Saturday, September 17, 2016

How Not To Pitch To An Agent

Last weekend, I attended the 2016 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference in Denver with my friend and fellow indie author, Melissa Stacy. To say this was an eye-opening event would be an understatement. It was a great learning experience, though, and I’m already planning to attend next year’s conference. However, I’ll be better prepared for that one.

About The Conference:

Fiction writers, editors, and agents gathered at the Renaissance Hotel for three days of workshops and panel discussions, pitch and critique sessions, and author signings and books sales. Each day ended with a delicious meal and a keynote address. The writers of the year awards were presented Friday evening, and winners of the 2016 Colorado Gold Contest, along with several other awards, were announced at the awards banquet on Saturday.

Keynote speaker, Robert J. Sawyer, gave a compelling speech, providing realistic insight on writing and the publishing industry. He didn’t give a pep talk. There was no rah-rah, go-writers-go sentiment. It was, however, a reminder that we, as writers, need a show of solidarity against an industry that has all too often taken advantage of the talented people who keep them in business. Some thought his subject was antagonistic, especially considering the publishing industry was well represented in the audience. But it was just what we all needed to hear. No sugar coating.

Sunday’s keynote address was a humorous and inspiring tale of why we write. Ann Hood shared personal accounts, including a moving story about working through the death of her young daughter. Looking around the room, I noticed many people holding back tears as she spoke. I wasn’t as successful and had to dry my eyes as she concluded.

My Mortifying Agent Pitch Session:

The registration cost included a 15-minute pitch to an agent. I had done my research on the industry and decided long ago I wasn’t interested in traditional publishing, but I figured, “Okay, I can do that. I’ll pitch my book.” I had no unrealistic expectations. No one was going to read my work and beg me to sign a contract. Still, I have to admit being rejected hit me pretty hard. It was a sting I hadn’t anticipated.

Pitching my book to an agent at this conference was going to be great practice for the day I decide to seek one out for representation. That was the plan anyway. I don’t want or need an agent right now, and I knew I wasn’t going to get one that day. Before I registered, I understood my work didn’t qualify because the only completed manuscript I had to offer had already been self-published and was about 80,000 words too long. But I pitched it anyway.

My pitch appointment was with DongWon Song, an agent with the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. Maybe I shouldn’t have volunteered the fact that I had already self-published my book, but it seemed dishonest not to inform him upfront. He shook his head and told me, “I wish writers wouldn’t do that.” At least, I think that’s what he said. I was so mortified that his exact words escape me. In retrospect, maybe I should have told him my plan after I dazzled him with the next NY Times best seller.

Once my initial embarrassment faded, we had a good – yet brief – conversation. I told him about my book and about another one I was working on that hasn’t been published or finished yet. Shame and nerves cut my 15-minute appointment down to about five. While the other authors were wowing their potential agents, I slunk out of the room, leaving DongWon Song thinking about how I had wasted his time.

However, the pitch session wasn’t a total waste of time (mine, not his). Now I know what to expect. And I have a year to finish the unpublished manuscript that I will pitch next year. In the meantime, my Traveler’s Saga novels will remain my babies and I will continue to self-publish those.

What I Learned:

Number one lesson: Follow the instructions. Always. Unlike adverbs, instructions are your friend. Do not, under any circumstances, deviate from the instructions.

Attending the RMFW conference left me drained. Naturally, I came away inspired and enlightened. However, I’ve been grappling with a plethora of mixed emotions as well: pride, embarrassment, validation, inadequacy, excitement, invisibility, professionalism, awkwardness, humility, envy, optimism, and self-doubt.

I failed miserably at networking, which is typically one of my uber-strengths, and I felt like I did everything wrong. All those other people belonged at that conference. I was a fraud. I have no right to call myself an author. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m delusional, chasing a dream I may never catch.

Okay, I’m over all of that nonsense now. I am an author. I’ve simply chosen to pull all of my books from the market right now. All but the one that cost me an agent, of course. And I’m still proud to be an indie author, captain of my own ship. I write not for fame and fortune (although that might be nice), but for the sheer joy it brings me.

The RMFW conference reminded me to believe in myself and to not give up. I’m not a fraud, but I am still learning. And that feels good. It also taught me to be more aware of what’s been happening in the publishing industry since I first ventured down this “career path.”

My writing isn’t work; it’s fun.

It’s hard not to be envious of those who get to write as their day job. Until I have the luxury of doing what I love and getting paid for it on a full-time basis, I’ll continue to drag myself out of bed each morning to go to my day-J.O.B. I’ll make more time to write, and I’ll be a little kinder to myself about it when I can’t.

I’ve dusted off the series, and I’m giving those books a fresh new life. I’m excited about all of my writing projects. I’ll celebrate my victories where I can. And I’ll celebrate my readers. Hey, that one self-published book got a review on Goodreads recently, which made my day.

While re-evaluating my purpose in life, I also looked at the stats of my blog. Over the past 18 months, two of my blog articles had an amazing number of views: “Portals and the Dreaming World” went from 25 to 1048, and “Pay Attention When Black Wolf Visits” jumped a whopping 5326 views to a total of 7552. Maybe that’s not much to the publishing world, but in my little corner of the universe, it’s pretty impressive. Well, it impressed me enough to be more motivated to write and to stop neglecting my blog.

But, we’ll see. The best laid plans and all…

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