Walking across scorching pavement, the humidity higher than a blunted teen, I raced my way across midtown to make Pitch Perfect – my first session for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference. It was hosted by the Midtown Hilton here in New York City and since I live around the corner it was very easy to get there. Only problem was I woke up a bit late. I raced down the stairs with my man purse flailing on my hip, packed with my notebook and a proof-copy of Twin Souls and some skittles. Luckily, I was only a few minutes late and the host of the talk, Chuck Sambuchino, barely noticed me among the hundreds of other writers in the room.
As a writer who has never been to one of these seminar-style events, I found the experience really rewarding. In two articles, I want to explain my impression as well as what I learned, loved and thought could use a little work.
Writer’s Digest puts out eight issues a year and it’s chopped full of pertinent information to help new and practiced writers refine and improve their craft. Here’s their most recent cover:
As you can see, they have authors and other industry insiders give tips, tricks and practical advice to help us improve specific aspects of our writing. The conference was basically a live, lecture-based version of the magazine and I enjoyed it so much I subscribed. I’ve also encouraged two fellow writers to sign up for the next conference, obviously I’ll be back.
They had an exhibition area with a mishmash of organizations and companies writers may find helpful. Createspace, Lulu, Your Book is Your Hook, and National Writers’ Union are a few examples. Each had a table that I browsed in between sessions, snagging pens, pins and Jolly Ranchers while exchanging cheerful tidbits with whomever was on duty.
I also signed up for Pitch Slam, which is basically speed-dating for writers and agents. Chuck primed us in his session on Friday, giving us the low-down on the session itself as well as what was expected of us as attendees. He was funny, apt and answered everyone’s questions with empathy. After that, I went home Friday night and rewrote my pitch until it was, well, perfect. I practiced repeatedly, cut out 20% of it in order to keep it under 90 seconds, and practiced more.
Waiting in line was the worst part. Collectively caffeinated, the line’s limbic resonance was high, making us all that much more nervous. The two girls in front of me were clearly jittery, so I introduced myself and suggested we pitch to each other. I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted practice or just to take my mind off of the ambient anxiety, but either way it worked.
I pitched to nine agents and eight of them wanted to hear more: twenty-five pages, ten pages, first three chapters, the whole manuscript, a hundred pages, the whole manuscript… I was thrilled with the reception Twin Souls had.
The one lady that politely told me she couldn’t sell it pointed me toward Dreamspinner Press, saying my type of story was all they published.
A bit blown away, I enjoyed the rest of the day elated with satisfaction that I gave great pitches and had email addresses and business cards of real agents who wanted more. I’m polishing the text a bit before sending it, obvi. I learned a few more tricks at the other talks which I’ll get into in my next article.
I also met a lot of other authors, friendly compatriots in the war for recognition. Their stories, kind words and companionship at the conference helped make the experience much more social and interactive. We bounced ideas off each other, congratulated and encouraged one another and shared meals and cocktails. It was as easy as saying hello, and just as my novel shows the experience of a group of characters, the conference reminded me that we are not alone. We are all sharing the journey and the struggle, the love for the craft and the perennial self-doubt that comes with being writers.