Sunday, January 19, 2014


Thinking about The Query Shark’s posts on pitch sessions, and my own experiences both with these and with Pitchapalooza, I’ve been ruminating on how useful they are.  The thing is, I’ve had 100% success with in-person pitches – with “success” defined as “agent asks for partial or full” (and fulls are more frequent as electronic delivery improves; as Victoria Skurnick said to me, and part of the reason I asked her for an interview to be published here, “Why ask for a partial, it’s all the same by email”).  There was a time when a full request was a HUGE deal, but either out of my own experience or because technology has changed so much in the industry, even down to these preliminary events, it seems less earth-shaking now than once it did.

As for pitch sessions, part of Janet Reid’s objection is the nervousness and the novice state of so many of the writers she sees during sessions.  Much as I’m little burdened with preciousness about the killing off of my darlings, I was fortunate to have parents who very consciously and explicitly raised me and my brother to be able to talk to people in any walk of life.  Now, for me and my brother, this does NOTHING to actually eliminate nervousness, *but* it does manage the thing – and, frankly, there’s not much interest in a life into which a little nervousness never falls.  Nervousness is close kin to excitement – and, if you’re excited about what you have written, as far as a pitch session goes, that can bring you halfway “there” so to speak.

I pay attention to how I plan to pitch, but I’m not scripted beyond those points about Clovis’ story I personally found so compelling I needed to write it, and which I know make the strongest selling points both literarily and in the market.  Now, if I were blessed to attend conferences more regularly or closely dealing with my particular GENRE, maybe I’d have been agented years ago just off an in-person – but, as much as I love JRW, and as widely worthwhile as I find The Ax and the Vase to be … you may be astonished to learn that, apparently, the trade in ancient Frankish kings is not brisk in fiction currently.

(That’s not to say that the market is not good, but it does speak to Clovis’ relative obscurity next to the ubiquitous Tudors, Rome, and even the odd Plantagenet in histfic alone – and histfic is only one area out of many, when it comes to conference-planning for maximum impact.  Take a look at the fascinating data produced recently by a historical fiction survey; even keeping in mind that this was created by sampling a necessarily skewed sample, the results are interesting and even encouraging.)

I keep getting off discussion of pitching.  One has to be careful, you can do that in a 5-minute session, and POOF it’s all over then.

Another objection Reid has is that the five-minute pre set meeting is all an author gets, at a conference.  This is where my love of JRW forces me to point out that – SOME conferences invite participants/agents/marquee speakers/editors to come AND TO BE THERE THE WHOLE TIME.  Buttonholing agents in the hall is not merely encouraged, but built into the experience.  So, at JRW – yes, they have pitch sessions (as Reid points out, to omit them might cause riots from writers who expect them), but there is also the opportunity to pitch impromptu … and just to have LUNCH with people.  This past conference, I reacquainted myself briefly with Paige Wheeler, the first agent to ever request a partial from me (I need to re-query her ASAP!), and formally pitched both Victoria Skurnick and Deborah Grosvenor, who was incredibly generous in fitting me in at the end of an extraordinarly long day, and even got to just sit and relax for a while at a table off on its own slightly apart from the center of activity, talking cello music and mezzuzahs with Ms. Skurnick, who was so painfully delightful I asked for the interview then and there (and she was enthusiastic and lovely in saying yes, I’d love to).

So, clearly, I would number among those authors whose reaction to Janet Reid’s condemnation of these sessions would be resistant, to say the least.  But then, I’m among those lucky twits whose reaction to nervousness itself seems to be manageable and productive – and I am also smug enough to say to myself, an author who wants to sell a book needs to be able to sell her or himself, so for pete’s sake, pitch sessions are just part of that education we need in order not only to improve our pitches and queries themselves, but to participate in the larger world I am trying to become part of, that of Published Author.

Who the HELL put that soapox there, and how did I trip on it … ?

Um.  So – yeah, I kind of like pitch sessions.  I like being surrounded by friends old and new, sharing these tiny and painful short works, getting feedback, rehearsing, improving them.  Conferences have borne, for me, some of the best marketing work I’ve been able to produce in support of Ax itself.  And, nervous or not, I’ve never been to one where EVERYONE was not completely supportive, no matter the context.  And the agents are not the least of this.  I’ve learned, even those who don’t “do” my genre are generally delightful people, and at times there’ve been those it just hurts me to know don’t work in my area.  (Michelle Brower, I’m looking at you.)

Just thinking about all this makes me want to get a-querying and impress the pants off of those I’ve met – and Janet Reid herself (are you kidding me?  Love Query Shark like I do, and NOT take a chance?  No way – now that she’s open for queries again, she’s on the list, of course she is).  And so I must away, and get cracking.

Even if I can’t vomit on anyone’s shoes.

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