Holy cow! The ACFW National Conference is well nigh upon us, only a month and a half away. I should really be adding to my WIP; instead, I thought I would stink up my little corner of Al Gore's series of tubes by offering some unasked-for advice on how to pitch to agents and editors. I'm thinking mostly in terms of those folks going to ACFW, but I'd like to think that this advice can transfer to other conferences as well. Yes, I am just that full of myself.
So I should probably show off my credentials at this point, right? Talk about how I have many degrees in writing? Or reveal that I've inked many multiple book deals from the times I've pitched? Yeah, I got none of those things. But I have been to four conferences. I've paid attention to what other people have said about pitching, and so I figured it might be helpful to pass on my (rather limited) wisdom. I'm thinking these posts, one for the next several Wednesdays, will be geared for those who have never pitched before, Conference newbies, as it were. Of course, if more experienced writers happen on by and wish to add or contradict me, I will gladly accept the chastisement.
So here's the first piece of advice, specifically for those who will be at their very first conference. My first piece of advice about pitching is this: don't.
That may sound a little odd. I mean, the great thing about a conference like ACFW is the chance for new writers to meet and rub shoulders with editors and agents. You've been working on your book for years, honing and perfecting it. Your critique partners and the others you've shown it to are raving over it. You've dreamed of getting your work in front of an industry insider. You've scrimped and saved, you've got your appointment in hand. Am I really suggesting that you shouldn't pitch if this is your very first conference?
Yes. Yes, I am.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Randall Ingermanson has also said this (and if he hasn't, well then, I'm sorry for putting words in his mouth). Allow me to tell you a story to explain my reasoning.
When my older son was nine months old, he figured out the whole crawling thing. A week later, he started walking. We tried to discourage him, mostly for our own sanity, but he was bound and determined. He was going to walk. And then, a day or two later, he started running.
My wife and I were stunned. He was always good at the gross motor stuff, but we were astounded at how "advanced" he was. We were proud parents to be sure, having a child who went from crawling to running in such short order. So naturally, we signed him up for a full marathon that very week.
Of course we didn't. He obviously had a long way to go and, although all he does now is run, he still has a long way to go.
The same thing is true when it comes to writing. You may be far and advanced in front of all the newbie authors attending the conference, but if this is your first writing conference, you're taking your first steps and probably aren't ready for a full marathon. Not yet.
To put it another way, you're going to learn so much about writing at your first conference that suddenly, the book that you've slaved over and was so good . . . well, you start noticed the flaws. Or you've learned a new technique that will push your already good story to a phenomenal level. In other words, as ready as you might think you are, you're probably not. You need a little more time to get things to where they could and should be.
So what if you've signed up for an editor or agent appointment and you get one? Should you not show up? No, definitely go, but don't go to pitch. Go to talk to the agent or editor about the publishing industry. Ask what they think the next big genre might be. Ask them what mistakes newbie authors make in their writing so you can avoid them. If it's an agent, ask him or her what they bring to the table and how they work with their clients.
This is definitely a case of "do as I say, not as I do." I pitched at my first conference, way back in 2006. I had a great story, the "story of my heart." I had the praise of critique partners and friends who had read it. I was sure that I was going to wow those I spoke to and walk away, if not with a contract, then with a promising lead for one.
Please note that I just recently signed my first contract. That's how well that went for me.
Part of it was genre; I've always been a speculative writer and the Christian market has never been all that open to us. But a larger part of it was the fact that I was taking my first toddling steps into a marathon. I simply wasn't ready.
Of course, you're free to ignore this if you want to. Plenty of first-timers do indeed pitch and do well. So what do you do if you're going into your first pitch meeting? Come back next week and we'll talk about what to do and not to do.