February 20th marked a milestone on my writing journey, and that was attending my first writing conference, and pitching in person to an agent for the first time. If you’re familiar with my blog, you know that I’m speaking of the Atlanta Writing Workshop, and it was definitely an experience.
This particular conference consisted of five talks that were reminiscent of college lectures. Each of the topics covered a different aspect of a writing career, but each were intended to give knowledge, suggestions, and options to writers in every stage of the game; I will say that someone just starting out probably would have gained the most from attending this conference, but there’s always something new to learn.
The subjects covered at the Atlanta Writing Workshop were publishing options (traditional and self/e-publishing), information about querying and pitching to agents, a critique on a handful of randomly selected first pages, marketing and how to build your platform, and finally writing practices to help you succeed as a writer.
Though I was unable to stay for as much as I would have liked, even being there, by myself, was a huge deal for me. It honestly reminded me of college days where I had a presentation to give in front of the class, as far as what the nerves felt like while waiting for my time to pitch.
I arrived more than a little early (they were setting everything up), but it was lucky I did, in large part due to parking. The hotel parking lot was not particularly big and there were no other marked lots nearby for parking, though there was a “helpful” sign that said to ask the person at the front desk….the woman I spoke with was of little help and cared even less, her response being to tell me to “be patient and wait for someone to leave”…I even remarked about the fact that more people were coming to the hotel as we spoke for the conference that I was there for; she also seemed completely unconcerned when I mentioned that I had a disability and couldn’t walk from another lot across the street (which was my second option, according to her), so I was not overly impressed with the hotel staff.
Thankfully, someone else moved and I was able to grab one of the last actual parking spots in the hotel lot before things got hectic. Once getting into the conference hall, I managed to find myself a good seat near the front on the aisle where I could leave for my pitch, and near a door so could I slip out mostly without disturbance. Also, from my vantage point I was able to hear and see who was speaking much easier.
I joked briefly with a few of the other first comers that were waiting for the sign up table to be setup to grab our folders and sticker name tags. Someone else spoke to me first (of course) while waiting for 9:30 to roll around and the talks to start. We had a brief chat that caught the attention of another author. We all conversed, I shared some information with them, and my cards, and chatted until Chuck Sambuchino grabbed up the mic and started talking.
I didn’t do much other networking or chatting than that after my pitch, which I’m a bit sorry for now, but at the same time, I was honestly drained. I left soon before lunch, and not too long after my pitch; between being an introvert out in a crowd of people outside of my comfort zone, and the fact that I have multiple chronic illnesses and a myriad of issues that come with them (add two herniated discs from a car accident), I was worn out and tired with a migraine starting. (I know, it’s super lame, but do what you can, right?)
So what are some things I learned?
- Get there early– I live by this rule, probably too much, but at least I’m usually thankful for the positives that being early provides such as parking and good seating. Plus, I like to get the lay of the land, take a few minutes to collect myself.
- Know your schedule beforehand– While you might get some handouts and information about the schedule of talks the day of a conference, it’s best to know your schedule before the day arrives. I say your schedule specifically because, if the event is big enough, there may be more than one panel or discussion happening at once, and if you don’t know ahead of time what you most want to attend, you are bound to kick yourself later. This was not the case so much for me, but it’s good practice. However, I did need to know when my pitch was before I got to the event so I could leave the lecture in time.
Some takeaways and things to remember:
- There is no “right” way to publish– If this wasn’t already clear (and I was considering taking a dual route prior to this conference anyway), it was vehemently stressed at the very beginning of the conference that there is no right way to publish, especially these days. That doesn’t mean you should take an “anything goes” approach to what you publish or how, but self/ebook publishing are just as viable as options as traditional publishing these days. Chuck Sambuchino even said that anyone telling you otherwise is selling something, so remember that.
- Pricing mysteries– A random tidbit about pricing eBook mystery novels(and something to keep an eye on in other genres too) was that 0.99 is too low, it won’t sell well at this price; this is because of a tendency to believe that a novel priced at 0.99 must not be very good, but $1.99, 2.99, even 5.99 seems to produce better results…food for thought.
- Start small and early on platform- This is one of those things where you kick yourself a year later, wishing you’d started then; you’re always going to have wanted to build your platform sooner rather than later (though importance of platform differs between fiction and nonfiction; vital for nonfiction, by the way). With fiction though, starting your platform is also how you can begin to build your writing community; you don’t need to be published to need and deserve your writing community, so start soon, start simple, take it one step at at time.
Between the speeches and the handouts, which were basically outlines with some additional information such as site links, I learned a smattering of things I didn’t know before. But I have to admit that my pitch is what took up most of my mind.
How did it go? The room was surprisingly small and there was a good team of agents present. Add in chairs and a table between agent and author, and you had a packed room. It seems obvious, but it became incredibly noisy in a heartbeat once everyone started talking at once.
I think I did pretty well for my first pitch ever. I feel I can be proud of myself, not to mention the fact that I ultimately achieved my goal, which was to be invited to query. I gained experience (I leveled up!!!), as well as knowledge about the genre my book mostly fits in. I also gained an opening with the agent I spoke with, not just about my novel, but a picture book I’ve been working on as well.
Even though I didn’t ask all I’d hoped (ten minutes goes by fast!), and even though I mumbled a bit (at the start), stumbled, and bumbled, for the most part I got through it well enough. Some things you should know?
- Know your pitch times– no one is going to call your name and escort you to your pitch, you have to know when you need to be where.
- Do your homework– know who you’re meeting, know what they’re looking for, know who they work for, etc.; this helps you as much as them.
- Speak up– I had this same issue with public speaking in college. I have a soft voice (which I forget), and I dislike loud noises and raised voices so my inclination is to talk calmly and softly; this does not work in a pitch session. You don’t want to project across the room, have mercy on the others trying to be heard by their own agents, but remember to speak up enough that the person you want to hear you, can.
- Index cards– It’s best if you remember what you need to say and can have a conversation with the agent you’re speaking with instead of having to read off of index cards, but they’re a life saver in that gut wrenching moment your mind blanks and you’re grasping for any collection of words you can think of. If nothing else, they’re great for practicing before your pitch, when you’re nervous and anxious and need something to focus on; write down important info about your novel, questions you have for the agent, important info about the agent, etc. The key is to have them there as back up…and something to do with your hands
- Practice– Whether it’s with someone else, by yourself in front of a mirror, or just alone and out loud, be sure to PRACTICE your pitch! You need the words to feel natural on your tongue and be the default setting of your brain (or try anyway). This makes it easier to feel like a conversation about something exciting than recalling facts you have to share with the class.
Have you been to a writing conference or had a pitch session? Tell me about your experience. If you haven’t yet, what’s something you’re looking forward to and maybe a bit scared of about attending your first conference or having your first pitch session?
If you want some more fantastic tips and information about writing conferences, take a look at the fabulous Kat McCormick’s blog where’s she’s still releasing the last couple of her 7 part series!