My First Writing Workshop and Pitch:What You Need to Know

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.

The Workshop

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 Hyatt-House-Atlanta-Cobb-Galleria-P002-Exterior-Daytime-1280x427large 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.

The Pitch

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?

Pitch Tips:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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!




A Novel Update and How to get from Here to Published

It’s been about a month and a half since NaNoWriMo 2015. Some people began to edit and revise instantly after hitting their total word count whether or not they hit the 50,000 mark while in November. Some have not touched their manuscript since that final strike of the keypad signifying victory, and good on those giving themselves a rest, goodness knows so many deserve it. There are others who are staring around unsure what to do now, as if they’ve never put thought into the steps after finishing a novel. So, it’s about time for an update.

I have to say that I’ve never had a NaNoWriMo experience quite like this one, and despite the challenges that arose, I can only hope that in the future, this same experience is repeated each time I sit down to novel writing. There were definitely some incredibly difficult and trying moments, everyone has, but even still, I’ve never had over 65,000 words result in a full length novel that I didn’t want to burn or delete, that I could even say I was a bit proud of, my first draft of my first completed novel….

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I finished my novel originally at 65033 a bit under two weeks after November, or more simply December 12th. The actual plan and “outline” for my novel was constructed the last two weeks or so of October when I officially decided to go for NaNoWriMo 2015. The original idea caught me about two years ago, but it’s become a very different story than the original, and all the stronger for it. I did my first edit and revision within a couple of days and by the 15th I had something worthy of calling a novel. Current word count is 65,626, but I have one more edit and revision before I will feel it’s ready.

Halfway through writing it, the name of this book finally caught up with me: The Foretelling Spark. Given the response I’ve received so far, it seems to be a title gaining some interest, which is definitely great to hear.

So, what now?

That big scary question that arises once you’ve conquered the first mountain on your way to that far off land…of a published novel…Depending on which route you decide to take for publishing your labor of love, the next step is finding the people that will care and giving them a reason to invest their time and energy into your novel.

Three recommendations:

  1. Research– Whether it’s looking up your publishing options, figuring out what shelves your current or future books belong on, or what agents to consider sending queries to, research is a great place to start. Don’t waste yours, and especially not an agent, editor, or publisher’s time by pitching a clear YA Fantasy to a Mystery/Thriller market. You can easily refrain from making this mistake by being thorough in your research of who you plan to send your book to on the road to publishing.
  2. Query– A query is important in regards to finding an agent if you want to go the traditional publishing route, mainly because it’s supposed to get their attention and make them want to invest their time, and eventually their energy, into getting your novel published. I have finally written a passable synopsis, which means querying became that much easier, though I will fully admit to still audibly gulping while trying to form these reader grabbing and sometimes self-trumpeting introductions (don’t ask how many times I’ve rewritten these so far..). There are many articles on query writing, but here is one that I found helpful.
  3. Writing Conferences and Workshops– Another way to further your knowledge, network, and possibly have the chance to pitch to an agent is through attending writing conferences and workshops. I am fortunate enough to be attending a writing workshop that is being held in Atlanta in February of this year (thanks to my generous and supportive mother and stepdad, early Christmas present). It’s the Atlanta Writing Workshop and it is all about getting published; there are multiple workshops as well as opportunities to get 10 minute pitch sessions with agents. I find myself, again, thankful to my mother to have secured such an opportunity (I’m equal parts excited and terrified). I would encourage anyone in the area or able to travel to it to sign up now, or soon! Or find one in your area! The closer it gets the quicker spots disappear, and there is a limit, so it’s best to sign up early. If you click here  and scroll down a bit, you will see a list of some other writing conferences in 2016.

Of course, if you are self-publishing, you do not really need an agent. For now, however, this is my chosen path, but there are definitely other options out there if you are so inclined.

I’m nervous and excited about what happens from here, how about you? How are you doing with your NaNoWriMo 2015 project?


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