I can safely declare the Writing Conference a complete success! Here’s the rundown:
I left around 7am on Friday, with printed directions from Google, because I still don’t know how to use my GPS in the car. It’s not that I tried to understand it and couldn’t figure it out; it’s because I don’t care enough to find out how to use it. I do like seeing the map that tells me where I am at any given time, though. It’s pretty.
The drive out took longer than expected, mostly because of traffic once I got closer to Los Angeles. After Indio, CA, in fact… it was all a pain in the ass. But at least I didn’t get lost, and my car behaved very, very well. All in all, it was 409 miles.
I liked the hotel. Very contemporary, and most of the Conference activities were right downstairs. I didn’t use my car until it was time to leave on Sunday. My room was nice, but there was a strange little problem: the toilet smelled bad. It got better after the cleaning crew were in there, but it only came back as the hours went by. I have no clue what was wrong, and I didn’t care enough to bitch about it. I just kept the door closed and tried not to think about it.
Which wasn’t hard to do. I had so many other, wonderful things on my mind the entire time I was there!
The speakers were great. I took all kinds of notes and learned quite a bit about the publishing business itself (the legal issues seminar was of particular interest) and got some fantastic ideas and new techniques to try out as I build a story. I loved it so much… just being there, surrounded by people just like me, listening to speakers who clearly knew what they were doing and were willing to share knowledge with the rest of us, and only thinking about writing… ahhh! I can’t really explain it well, but it definitely felt amazing and totally new.
What a vast difference it is attending a conference like this, where I personally care about the subject, and attending conferences for work. Never once did my mind wander off somewhere else as a speaker talked. I didn’t feel like taking a nap in the middle of the day. And I didn’t question my life choices that led me to this point in my life. (Which is something that tends to cross my mind at least a couple of times whenever I am working at a conference, for the past 12 years or so now… I’m always like, “This can’t be all I am meant to do.” I’ve always wanted to be a fiction writer, so I’d spend all those other conferences daydreaming about my books. I have the notes to prove it, too. Some people doodle when they’re bored; I write scenes and notes.)
I made a couple of friends there, too. Friday night was a cocktail reception to mingle with the other attendees. I stood in line for the cheese and crackers in front of a girl with my same first name, and we started chatting. Turns out she is writing a YA fantasy novel and we tried our pitches out on one another. She lives in CA now, but was born and raised right here in Mesa. We talked about local restaurants and quirks of the city (ahem, Mormons everywhere) and basically hit it off. It was fun to just blab about the process of writing, of walking around with characters in your head all day, of the anxiety and excitement we felt about being there at the conference… I’m really excited to have made a new friend. We plan to become readers for one another if we’re working on something and we need an outside opinion. Yay!
I also noticed at least 3 very cute guys there. One was downright sexy, actually. Dark, curly hair and scruff… he was always smiling and chewing on his pen. He wore a 3 piece suit the first day, which was enough to make me nuts right there. Something about a classy, well-dressed, scruffy (!) guy in a suit just wows me, lately. And to know he was a bit of a nerd… a writer?! Too much, too much! I really was dying to find an excuse to talk to him (especially once I noticed there was no wedding ring), but it never materialized. Not to blame my new friend, but my best opportunities happened to be moments when she was talking to me and I couldn’t just walk away from the conversation. Oh, well.
It was just nice to see that kind of eye candy. And know that there are smart, handsome guy writers out there. They do exist. That’s such a relief. Maybe one day, just maybe… I can land me one of my own.
Saturday afternoon was the Pitch Slam. Every single person I talked to was nervous and freaking out as we stood in line to go into the room where the agents waited. People were rehearsing their pitches out loud to themselves, and one woman was apparently meditating with something in her hand… a crystal? Or a cross? No idea.
I had only come up with my pitch in the hour prior to the PS. I’d gotten ideas throughout Friday and Saturday regarding what I should do and what points I should hit, so at lunchtime I went to my hotel room and wrote the whole thing out on the tiny hotel notepad. Then I practiced reading it out loud, timing myself… and I came in under the 90 second mark, which was the goal! (We had 3 minutes total with each agent. The first 90 seconds, the author makes their pitch. The remaining 90 seconds was for the agent to give you feedback about your pitch, how you can improve it, ideas for what to do/ not do, etc… or, if you were lucky, they’d give you their business card and ask you to send some of your work to them because it intrigued them.)
So, I went down to the PS feeling a lot better now that I had a pitch in my hand. I didn’t plan to read it, of course. But now I had a real idea of what to say about my book that would make it stand out. That’s all I wanted.
It was PACKED in the PS. I think there were at least 12 agents in there, so there were also 12 lines of people lining up to talk to each agent. Some lines were so long, they snaked into a curve around other lines. Suddenly, I was very nervous.
I finally got up to the first agent and felt like I was bombing. It was because I wasn’t breathing right, and my face was all hot and blushing. But I pushed through, said my main points, and waited to hear the criticism. However…
The agent smiled and asked me a question I was able to answer really easily (and I can’t recall what it was now!) and then she slid her business card across the table. “Can you please send me the first 50 pages of your manuscript? I’d love to take a look.”
H O L Y S H I T ! !
Unbelievable. I had prepared myself mentally that an agent asking for a partial was unlikely, because the PS event’s real purpose is to help you develop your pitch, itself, with feedback from real agents.
I went to my second agent. She was visibly excited and said, “Oh, wow!” twice about two of my major plot points. When I told her how it could be marketed (it’s a cross between this and this), she said, “See? You just did one of the more difficult things for a writer, and the agent both: you gave me the marketing line. Wonderful!” and then, under her breath, she actually said, “I could sell this.”
This agent wanted to see the first 3 chapters, as well as a summary paragraph of what my plans are for the sequel!
I was TWO for TWO.
Much, much, much more than I ever expected! I don’t know why I am so convinced that no one’s going to like my book and they will only think I’m weird for writing such a story, but I’m finally learning to get over that and have faith in my work. It’s good. It is. I worked so long and so hard on this thing. I have revised and edited like crazy. It’s time to see what everyone else thinks!
I spoke with two more agents after that. The third was receptive but told me that my story sounded a little too sci-fi for her, but my pitch was excellent. The fourth agent was just STRANGE. She just sat there and stared as I told her my pitch, and when I ran out of time, she just raised her eyebrows and goes, “Thank you. Good luck,” and looked to the next person in line. Later, I heard that she did this with pretty much everyone who pitched to her, so I didn’t feel bad. Maybe she was a robot. The PitchBot 2000!
So, I rode the high of knowing two agents were interested enough in what I told them about my book to want to see more. The feeling is amazing, and so validating. My family and friends are just as excited as I am, and now I can’t wait to do the actual queries now that I’m home and I’ve had time to tweak my query letter and develop the summary to the sequel.
So, in the end, this was the most worthwhile experience. I am so grateful I was able to do it, and that I gathered my courage and did what I set out to do: pitch the hell outta my book. Pitching isn’t easy, at all. But I did it. That’s what counts!
I’d love to go to another writing conference sometime. Too bad so many of them are expensive! I’ll just have to see how things pan out. For now, I came home with all the takeaways I could have hoped for, and the crazy-amazing bonus of two agents’ personal business cards… I’m good for awhile.
What the Pitch Slam looks like!