Yesterday I went to a lot of trouble to attend a writers’ workshop in Dallas. It was actually two separate classes taught back-to-back. The workshop was free, but it was a three-hour drive to get there. The primary topic being handled was how to construct your “pitch” for when you interview with an agent or editor at a conference.
I am a conference veteran now and have pitched my work many times, but I figured a review wouldn’t hurt, especially since the DFW conference is coming up next month. That by itself wouldn’t have warranted a drive to Dallas, though. My secondary motive was to meet one or two other writers and establish enough of a relationship with them to feel like I knew someone at the conference.
This will be my second time to attend the DFW conference. Last year, I enjoyed it and found it very useful–but I did not know a single soul there and it was a rather lonely experience. Outgoing, gregarious writers are always talking about how you can’t help making friends at a conference. They make it sound like you will be mobbed with people dying to make your acquaintance, and that many of them will become your new best buddies.
I have never experienced this phenomenon. As an introvert, spending large blocks of time in a room crammed with strangers is my definition of “hell.” One or two people I can handle, but not large herds. So I thought maybe at the workshop I’d meet one or two others and be able to strike up a conversation.
This turned out to be what happened. Because I was late, I was seated at the very end of one of the long tables, next to a lady with gorgeous rainbow hair and across from another lady of my generation. We talked a little during the course of the afternoon, but the real chance to connect came at the end when we had a pitch practice activity.
We each had a form to fill out. We had to get three other people to pitch to us, and we had to write down their name, genre, and what stood out about their pitch. So of course the three of us pitched to each other. I had not come actually prepared to pitch, so I had a moment of panic, but I just did the best I could pitching a novel I have pitched in the past. Both of my new acquaintances will be attending their first conference and pitching for the first time.
Here’s where it got interesting. I’ve been at this for so long now that even with no notice, I was able to come up with a coherent pitch giving the kernel of what my book is about. Both of my associates tended to ramble and bring up nonessential details. I had almost forgotten how hard it is in the beginning to condense your book down to the bare essentials for a pitch. It is a very important skill. It is also hard to learn and (for me) no fun at all. You have to learn how to do it, though. If you can’t tell an industry professional what your book is about in a couple of sentences, they are unlikely to be interested in it.
We rounded up another lady to participate so that we could all fill out all the slots on our forms. It was really interesting! Then the forms were gathered up and there was a drawing for a bonus free pitch session at next month’s conference. One pitch session comes free with conference registration, but normally “extra” sessions cost in the neighborhood of $50. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when my name was one of the ones drawn. Now I will get to pitch my stories to two different agents.
Then came the big surprise of the day for me. One of my new friends came up to me and told me that it was worth coming to the workshop just to hear my pitch. She said it was so clear and compelling it gave her a great example to follow—and made her want to read the book! That made my day. It never occurred to me that just hearing my pitch could be helpful to another writer.