- Hetal Avanee
Yes, that needed to be said in all caps - cause it is just. that. Awesome!
I went to NY with my dream in my hands, which equates to my heart on the table. Anyone who knows me knows I have a very hard time sharing my work. It takes me awhile to admit to anyone that I aspire to be a published author; it takes me much longer to let anyone read the words I've written. This past weekend, I did both of these things.
And I managed to impress.
The workshops at the Writer's Digest Conference provided me invaluable knowledge and my only regret is that I couldn't attend them all. From learning craft in specific genres, to what happens after the book deal, to panels with agents, editors, and authors, there was something for everyone. Though nobody spent too much time on trends, the message was clear to all of us aspiring published authors: write a story you love because your enthusiasm might just be infectious.
I think this is what happened for me.
Saturday morning, I was wide awake when the first of my three alarms blared. I laid in bed, stared at the ceiling, telling myself "this is it, this will make it or break it for me". I know that's the worst attitude to have when stepping into this industry, but at the same time, I know myself. If I didn't get at least one request, I probably would put off this dream for another couple of years. If the first pitch resulted in no request, then I'd probably take my time going to the next agent.
I got ready, grabbed a Starbucks, and headed to the conference hotel two blocks from where I was staying. The NY streets were quiet at 7.15 on a Saturday morning but the sun was out and the peace of the slumbering city did wonders to calm my nerves a bit. I hitched my precious laptop bag higher on my shoulder as I walked through the door of the hotel and found a corner to sit in and absorb the pitch I'd written the night before.
It wasn't long. About eleven sentences that I proceeded to say out loud to myself. Other conference attendees trickled in and towards open chairs. Laptops surfaced, key tapping ensued. We all worked on our pitchs in anticipation of facing the agents. I shaved off a few uneccesary words, moved some things around. I surreptitiously recorded myself reciting my pitch and listened back to my voice. At quarter to nine, I went off to the ballroom where Janet Reid - the Query Shark herself - was speaking about effective query letters.
By the time Ms. Reid began speaking, the ballroom was packed. This was no surprise to me. Again the laptops were out, keys were tapping, and we attendees drank in her every word. I recorded every seesion I attended, and I think that of them all, Ms. Reid elicited the most laughs from the crowd. She put us at ease while doling out her sage advice. Though she's stated she isn't a fan of pitch events, she provided us some high level do's and dont's about querying.
I pulled out my own laptop - and cut four sentences based on things she said. The lines had been telling the story instead of showing anyway. Note to all: show-don't-tell matters a lot in queries as well as your novel. I tried not to memerize the remaining six or seven sentences, I didn't want to sound like a robot as I delivered my lines, but I had no room for error.
All of those lines mattered.
I won't tell you how I spent the next hour certain that I would throw up my coffee. I'll just skip ahead to meeting the agents.
Up to this point, I had only been saying my pitch to myself, and I wasn't sure I could remember it all. As I stood in line to meet my first agent, the woman in front of me saw my angst and took pity.
"Tell me about your story like I'm you're best friend. We're only having a conversation."
She was very sweet, and I gave it my best. I also failed miserably. I stuttered and cursed when I forgot a detail, had to backpedal, and try again. But she helped me overcome that "ohmergod this is the first time I'm saying this out loud to another human being" feeling.
I sat down in front of Agent 1, apologized for the forthcoming stutters. She was very kind, offered me a smile, and waited patiently.
I rattled off my seven sentences.
She asked a follow up question. Laughed at my answer.
Her card magically appeared before me (ok, so she pushed it across the table at me) and that was the magic ticket so to speak.
I had my first request!!
I pitched four more times. Pages or the full was requested four more times.
Excuse me a moment as I squee again at the memory.
Here's the thing that daunted me going into this: it is said that New Adult is still a tough sell, anything NA that isn't romance is tougher, and Urban Fantasy has gone the way of dystopics. Because I pitched a NA UF with romantic elements, I figured this was three strikes against me, but it didn't stop me from writing the story. The agents caught onto my enthusiasm, and when I delievered the inciting incident their response was a gasp or "wow".
Agent 2 said, "I love the concept, but don't call it NA in the query. When you sub to me, send as Contemporary". I stumbled a bit when Agent 3 asked me to list my MCs most likable quirk. I rattled something off though a much better answer came to me later. Still pages were requested. Agent 4 said, "I usually get lost with a fantasy pitch, but what you just delivered was so clear I can see it". Agent 5 said, "This is NA? And it's STEM based? Send my way!"
I swear my feet didn't touch the ground the rest of the day.
Here are the lessons I learned:
- The Agents really are just people. Despite my nerves, I was my usual self, smiled, and they smiled back. You are not only trying to sell them your story, you are selling yourself. - Don't believe everything you hear about trends. The agents obviously know better than me what's trending up and down and know if a pitch fits something they're looking for.
- The pitch should be as succint as possible. Cut out unecessary words, present at a high level, and show the action that drives the story. You have room for description in a query, not so much in a pitch.