This is the last of a four-part series about my trip to New York City. Up this week: The writer’s conference
It’s a muggy day in Manhattan as I walk out of the hotel towards the writer’s conference. It rained the night before. I can tell by the water accumulating by the sewer grate. The steam really does rise from those grates, by the way. I thought that it was a myth initially, like when you hear about the alligators in the sewers.
They’re not alligators, by the way, they’re Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everybody knows that. Though, after being in NYC for the better part of a week, I can tell you that it’s doubtful that anything lives down there. It stinks to high hell, and there’s probably all kinds of things that are bad for you down there.
The concierge at the hotel said that it wasn’t going to rain, checking her Apple weather app. She was wrong. I should have brought an umbrella, but whatever. I’m from Canada, a little bit of rain isn’t going to hurt me.
I arrive at the conference at the beautiful Hilton hotel located at 1663 Avenue of the Americas. It’s interesting how they decide on their naming conventions in New York. Everything is a grid, and the streets have no-nonsense names. The avenues run north/south, and the streets run east/west, and they’re all numbered. Makes it easy to find your way around.
That is until somebody decides that 6th avenue isn’t majestic enough for these couple three blocks. Enter the Avenue of the Americas. I’m suitably wowed and confused.
The hotel is massive. There are people everywhere, and not a single sign for a writer’s conference. I steal a look at my email to check – for the fourteenth time – that I’m at the right place. I am, so I wander around. Eventually, I make my way to the 2nd floor where I get my name card.
Everyone else seems to be coming from the States. Under our names, it shows the name of your city and the state which you came from. It says this under most names, that is. I’m given the perfunctory “Winnipeg, Canada” tag because nobody knows where Manitoba is, anyway.
We’ve eventually shuffled into a large hall which seats upwards of 2500 people. It’s mainly filled as well, except the far ends. After some obligatory technical issues, the conference begins! I really don’t know what to think, except that I’m glad that I grew out of the reluctance to sit beside strangers that I had as a prepubescent child.
It’s here that we’re given the rules of engagement for pitching to agents. They share some great tidbits and some best practices. Some are common sense, like:
- If somebody says that they don’t want your manuscript, just move on. Don’t spend more time trying to sell a story that they’re not interested in
- Agents are people too.
Common sense? Sure. But a common saying in my family is that common sense isn’t so common anymore. This is a level-set. I recognize it from my own training classes. But there are some good pieces as well, such as:
- Don’t go to your #1 agent choice first. Because pitching to your friends and your colleagues are going to be massively different than pitching a book and a potential business relationship.
It’s amazing how many people around me look visibly nervous. Now more than ever, I’m grateful for my corporate training and the mentorship which I’ve received over the years both personally and professionally. Agents are people, after all, and no matter the result, the sun will rise again tomorrow. And even the day after that. Crazy, I know!
The seminars are solid, for the most part. I pull out my laptop to take detailed, comprehensive notes. But it’s dead, of course. After three days where Chant and I averaged 17 kilometers on foot per day, I had been too tired to charge the damn thing.
Eventually, I meander out to the book store where I buy a moleskin notepad for the price it would take to mortgage a small house.
I take notes. They’re not detailed or comprehensive but, looking back on it now, I can mostly figure out my chicken scratch, which is a weird combination of short and long handwriting. I read somewhere that sloppy writing is the sure sign of an intelligent mind. I’m more of the opinion that it’s born instead from a manic desire to not miss anything, including the anecdotes which don’t necessarily add to your comprehension of what you wrote.
(why was he talking about a shoe and a piano?)
It is on the second day that Pitch Slam begins. What is Pitch Slam, you ask? Well, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, the only way to break into the traditional publishing business is to have an agent. To get an agent, you can either
- Send out query letters to agents or agencies
- Attend a writer’s conference Pitch Slam session.
So I’ve done the first before, but you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s tough to write a great query letter when you don’t know how to write one. I know this now, looking back a year and a bit later. There are a great many things I would have changed about how I had approached querying the first time around if I could do it again. But that’s beyond the point.
Here I was in a room with forty or fifty agents. People who are actively seeking new clients. It was my job to convince them that my story can sell.
Not just that it’s good, as I learned at the conference. That it can sell. And yes, there’s a difference. Some story ideas aren’t good. But they sell because emotion sells stories. Or that’s what the market is looking for at that moment. That’s primarily what the business cares about, after all.
I’d done my research on who I wanted to talk to. There were twenty-four or so agents there who were interested in reading the NEXT GREAT THRILLER
Out of those I had a shortlist of 11 who I really wanted to speak with.
I spoke to ten of them.
Everyone is filtered into the room where the agents are sitting two by two at tables. You’re supposed to have about three minutes to speak with the agent when it’s your turn, dictated by some staff member and a large speaker. Only that’s not how life works. If the agent is really interested in what somebody has to say, they’re not going to limit themselves by some arbitrary speed dating timer system.
The conversations last about 5 minutes if they’re interested. Much less if they’re not. Out of those ten agents with whom I spoke, I was asked for a full manuscript from three of them, and a partial manuscript from four of them.
They want to read my book! They’re intrigued by the pitch, and they sense that there’s sales potential. This is super exciting for me. It’s almost like there was this line in the sand which I had unconsciously drawn. I needed some sort of validation that I was on the right path – the type of validation which can only come from a member of that industry. From a stranger whose job is to find quality and buff it until it sparkles.
After the session was done, I headed to the closest pub and had a couple of pints. I couldn’t believe how tired I was. Turns out that I had covered a lot more ground than the majority of people in the sessions. Some had spoken with two, others with three or four. A few people had even spoken with as many as six or seven. Not a single other person spoke with ten.
I don’t know what happens next with those seven people who expressed interest in my manuscript. I’ll send them what they requested, and then I’ll probably play the waiting game. One example which I heard had the writer waiting about five months to hear back. They called it their Christmas surprise.
I think I’d like a gift like that.
What did we learn this week?
- Whenever somebody says that they’re here to sell their memoir, the voices in my head immediately go “memwahh.” You know, like that Simpsons episode where Bart meets President Bush. The first one.
- It’s amazing what you can find in New York when you’re not looking. I went to the conference and stumbled across the Radio City Music Hall. Guess that’s what happens when there’s iconic landmarks every-fricking-where
- I had the privilege of handing out my face to pretty much everyone I met. Yup, my face. Lucky them, I guess?
- There are some excellent writers out there. If you guys are reading this, I would for sure have joined you as you hit up the bars of NYC. But an early flight kyboshed that one pretty quickly.
- I think that my public speaking experience definitely helped me in a couple different ways.
I wrote the four NYC posts a month ago. Which means that it’s been a month since NYC. A MONTH! Where did the time go? To date, I’ve managed to send out material to all those agents who requested material…
I’ll talk about that another day.