I know I have said before I would rather get a root canal than query an agent. I have since amended that after a recent root canal, but this whole selling myself process is way out of my comfort zone. And I’m fairly brave; I teach high school.
As I stand in line for coffee the first afternoon of the conference, a woman behind me says, “Let’s hear your pitch.” Her name tag indicates she’s not an agent, but a fellow participant. I am hesitant, having never practiced my pitch before, but she encourages me. I give her my best effort as we walk to a bench to drink our coffee. “Your story sounds interesting, but your pitch is a bit long. You have to remember we only get four minutes, and agents want to know more than just the story.” Her well rehearsed, concise pitch includes a visual aide (a photo of what prompted her story.) In three minutes she tells about the book (historical fiction) and her background and allows time for questions. Oh, man, I have work to do.
Throughout the conference, rooms are available to “Practice Your Pitch.” Conference participants have the option to sign up for a Power Pitch Block where you have four minutes to not only describe your book, but your writing background and platform. Writers should be prepared to answer: What is your book about? Who is your reader? Why should I read it? How will this book be marketed? Why does the world need this book?
At any time of day, participants sit down at one of the tables in the room to practice their pitches with one another and give their feedback. In the back of my mind I wonder if any of them intentionally sabotage one another; we’re all competing for the same agents and editors’ attention. I’m leery of taking advice from strangers, particularly if I find their story-lines weak or convoluted, but several writers I meet give me some great feedback. A woman named Courtney Pierce presents a well crafted pitch in the practice room, so I am not surprised to learn when I run into her after the Power Pitch she got 7/7 requests for pages from the agents she pitched.
The Power Pitch is the longest and quickest 90 minutes of your life. Imagine American Idol auditions where all the contestants are dressed for a business meeting. It’s the one shot at making an impression on an agent or editor. A woman I met earlier that day said what helped cure her nerves was to equate each agent or editor’s face to someone she knew, so she could imagine she was just chatting with a friend of her mother’s and not a super agent who can make or break her writing career.
I drink green tea the morning of my pitch so I don’t have coffee breath since we will be in close quarters during the pitch block. Besides, I figure the Tazo Zen tea might center me; it has Zen in the name. I drink three cups.
Before pitch block C (the largest of the blocks) a hundred or more of us stand nervously outside the banquet room that houses our futures. When the doors open, we stampede inside. (well, okay, we have to stop and show our name badges and Block C tickets.(It’s a little like boarding Southwest Airlines where everyone rushes for the aisle or window seats.)
I am pitching Parallel Lines, my YA novel, and now I don’t remember what it’s about. Oh crap, what’s my character’s name again? What’s my name? Oh yeah, I wrote this stuff down on a card.
I get my first choice of agents for my initial pitch: Laurie McClean. I had met Laurie in two of sessions on The Evolving YA Market and From Middle Grade to Young Adult Fiction. I found her funny and engaging, so sitting in front of her first helps ease my tension, especially after the monitor yelled at the room “Do not pitch yet!” because as soon as we sit down everyone simultaneously begins our pitches. Evidently we need to wait for the bell like at the races. "I feel like we're in the Hunger Games," I whisper." She laughs, and says, "May the odds ever be in your favor."
I don’t remember what I say, but Laurie has time to ask me questions, and she asks for ten pages and a one to two page synopsis.
I have just enough time to meet five other agents. One agent tells me it might work if Nick had a super power of some kind. Inwardly I laugh, but I thank her for the suggestion. John Green’s characters don't have super powers and he’s doing pretty well, I think. Another suggests I change the gender since “girls are the chief readers for YA. Boys won’t read it.” Hmmm. Why don’t I just write an entirely different novel?
The monitor announces those of us in line have time for one more agent pitch after the bell, but after drinking all that tea I have to pee like a racehorse. I don't walk away empty handed, though; I get three requests for pages.