Pitch Conference

This past weekend, I attended the New York Pitch Conference. For the most part, my life as a writer is spent in isolation. I don’t mind it. I consider myself an introvert, and solitude suits me. I think many, if not most, writers are like this. But every now and then, we pry ourselves away from our computers and get out of the house/library/Starbucks long enough to show up at writers’ conferences. In a nutshell, the NY Pitch was a rush of excitement and fear and exhilaration and nerves rolled into one, which extended over the course of four, full days. Yep, four days of talking about writing was even better than it sounds. Nerd alert.

Thursday: I knew I’d need to do the unthinkable and call Uber for a ride to the train station. Josh hates Uber. The guy was late and needed for me to give him turn-by-turn directions to 30th Street Station. Yes, the name of our train station is its location. He dropped me off, I hurried to make my train, which turned out, was running 45 minutes late. Of course, this made me tardy for the first day. When I finally rolled in, I’d missed the intro by Michael Neff, the conference director, which pissed me off, but he was kind enough to reassure me it was fine and to just go to my group. I was part of the women’s fiction/memoir group, led by the peerless, Susan Breen. Susan herself had gone through the conference back in 2006, which resulted in her getting her novel, The Fiction Class, published. She knows what the conference is like on both sides of the desk. I feel very fortunate to have met and now worked with her.

We jumped in immediately and read our pitches. I went first. Susan had some bits and pieces of feedback for me. I’d been working on my pitch for a solid month, so I hoped it was pretty tight. But I did get a couple of very helpful comments, which I implemented immediately, and I think my pitch improved as a result. Everyone’s project sounded interesting. Seriously, I could see commercial potential in each one—this was a strong group.

Friday: We started the day meeting as a group once again, pitching to an agent, Michelle. I went first again, and was so, so nervous. Michelle is really smart, super quick, and has a great sense of humor. I read the pitch without passing out. After getting the first pitch out of the way, I could feel myself start to relax a little. Our group debriefed afterward, with Susan offering more feedback. That afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet with an expert to go over the first page of our manuscript. I happened to meet with Susan’s agent, Paula, who suggested something I thought was great—under each title, write a short line that helps establish the world of my novel. Thank you, Paula!

Saturday: This is the biggest day of the conference, where we’ll have the opportunity to speak with two editors. Everyone’s nervous, jittery. Some pace. Some continue picking away at their pitches. Some zone out with their headphones on. And many, myself included, chatted with other writers. I’d met some amazing people this conference, people I probably would not have gotten to know otherwise. Since I’m up last in the first round, I’ve already had a run in the morning and then walked to the studio, so I’m feeling pretty OK. Also, I was so relieved that both agents from the day before were so approachable and genuinely nice, I really felt mostly relaxed and focused on my pitch. On Saturday, both editors continued the “nice, friendly” trend. All of us in our group noticed that each seemed to love writers and books, which is a total bonus at a writers’ conference.

Sunday: Final round with another editor. This editor decidedly hated my book concept. It was not her genre and definitely not her cup of tea. OK, OK, not interested, got it. A book really can’t be for everyone, you know? I had my last one-on-one with Susan, who seemed to think my pitch was really working. By the end, I’d pitched to two agents and three editors, and four out of the five wanted to see more, which was super encouraging. I boarded my train home with a bit of a swelled head, feeling like I had a manuscript that could sell. This was a 180 from the previous year, when I queried agents and all rejected my book. I took a hard look at my manuscript and with the help of a book coach, figured out the problem was with my tone, which meant I needed to do a page-one revision. Back to the drawing board. But after working so hard on the novel this year, I was grateful for all the feedback I received from this conference over the weekend. Now that I’m home, I’m back to querying. I’m feeling hopeful and excited, but that knot in my stomach isn’t going anywhere.

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