Well, it’s finally here. The month you’ve been waiting for. That is, if you’re going to the Annual Writer’s Digest Conference in New York on July 31st. Oh! It’s so exciting!! I can’t tell you the anticipation I felt last year as I prepared during the final days for my trip. It was going to be the true beginning of my adventure towards publishing and really learning the industry.
I would have the opportunity to not only meet fellow writers who were also embarking on their writing journey, but also agents, published authors, editors, and publishers. For three days, I was going to be able to soak up like a sponge as much knowledge as I could from them. My heart is pounding just thinking about it. For a writer who has just finished their manuscript and is ready to take the next step, it can be thrilling as much as terrifying and overwhelming.
But, as I have said many times before, the experience is priceless. It gives you so many opportunities. Even without taking part in the Pitch Slam (one-on-one pitching to an agent), you still receive a wealth of knowledge, meet some super cool people, and possibly develop lifelong friendships with some fellow writers.
If you’re like me though, the Pitch Slam, for the most part was the only thing I could focus on. What was it going to be like? How could I possibly explain my book in 90- seconds? Are the agents approachable? Are they going to shake their head and say, “don’t quit your day job.” What was I going to wear? (Yes, I’m a girl, so I most definitely asked that question.)
Believe me, all those thoughts and more are completely natural. So what did I do to find out those questions? I took to the internet trying to read any shred of information and personal experiences others had while pitching to an agent. After all, it’s a HUGE deal to even get 90-seconds of face-to-face time with a literary agent. It doesn’t sound like much, but truly it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. Think about how many writers send hundreds of queries and never get more than a polite form email rejection. Not even a phone conversation to actually talk to that agent you dreamed of, before getting that electronic rejection. (Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why agents have to send you those emails. They’re swamped! More than you understand until you go to a conference and really see the magnitude of it all.) But you, you lucky devil, get 90-seconds of awesomeness because you signed up for the Pitch Slam.
So, let me answer a few questions about the Pitch Slam and what to expect when pitching to an agent. Hope this helps!!!
First, let’s start with the easiest.
What was I going to wear?
Here’s the thing, you may have written your entire manuscript in sweat pants and a holey t-shirt in your basement. Cool, whatever works for you. But, would you wear that on a job interview? Probably not. Whatever and wherever you were applying in most cases, you would want to look professional. Well, that’s sort of what your doing when you meet these agents. You are both choosing each other. Would you want representation from an agent who hasn’t washed his/her hair in a couple of days and wears their ratty yard work t-shirt and biker shorts to the office? Ummmm…no. Be professional. Your clothes can say a lot about you. And first impressions are important. There’s not really a do-over in this one. You want the agent to take you and your work seriously. They’re investing in you just as much as you’re investing in them. This is a simple very easy step to get the process rolling. Now, I don’t want you to feel like you have to wear a ball gown or a tuxedo. I’m not saying that all. It’s super important that you’re comfortable. You don’t want to be so focused on the six-inch heels you decided to wear or the super tight belt that you can’t breathe in. And I would suggest no blue jeans. Will they kick you out if that’s what you wear? No. But, with all the styles and variety of clothes out there I’m sure you can find a nice/professional but casual outfit without wearing jeans. I opted for a long maxi skirt and a sleeveless blouse with nice sandals. Again, the choice is yours.
What should I expect before and during my Pitch Slam session?
Well, complete and utter chaos. No! I’m only kidding. LOL. Inside, you might feel like that as you prepare to spout out the writings of your soul, but truly the people who work for Writer’s Digest, have organized it well and it goes smoothly. As we say in the south, “this isn’t their first rodeo.” I would suggest highly, that you arrive an hour ahead of time for your pitch session. Even if it means you missing another class you signed up for. You need that time to practice your pitch and mentally get ready for what’s next. Not to mention it helps to get in line early. Cause, yes, there will be lines. (More on that in a minute). Last year, the way they had it set up was, you stood in a little lobby area, (I think it was called the Palm Room). There are two closed double doors leading into a massive room. Employees and agents walk in and out of the doors periodically as you wait. As it gets closer to the time to start, someone will come out and go over a few things with you like how the 90-second time limit would work, etc. Once, they open the doors, I kinda felt like it was the beginning of a horse race when they released the gate and the alarm sounded. Don’t worry no one tramples each other and there is no loud trumpet sounding, except for maybe in your own head. The agents are lined at tables around the huge room. Each has a sheet behind them saying who they are and what agency they represent. Hopefully, you know that already because you researched them before you got there. Next, be prepared to wait. Remember, how I said there would be lines? Well, obviously if you have 200 writers in a room with only like 50 agents there’s bound to be lines. Now, I believe this year’s conference offers more Pitch Slam Sessions so the lines possibly won’t be as long. Again, they did a beautiful job in being organized so it’s really not as bad as you might imagine it. There is a separate table with a few Writer’s Digest employees who will oversee progress and control the 90-second timer or bell. Listen for the bell! This is when your time either begins or ends depending on what you’re doing.
Don’t be embarrassed…about anything!
First off, agents are people too. Don’t forget that. They totally understand that this is your dream and that your a ball of nerves. The agents I was able to pitch to, were patient and really made me feel at ease as they listened to be intently. You would think they would be distracted by the buzz of all the people or the other person pitching to another agent only inches next to you. But they don’t. Every one of them I pitched to made me feel like in those 90-seconds, I was the only one in the room with them. Hopefully, even by this time, you’ve had the opportunity to interact with some or attend a class they taught the previous day. This helps immensely with your anxiety. Try as best you can to make it a conversation between two people and not anything more than that. I have to give a shout out to, Marisa Corvisiero from the Corvisiero Agency. Her class was the first class I attended at the conference and it was fantastic. A few of us even had the opportunity to read the first couple of pages of our manuscript to her and the rest of the class. (Side note, if you have the option to take this class, DO IT. This helped me soooo much in terms of not being as nervous when I pitched to an agent. If you can read your first few pages to an agent and an entire class, then the one-on-one with the agents in your Pitch Slam makes you tremendously less nervous. I promise you.) Anyway, she was so awesome in the class, and taught me some things right there about my manuscript I had no idea about. She was the very first agent I pitched to during my session, and she greeted me like we were old friends. She truly put me at ease right away and because of her kindness it help me flow through the rest of my session. The jitters were still there but she really made things a lot easier. Thank you so much Marisa!!!
The second thing, don’t be embarrassed standing in line talking to yourself. When I tell you everyone does it, that’s the truth. Sure you might talk to a few people while you’re standing in line but for the most part they’re doing exactly what your doing. Repeating over and over in their head their pitch. If you need to do it out loud, do it! No one will notice, I promise. You’ll be surprised how many actually are doing the same thing.
Whew! Apparently, I had a lot more to say about the Pitch Slam than I thought. I’m going to end Part 1 here, but please come back and read Part 2 tomorrow, on more of my own experience and tips I learned along the way.
Happy Pitching Ya’ll!!!