my books in several years, and I didn’t go in feeling awesome, especially since those few pitch sessions (at a different conference) years ago were a hot mess.
I practiced in front of my friends and colleagues at work, wrote it out, carried on imaginary conversations with myself at home, in the car, and in the shower, and suffered the usual lack of sleep prior to the big morning. My objective for the pitch session was clear: try to get an agent interested in my book. I knew I’d be talking to at least 1 editor and 1 agent, so imagine my surprise (and slight panic attack) when I checked out my assignment sheet and was scheduled to pitch to 2 editors and 2 agents… one right after the other. There were two ways to look at that: Be happy that I didn’t have time to wait in between sessions and add to my already tummy-churning nerves; OR, lose my sh*t altogether and go into full panic mode. Luckily, option 1 happened.
I spent the free half hour I had until my first session to look over my notes that I’d researched about each editor and agent. I’d roamed the Internet for weeks to try to understand who I should pitch to and what the attending editors and agents were specifically looking for. I’m told it’s called research, not stalking. About 10 minutes before I was up, I ever-so-slowly made my way to the waiting room where I registered at the desk, just so they knew I was there and would indeed make my appointments.
A note about the amazing people running the pitch sessions (which is basically a reflection of the entire Liberty States Fiction Writers board): they are kind, understanding, funny, and utterly supportive of you, whether they know you or not. I was greeted warmly, and it made this crazy experience that much sweeter.
They lined us up to go into the big room where the editors and agents waited at different tables. It felt a little bit like entering a ComicCon if you’re fortunate enough to go in early before the chaos reaches full swing. I found my first agent at a table in the back corner. She greeted me with a smile and friendly professionalism. I gave her my practiced pitch, not without a little shaky voice action, and she asked me a few questions to clarify some of the details I mentioned. Afterwards, she reached for a black box next to her, and because my mind was so boggled after pitching for the first time in ages, I didn’t realize it was a box of her business cards. (Honestly, I thought she was about to offer me candy. I wasn’t sure how obvious my nervousness had come out at that point.) She told me that my book wasn’t something she was looking for but that she knew of another professional within their agency who was. She handed me her card and told me that if I wasn’t scheduled to meet her colleague, she would most certainly pass my pitch/query along. At the end of my first pitch, I’d decided that was a win.
Right after I walked about 10 feet to my first editor appointment. Again, I was greeted with a big smile, comfortable and welcoming professionalism, and quite frankly, a lovely, bubbly attitude. Instantly, I felt at ease and launched into my pitch for the second time that day. This time my voice wasn’t as shaky, I adjusted my words based on how they came out the first time, and I might have sat a little straighter. She took notes as I spoke, and after a few minutes, she asked me a bunch of questions, including if I was working on anything else. I’m not 100% certain if our conversation was standard, but I sure felt good speaking with this editor. She seemed genuinely interested, almost excited, about my answers, which only made me… well, freer and more comfortably me. Not sure if that’s a good thing though because natural me can talk your ear off. She didn’t seem to mind too much though. I walked away from that pitch session with my heart pounding and what was most likely a bewildered expression on my super warm face. She’d requested the full manuscript.
Now, I’ve read up a lot on the whole pitching and querying process. I understand that no matter what, in person is always better than a cold, online query where your work is most certainly going to make someone’s slush pile. A request for a full manuscript read is a HUGE step in the right direction, but even if the editor loves the book, a marketing team, operations, practically the whole publishing house would need to figure out if they can sell it. I think maybe I’m fortunate in a way because I know that VERY WELL from my day job. In the lab you can create the most wonderful, amazing product, but if your company cannot sell it or the market doesn’t call for it, you might be out of luck.
My 3rd appointment / 2nd editor pitch was via Skype. I sat at an empty table and conversed with the editor through a screen and program where the connection was a bit spotty. Actually, I was informed that she could hear me, but I might not be able to hear her. All good, I thought. I can do this. I gave her my pitch and was given thumbs ups, hearty nods of the head, and a few pauses wherein she took some notes. When I was done, she spoke, and I heard it! Score! We had a great conversation, and in the end she requested my full manuscript! However, as she gave me the information on how to submit, the screen froze. Flustered, I waved for one of those remarkable ladies I mentioned earlier to come and help me. In less than a minute we were back online. The sweet thing is that she was concerned that my time with the agent was cut short. Luckily, it wasn’t and we were just wrapping things up, but it was nice of her to worry. And, at that point I had 2 requests for full manuscript reads. Who was over the moon? This girl.
I had about 45 minutes until my final appointment with the 2nd agent. I returned to the waiting room and collected my thoughts, information, and heartbeats. My mind raced with a slurry of thought, and I was rather hot at that point. Of course I didn’t think to remove my jacket, almost like it was some kind of security blanket in this whole business. Yeah, I can be silly like that. When I finally met the agent, I introduced myself, and she immediately said, “Yes! I’ve heard about you!” True to her word the first agent had told her about me, which was uber flattering and maybe a little more nerve-wracking. I was afraid I’d been hyped up and wouldn’t deliver. So, I gave her my pitch, and she nodded and smiled the whole way. We shared our opinions on stories like mine, and she let me know that she enjoyed these kinds of books. I told her, “Well, I hope this one doesn’t disappoint!” She asked me to submit materials to her direct work email address which would bypass the general submission email – SUPER encouraging, I have to say – and told me that she looked forward to reading my stuff. Awkwardly, after the first two requests for the manuscript, I couldn’t for the life of me remember if she asked for the whole book or just the regular submission of the 1st 10 pages and query as per the agency’s guidelines. I’d decided to err on the side of regular submission, and within a couple of days, she emailed me back asking for the full book.
All in all, the outcomes of these sessions are a far cry from what I had experienced when I first started pitching. The nerves are still there, sure, but I was more prepared this time. I knew my book inside out, and I remembered why I wrote it to begin with. I actually love my book and writing in the world it’s set in. And once I got warmed up, each time I pitched felt better or, at least, more comfortable. I’d like to think that my enthusiasm and joy for it came out in the pitch sessions. Anyhoo, we’ll see how this goes. It could go nowhere. It could go somewhere. Going through the pitching process was amazing all the same, and I’m glad I did it. I imagine I’ll be playing the waiting game for a while. In the meantime, I fully expect to write on.