A Dose of Reality
August 22, 2010
You know how we writers spend much of our time alone at the computer, where it’s comfortable? In July, for the first time ever, I stepped out of my comfort zone to pitch my novel at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference.
Pitching was a first for me. The idea is to convey the gist of the story to an agent or editor who then ascertains whether it is likely to sell or not. Of course, we hopefuls are convinced our books will sell if only given a chance, so we try to make our pitches as compelling as possible. When an agent asks to see a partial (the first three chapters of our manuscript), we’ve avoided the infamous slush pile. If they don’t think our books are marketable, at the very least we gain valuable feedback—and pitching experience.
Pitching sessions at the PNWA conference varied in length. Like Speed Dating, there was Speed Pitching, where six hopefuls got to meet as a group with one agent for 30 minutes, meaning each person theoretically got a total of five minutes. The other option was a 10-minute meeting between one hopeful and one agent.
To prepare for my sessions, I decided to write one-, two-, and five-minute pitches, which turned out to be easier said than done. Condensing the essence of my science fiction novel into a few short paragraphs took two weeks! And I still had to find an opening sentence that would grab the agent’s attention. Finally, I settled on the sentence, “What if you were in your seventies with only months to live and got an experimental treatment that not only cured you but unexpectedly made you 50 years younger?”
In the hallway, we practiced our pitches on each other. My hands got sweaty, my throat dry, and compared to others, I felt under-dressed in a bright top, white jeans, and flat sandals. A woman about my age who listened to my pitch said she’d always wished she could be young knowing what she knew now. (I heard the same reaction several times that day.)
Finally, my turn came. The editor listened to my spiel, asked pertinent questions about the story, and invited me to send a partial, although he added that my story might be more thoughtful than most of the thrillers he published. I was nonetheless elated.
The next person, an agent, told me right off the bat that my story didn’t fit the science fiction genre. “This is a mainstream book,” she said. When I countered that it contained futuristic technology, she told me that mainstream is a wide, all-encompassing category that includes speculation.
The third person, another agent, echoed the comments of the previous two people. I felt like I’d struck out. Then, the dose of reality took effect: I had to switch the genre of my book.
That night I edited my pitch to reflect a mainstream audience. Plus, I changed my opening sentence to, “How many times have you wished you could be young knowing what you know now?” The next day, when I presented it to an editor and an agent, they both invited me to submit a partial.
Now, I’m back at my computer, where it’s comfortable, readying the manuscript. I’ll let you know when I submit the partial. At least I don’t have to dress up for that.
Thanks for reading!