The SDSU Writers Conference was this weekend, and it was absolutely fantastic! I was so amped up I couldn’t sleep. Stay asleep, anyway. The first night I conked out at 10:30 and then woke up at 3am, my brain cutting off my sleep like a bartender cutting off a drunk. “Alright buddy, you’ve had enough.” Four and a half hours is the equivalent of a couple a’ beers in this metaphor, and I’m no lightweight. I can hold my sleep. So really braintender, what gives?
But anyway, let’s start at the beginning!
We intrepid scribes started checking in a couple hours before showtime on Friday, getting red tote bags with programs and such in them. After taking my things into one of the hotel lounges to wait, everywhere I looked there were red bags red bags red bags. And the funniest part? Everyone was sitting apart. Not talking. As we do. It was the quintessential Writers In A Room Together. I wanted to take a picture and caption it, it was so hilariously perfect.
People warmed up once the conference got going. I met a lot of wonderful people who were all eager to ask about each other’s stories and tell about theirs. It was like parents meeting at the playground while their kiddos scamper about the slides. That one’s mine, we each said, beaming proudly.
There were some excellent presentations as well. One was a query letter critique, where an agent read anonymous queries from the crowd and gave feedback. If you get this chance at a conf, it’s great because they can catch errors you missed, or teach you a rule you didn’t know. Even if your query is rock solid, hearing examples of good ones is helpful to others. Similarly, there was a pitch critique session as well – pitching your book to the room (yourself! not anonymous this time!) and hearing feedback. It sounds terrifying. And it is. It totally is. But better to suffer two minutes of humility before wasting all those chances, right?
I must confess, I didn’t personally pitch to any agents at this conf, for the very simple reason (excuse? shut up) that everyone else was already doing so. Whenever I recognized an agent nearby, someone was already in the thick of talking to them, so it was either rudely interrupt, or hover there creepily until they finished. Interrupting proooobably gives a bad impression (like that you might be the type of person who rudely interrupts conversations). The hovering could have worked if I’d been really discrete and ninja-like about it, but since I left my “potted houseplant that follows you when you’re not looking” costume at home, I wasn’t sure how. Plus… Oh who are we kidding, every time the thought entered my head of “Hey I could pitch to that person,” my response was “Or I could run away!”
The fear gets to a lot of people. A LOT. You are absolutely positively NOT the only one to be afraid. Even bestselling authors admitted how terrified they were when they started out. One told us that she simply refused to pitch and sent out query letters instead, and hey, now she’s got her books on store shelves everywhere. It’s definitely recommended – the chance to really dive into why your story is so awesome and show how personable and great-to-work-with you are is a precious opportunity. But it’s not a strict requirement if you feel like you might puke on someone’s shoes.
The alternative to pitching is simply having a conversation with an agent. About anything. If you find yourself next to one at the breakfast buffet, ask about their favorite books, or if they’re giving any workshops later. Hell, make a comment on the fine assortment of cantaloupe. Then later when you send your query, you can say, “I’m the weirdo who talked about cantaloupe!” Anything that will put a face to your message can’t hurt.
I can say that, while I did no “elevator pitching,” I had a wonderful and thorough discussion with an agent who read my first ten pages. If this is offered, the ability to send your writing in advance and get personal feedback from someone who knows the industry, do it! It was by far the most valuable experience of the conference, and the most rewarding, because this agent requested my full manuscript! I was so happy I had to make a beeline for my hotel room and bounce off the walls a bit. So I definitely suggest you do this, even with the extra cost. It’s worth it.
Alright, this post’s getting long, so here’s a summary: The conf was excellent in every way. Bam. And now I will close with this: a very fine cantaloupe indeed!