Over the weekend, I attended the Philadelphia Writing Workshop in downtown Philly. I had signed up (and paid for) for three 10-minute meetings with literary agents, and so, for the first time ever, I pitched my book in person.
My first pitch was at the beginning of the conference, but my other two weren’t until late afternoon, so I had stomach butterflies all day, which certainly weren’t aided by the spicy pulled pork sandwich I chose to eat for lunch. (Thank god I didn’t spill any on myself.)
The agent pitches were awkward. I mean, how could they not be? You are herded into a room with a bunch of other nervous writers. The timer is set for ten minutes. You sit down and try to make quick small talk. (I told one agent that I liked her necklace, which I did, but I’m sure it just came off as sucking up.) You talk about your book, and then you wait to see if the agent says she’s interested. (I’m sure it’s awkward for them, too.)
Talking about my novel took me less than two minutes (I didn’t want to ramble), so then I had to think of ways to fill the remaining time. Mostly the agents asked me questions like, “what inspired you to write the book?” and I asked them questions like, “are you an editorial agent?” even though I already knew from reading interviews with them online that the answer was yes.
Here are a few things I learned about myself in these situations:
- I have a really hard time maintaining eye contact. I don’t know if it was the fluorescent overhead lighting or what, but looking into the agents’ eyes made me feel like I was going blind.
- Apparently I have a nervous tic: scratching my head. I was scratching my head so often I hope the agents don’t think I have lice.
Here are a few things I wish I had come prepared with:
- Middle grade authors and books I most admire. (I was able to come up with a few on the spot, but I would have liked more time to think about it.)
- A better-working pen to use when writing down the book titles one agent suggested I read.
Despite how I’m making it sound, the meetings went well. All three agents said they were interested and asked that I send them the first 50 pages of my manuscript. I know better than to get too excited at this point. I know they might read the pages and decide my book isn’t right for them. But, hey, three for three means I’m doing something right with my pitching. And no matter what happens next, it was good practice to sit in front of agents and tell them about my book.
When I wasn’t pitching agents, I attended the sessions about how to get published and market yourself as a writer. These talks were given by Chuck Sambuchino, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents, who spoke like the Micro Machines guy and doled out plenty of quips, stories, and tough-love advice. Even though most of the information was stuff I already knew from books and the Internet, he was definitely entertaining, and I’m sure he was super helpful for those just starting to investigate the writing world.
One of the best things about Chuck, in my opinion, was that he knew how to shut down bad questions and move on.
“I have a question. I’ve written a memoir that’s about twenty percent fictional, and–” a man began.
“I’m going to stop you right there,” Chuck said. “Memoir isn’t fictional. At all.”
“Okay then, a novel inspired by real invents, and—“
“All novels are inspired by real events. This is a boring question. Moving on. Next question.”
A little harsh, yes, but as a person who has suffered through a lot of annoying questions at a lot of literary events, I appreciated it.
And I know, I know, there’s supposedly no such thing as a stupid question, but when you’re sitting in a room with two hundred other people and a speaker who has a limited time to get through a pile of information, there is.
Here are a few ways, in my humble opinion, to avoid being the person who asks a stupid question:
- If your question can be easily answered by google, don’t ask it.
- If your question is super specific to you or your project, don’t ask it.
- If you are somewhat new to the writing world, maybe it’s better to listen and soak up as much info as you can. Chances are, your question will be answered eventually, or you might realize that the question you were going to ask is sort of silly.
- You can always ask questions later, in a smaller setting, instead of in a room with 200 other people.
And that’s it. That’s my take-away from Philly Writing Workshop. I met some super nice people, practiced pitching to agents, and made it home to DC despite the SNOW. On Monday morning, I sent the first fifty pages of my manuscript to all three agents. We’ll see what happens. I’ll keep you guys posted.