I just got back from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. “Just got back” is a bit of a stretch, since the conference happened in Seattle, just a quick twenty minute commute from my house. Writers gravitate to these conferences for a number of reasons: to see colleagues and be with other writers, to attend workshops on craft and marketing, to hear key note addresses by successful authors and to pitch their own stories to agents and editors. In past conference in Seattle and in Austin (Writers League of Texas meets there) pitching took front and center in my mental and emotional space. I’d be sitting in a workshop on character development or social media, trying to focus on the topic, but in the back of my mind, I ran through my pitch. A few writers out there may find the whole pitching thing fun, but for me it has always been a bit of a rattling experience. How do you condense a three hundred page novel down to sixty seconds in a way that not only does justice to the work, but does it in a way inciting to an agent?
As a leadership development coach (past life) I’ve spoken in front of groups from a handful to a thousand. But there’s something about sitting down one-on-one with an agent to share a story you’ve put your heart and soul into, your baby. I think the angst comes from a fear most writers hold deep down inside — I’m not good enough. My writing doesn’t measure up. And so the fear of a professional in the business not desperately needing our story feels overwhelming.
Of course, the reality is that an agent or an editor is simply looking for something new, something unique, something they can sell. Good writing is essential. Storytelling craft is essential. But given good writing and storytelling, something all writers always continue to develop, agents will pick the thing they can sell.
Last year I pitched two novels at both conferences in Austin and Seattle. I had a science fiction novel called SHAPER which won in the Sci-Fi category in the WLT Literary Contest. And TOXIC RELATIONSHIP was a finalist in the thriller/mystery/suspense category in the same conference. One thing I learned last year is that it’s difficult to pitch two books in two genres at the same conference. I limped along as best I could, using some notes to make sure I didn’t go brain dead mid-pitch. Sometimes I did fine, other times I crashed and burned. One agent asked me if I had ever pitched before — ouch. But even in the midst of the burning wreckage of my pitching, I managed to get enough of my story across to J. Ellen Smith of Champagne Books, who happens to now be my publisher.
This year, with a novel about to come out in August and a second one in the hands of my editor, I didn’t need to pitch. I discovered a rich world of interesting conversations, workshops and talks without the angst of pitching. Was pitching essential to finding a home for my work? Yes. Do I miss pitching? Well, here’s the thing. The other side of writing is selling. So I don’t get to miss pitching because now I pitch all of the time.
One other note about the PNWA Conference I want to share. Two colleagues in my writing group were finalist in the literary contest. Chris Caldwell and Ben Starnes. And to my delight, Ben won in the Middle Grade category for his very fun novel, Poppy Bell and the Witches of Shadow Marsh. He of course is now in the process of looking for an agent, but I know this book will make it to the marketplace soon. And if you have a middle grade reader or like to read middle grade, you’ll want to pick this one up. When the time’s right, I’ll be introducing you to Ben and his novel.
Here’s the list of all the first and second place winners in the PNWA Contest.