Here’s the pitch!

I know that it’s hard to think about spring when the wind is howling and for some of us, the snow is blowing. But spring will come and that means writing conferences! While you can find lots of helpful information online about query writing, conference pitching is something that could use more attention.

Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. Depending on the agency, maybe even thousands. Since bribery is frowned upon, especially money and certified letters saying you’ll give up a kidney to any of their family members who might need one if they’ll just read your manuscript, it’s difficult to get the agent’s attention.

That’s where conferences come in. If the conference allows pitching sessions to agents, and to be honest I always chose to spend my money at conferences that did, then this is the perfect opportunity to have an agent’s complete attention. So what’s the best way to pitch your work?

Rehearse. Think of pitching your book like an audition. You wouldn’t go to an audition without preparing, and pitching is no different. Most of you have probably heard the elevator analogy, where you imagine that you happen to find yourself on an elevator with the agent of your dreams. You have at most three or four floors to convince the agent that he or she should read your manuscript. What do you say?

I remember going to the OWFI conference some years ago. My husband and I went down the night before and stayed in eco-friendly hotel room. That basically meant the room was the size of a closet and the air conditioner, which sounded like a lawn motor, was up against the bed. I didn’t sleep all night and to make matters worse, I hadn’t practiced my pitch. For some reason I thought I knew the book well enough and thought that a spontaneous pitch would sound fresh.

It was a disaster. Especially when the agent, who was trying to be very polite, started asking questions that, to my amazement, I couldn’t answer. How could I not have answers to questions about my own book? But I was so frustrated because I knew it wasn’t going well, and I knew I’d blown the opportunity.

Conferences aren’t cheap, and they don’t come around that often, especially if you live in the midwest. A few years later I attended a pitching competition, and I was determined to have a positive experience. I practiced writing a pitch that I thought would make people HAVE to read the book.

I timed myself, trimmed down the words that weren’t as powerful and practiced emphasizing the words that were. I practiced and practiced and even though we were allowed to read our pitches, I kept eye contact with the panel of judges. At the one minute mark, I had one word left of the pitch and even though I was out of time, I blurted it out. “Corpse!”

These are the months to start researching conferences and preparing for them. This is your work. This is what you’ve spent countless hours to create. Take the time to prepare yourself. Your work deserves it.

Below is the pitch I gave for Deadly Design, the pitch that led to me getting my wonderful agent. I’m especially fond of that last word!

Connor and Kyle are identical twins. Having been genetically modified, both are extremely handsome, athletic, and intelligent. They were also born two years apart. Due to their parents’ fear of yet another miscarriage, Connor was born, while Kyle stayed behind, frozen in a fertility lab.

Connor’s perfect; he’s a track star, quarterback of the football team, valedictorian of the senior class, and Kyle’s good at video games. How can he compete with his older brother? Being born second meant he lost the coin toss. That is until children born at the Genesis Fertility Labs start dying on their eighteenth birthdays.

Now Kyle has two years to find the mysterious doctor who created them. Two years to solve the mystery in his DNA before he becomes yet another athletic, intelligent, blue-eyed corpse.

Writing Idols — We all need them

We all know that writing is a lonely job. And with no audience to applaud (or maybe boo) our narrative choices, it’s also a job that comes with a lot of self-doubt. Instead of the typical ‘angel’ ‘demon’ most people have on their shoulders, writers have a critic and, if they’re lucky, a miniature version of their literary hero, or heroes, reminding them that success is possible.

Last night I got the opportunity to hear Stephen King speak on the campus of Wichita State University. I’ve always been a fan, but to be honest, it was when Stephen King wrote his book On Writing, that I became more than a fan. He gave me permission to write. Okay. He gave permission for all of us to write, or to do whatever it is we love to do because hey, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about. We’re supposed to do what we love, with or without a guarantee that we’ll ever make it onto the shelves of a bookstore.

I’ve made reading his book a summer ritual and since I have the audio version, I get to hear his voice reading his words about the craft of writing. It’s a must read for any writer!

Okay, I’ll try to stop being a Stephen King cheerleader for a moment and get to my point. Because writing is something we do alone, because writers, published or not, are filled with self-doubt and insecurities, we need idols. Early on, mine was Flannery O’Connor. I loved and still love the way her hand can reach out through the page and literally slap the reader across the face. I have other idols as well. Cormac McCarthy is one. And then of course, there’s Mr. King.

Our writing idols do more than inspire us. They push us to be our best, to find an even better word than the one we just agonized over for thirty minutes. They refuse to let us settle for mediocre, and most importantly, at least for me, they let us see what’s possible.

I love Olympic figuring skating. I can’t skate. I doubt I could even walk with skates on, but watching them glide across the ice, then spin at dizzying speeds after doing some triple, double, cow thing in the air is amazing. Did I ever aspire to do that? No way! I’d break my neck and probably the part of my body I happen to be sitting on right now. But I love watching them because they remind me of what humans are capable of. Do I believe I will ever be able to craft words the likes of O’Connor or McCarthy or King? No. But the great writers show us what humans are capable of. And while I know that there are elephants who can paint pictures, last I heard all writers are humans.

We can be capable of greatness, our own form of greatness. I like my miniature version of Stephen King sitting on my shoulder, telling me that what I just wrote needs to be highlighted and deleted ASAP! IT SUCKS!  But I also like the little voice that sometimes say, “Hey, not bad kid. I think you might really have something here.”

Be inspired. Study your idols, and instead of reading a line and saying to yourself, “Holy crap, I’ll never write like that!”, remember that even the greats started somewhere. And as much as we may love the voices of our writing idols, the world doesn’t need another Connor or McCarthy or even, yes it pains me to say this, another King. The writing world needs a choir of voices. Let them inspire yours.