Sleepless because we all took part in the four-day annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, which had crammed in enough formal activities to keep us going at least twelve hours a day. Preparing to pitch our books to agents and editors, and then giving the pitches, added adrenaline to the daily mixture of caffeine and heady conversations with fellow writers.
Panels of agents and editors helped prepare us for the pitches and warned us what not to say. Below are some of their most entertaining cautions. I’ve taken a few liberties with the words, but the meaning is true to their messages.
*”Don’t say, ‘I’ve written the next Harry Potter…but my story is even better.'”
*”Avoid telling us, ‘My writing is like that of F. Scott Fitzgerald'” [or Ernest Hemingway or any other iconic American author].
*”We’d rather not hear, ‘My book is a guaranteed best seller.'”
*”When we ask you to give us a title of a similar book, so we have an idea of where yours would fit on a bookstore or library shelf, don’t say, ‘Mine is a cross between “Little House on the Prairie” and the “Transformers” comic book.
*”My agency only deals with non-fiction. Please don’t try to pitch your steampunk** romance to me.”
In planning my pitch I avoided all these blunders, but that didn’t keep the jitters at bay during the hour before my pitch session began. I decided to hang out and rehearse in a space empty but for a few people, urns, tables and chairs.
“How are you?” asked a woman filling her coffee cup while I dunked my tea bag.
I said, “I’m pitching this morning,” knowing that those four words would communicate what I was feeling to any fellow writer.
“I’m a therapist. Would you like to talk?”
I answered that question in a nano-second. She had successfully pitched to an agent a few years ago and her book was now on sale in the conference book store. When we parted, I went on to give my two-minute spiel in a calmer state of mind. I talked to three agents and one editor and all said they’d like to receive samples from my novel. The outcome of my pitch might not have been different without my new acquaintance’s help, but my attitude toward giving it had been transformed. She was my fairy godmother that day.
Besides experiencing this and other “kindnesses of strangers,” between sessions, my writing program classmates and I moved in a pack through the halls of the conference center ready to laugh, advise and give encouragement at any moment…and to help keep each other awake when a presenter wasn’t able to do the job.
**Urban Dictionary says, “Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan, ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’ It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes.”