I’m off this week to the Chicago Spring Fling Writer’s Conference and my level of excitement just crossed over from song-in-my-heart levels to jump-at-the-teens-and-hug-them-for-no-good-reason levels. Plus, my hyphenation is out of control, which is never a good sign. Or then the best sign ever.
“It’s just a conference,” you’re thinking. But no, it’s really not. Maybe it was until the last one in 2012, where not only did I get my writing mojo back (Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Diana Love, and Simon Elkeles were speaking, how can you not be inspired?) but I also gathered the guts to do some pretty crazy things and ended up with requests that sold me my first book and found me an agent.
And what this means to you, if you are a newbie looking for a book deal in traditional publishing, is that I feel qualified to share with you my guidelines for coming away from a conference with requests. And here they are in no particular order:
1) Pitch every chance you get: I used the term ‘gathered my guts’ earlier because I pitched to my editor in the middle of a spotlight and it was such a terrifying experience that it’s the closest I’ve ever come to having a heart attack (think explosive heartbeat and near total lung failure).
For those of you not in the know, Publisher Spotlights are presentations at writer’s conferences where a publisher sells themselves to writers. They tell you what they bring to the table for their authors and why you should query them. It’s essentially the reverse of a Pitch appointment.
At a pitch appointment you tell them what you have and they tell you if they’re interested. At a spotlight they tell you what they have and you decide if you are interested.
So, of course you aren’t supposed to pitch your books at spotlights. And I’m definitely not suggesting that you do. My ‘pitch’ in fact was a question. A relevant question about whether or not a book as off the wall as mine would be something they’d be
interested in. And it so happened that they were and so we went from there. My point is that spotlights are where you ask questions. This is your chance to know if this publisher is for you. And if they are, you find the editor and you pitch.
2) Don’t forget to pitch: While we writers might go to conferences to socialize, be inspired, fan drool over our idols, and hunt chocolate in goody rooms, I think it’s safe to assume that editors and agents go mainly because they are looking for business. Which means they’re looking for writers with stories they like. So, really, they’re looking for you to pitch your work. Now, as in all things, grace and discretion are key, and creepy stalking is different from smart and skillful stalking and the difference between the two is that one is entirely undetectable and harmless.
So if you see an editor or agent you’re interested in and they don’t give you a please-don’t-approach-me-I-need-these-five-writer-free-minutes look, go talk to them. Tell them how much you love their latest book (my personal preference is that you don’t lie, but hey, if you can pull it off, I’m not judging). Ask them if they’re interested in Bollywood romances, or cowboy vampires, or radioactive spiders, or whatever it is you write and then tell them about your book. Chances are fifty fifty that they’ll ask to see it. And those are great odds.
3) See that you pitch: Most conferences will let you make one pitch appointment. But many people make pitch appointments and then don’t want them anymore. One of my writer buddies decided on the morning of her appointment that she wasn’t ready. I was and I asked her if she was okay with me taking her appointment. Of course she was, writer friends are the best. But I had to ask to know that.
Keep your eyes and ears open and don’t be afraid to dive in when you see an opening. In two days this will be over and all the editors and agents will be out of diving range. And if you embarrass yourself a little bit by having someone refuse you, you’ll have your pillow to sob into and a Walgreens near by with an endless supply of chocolate.
Seriously, I wish I had more varied advice than this. And I’m in no way suggesting that you should spend your entire conference in a state of desperation hunting for opportunities to pitch. Of course you should have fun too and go to workshops and touch your favorite authors and hope the genius transfers though contact. But it is my firm belief that the only way to sell a book to a publisher or an agent is to pitch a book. And I use the blanket term pitch to cover all opportunities to obtain a request. Because really, when you query, you are essentially pitching via email.
Obtaining requests is an awful, horrid, nerve racking process. But requests are your keys, and to open that locked door you so very badly want to open, you have to collect as many keys as you can. Because truly, it’s the only way to find one that fits.
Good Luck and make sure you come by and say Hi! if you see me.