WDCE 2013 Pitch Slam

So I went to it, the 2013 Writer’s Digest Conference. I was only able to attend Saturday’s events (it lasted Friday to Sunday), but let me tell you, that day was packed, and most nerve-wracking of all was the 1.5 hour Pitch Slam. I’ll describe that in a moment.

There were multiple talks and events being held, some during the same time slot, so attendees such as myself had to choose between things. I’ll talk about those in another blog entry. As for the Pitch Slams, there were two, and one must register to whichever beforehand. I opted for the earlier one, based purely on the idea that I’d only work myself into further anxiety the longer I waited. Besides, I heard afterward that supposedly by Round 2, the agents are already tired and supposedly less receptive. Who can tell?

First time conference and first time pitching.  I was nervous. Yet I had done my research, rehearsed my lines, and gotten there on time. But nothing compares to actual experience.

I had left a talk ten minutes early to get to the designated “pitch room,” only to find that about 10,000 other writers had the same idea. We waited, I made small talk with those before and behind me, and eventually the line moved – and then, I was there, stepping past some majestic double-doors and into the presence of dozens of agents, any one of whom might show elating interest or offer a crushing rejection.

Now, every article you find about “how to pitch your book” will tell you about how the agents are only human and that a rejection does not necessarily mean your work is bad. Indeed, easy words to pass along, but not so easy to practice on the first time around. This was the gateway, the starting judgment. That’s not easy for people to take casually.

But the difference is choosing whether to subject yourself to judgment or to avoid these things altogether. Books that are kept secret don’t get published. Unless they find ’em after you’re dead.

Here’s how it went. Agents lined the walls, each seated and behind a table. Lines of us aspiring authors formed at each of the agents we hoped to see. Now as I said, I did my research, and had the names of the ones who I gauged to be most interested in epic fantasy. I had made a list of 6 ‘primaries,’ agents that had priority, and another 8 ‘secondaries’ in case the lines were too long, someone cancelled, or whatever. Good thing I did, too, because i saw that some agents had not showed up (all mine did though), and the line to meet one of my primaries was too long by the time I got to her.

Time with an agent is about 3 minutes. At one end of the room, some folks with a bell and a loud speaker would ring on intervals. “Switch!” And “One minute left!” When it’s time to go, it’s time to get up; and when it’s time to sit, you blast off with your 90-second pitch following a brief introduction.

So I pitched, and I slammed. Of the 7 agents I managed to see during those 1.5 hours, 4 were interested to see more of my work and two had given me the names of people (who weren’t there) they thought I should contact. Then, at 5 minute remaining, I thought i’d simply call it quits, but then I spotted one of my secondaries looking lonely. He wasn’t interested in my pitch, but happily gave me the name of someone else he knew. It pays to make that extra effort.

Not too shabby. You will hear whether or not anything comes of that, trust me.

Regarding the Slam itself though, I’d read horror stories about this event. Rude agents interrupting, timers being off-key, things like that. I’m here to tell you that the worst part of the entire experience was my own anxiety.

The agents, even those who were less-than-interested, were polite. Only one urged me to hurry up (“Alright, tell me the end”) and several times someone in front of me stood up early – which threw timer off. This meant that once or twice I had benefitted from an additional 30-45 seconds of agent time before the next bell buzzed and the system reset. That’s like, a week in Pitch Slam years. With one agent, the same happened to me, giving whoever was behind me some extra time as well.

I emerged from the clamor with an air of victory. And that feeling was exponentially magnified after the events that would take place later in the evening. But like I said, that’s another entry.

Back to the Slam. Listen, as an amateur I don’t think I’m authorized to dispense advice. But I did learn a lot, and after speaking to dozens of other folks there, in conjunction with my experience, I feel safe emphasizing a few points to other would-be authors:

  • Get over yourself. “Fear profits man nothing.”
  • Talk to people. You’re all there for the same reason – you’re not against one another so make a friend.
  • Research and plan who you’re seeing. I can’t emphasize this enough, since I met some writers though who’d done nothing. They went from agent to agent at random, only to be rejected multiple times just because that agent wasn’t even into their genre.
  • Target the agents you want, based on what they’re after, and form a back-up list.
  • Get over yourself.

Happy writing!

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2 responses to “WDCE 2013 Pitch Slam

  1. You described it well, Jesse.
    Have you sent your work to any of the agents yet? I’ve decided to take Susan Shapiro’s advice and send my Manuscript to an editor first. I did just complete my final edit this morning.

    • Ah! Indeed I did get mine edited. In fact I employed the some time before bringing it to the conference. It cost me around $350 for my manuscript ($3/page), but the next time I need it, I’ll contact the same person and eliminate the middle-man (bringing it down to $2/page). I was happy with the soyvice and totally encourage shelling out whatever it takes to get one’s work professionally edited.

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