I went to the Agent and Editors conference in Austin, Texas, recently, and participated in their sessions. While I'm still on the fence about transitioning to more traditional markets to publish my books, I wanted to learn more about how the industry has evolved since newer technologies like Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasting turned the publishing outlets on their heads.
Although many traditional presses have struggled to survive, especially during Covid, the traditional publishing market is still very much alive and kicking. Those who rode the Internet disruption wave were those who were willing to adapt to all the new changes by merging with other publishing houses and taking advantage of those newer technologies, themselves. One of the guest speakers, who opened the conference, Sean Desmond (VP and Publisher for Twelve books) stated that the best publishers were the ones who are willing to adapt, and that's certainly what some of these publishers have done, and why they are still around today. The downside to that is that mainstream authors are flooding the online market and that has left many new indie writers struggling to compete with these giants in that arena. So now, as an Indie Author, I'm having to adapt and innovate for this change as well.
Since I've written novellas and short stories, I'm tempted to start querying again to see if I can turn some of those stories into longer length books, or perhaps pitch my current work in progress when I attend again next year. There were about a total of sixteen Agents and Editors combined at this conference. I did find a few who caught my eye, and I'm hoping to query soon: Noah Ballard Verve from Talent & Literary Agency, Caroline Bleeke from Alfred A. Knopf, and Martha Wydysh from ICM Partners . Most agents require a completed manuscript, so I need to get it finished. Which is why I really enjoyed participating in their pre-conference sessions on pitching a story idea to an agent or editor, conducted by Lance Fitzgerald and Becka Oliver. It was definitely good practice.
First, what is a Pitch? The pitch is the story idea that makes an agent or editor wonder what is going to happen in your story. It's the hook that reels them in. The right bait and technique will ensure that you catch the biggest fish. If you are able to reel one in, the agent will request to see your first ten pages of your book. A pitch is not a synopsis, which is a complete summary of your book. It is usually verbal when you have a face-to-face meeting with an editor or agent, and I say usually, because there have been occasions where people get so nervous they write down what they are going to say. Which reminds me, and please forgive me for not remembering who said this, but someone at one of these sessions related an account of an author who got so nervous, she gave the note to the agent during their meeting.The agent loved it so much that the writer got a book contract- ha! So, moral of this short story: some wishful dreams do come true.
Anyhoo, here's what I learned:
What Not to Do When You're Pitching
1. Don't list your characters without descriptions: The example given was mentioning that the characters in your story are Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Phoebe, and Chandler. And? Details, please, tell them more.
2. Don't pick a theme: For example, saying it's about man vs. nature doesn't necessarily hook or entice.
3. Don't pitch a question that is left unanswered: If you open with a question, be sure to answer it.
What to Do:
1. Do say what the book is about.
2. Do say why it's relevant.
3. Do say why someone would want to read your story.
In addition to the things you must do, be sure to include what they call the Four C's when you are pitching: (I'm going to use my current work in progress as examples.)
1. Connection: What is the reason why you are contacting this particular agent? Did you meet at a conference? Did you find this agent online? I talked with one during a meet and greet. Patricia Nelson was her name. She's from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She accidentally spilled wine on me. She felt so bad, and although she's not in my current genre, I guarantee you that if I was pitching to her, I would open with: Hi, we spoke during the meet and greet. I know you've met with many people during this conference, but lucky for me, you spilled wine on me, lol. Hey, whatever helps break the ice or helps them connect, works for me. Some of you are probably thinking, no, that's not what I would do. But hey, if my agent can't have a sense of humor, then I'm not the right fit for that person. That's just the way I roll. In case you're wondering what she was like, she was very personable, friendly, and she represents Women's Fiction. If I ever end up turning my novella Run Mama, Run into a novel, she is one I would love the pleasure of receiving a rejection or acceptance.
2. Context: Where does your book sit on a book shelf? Think of comparing two books to use. So mine, for example, is a speculative fiction book that started as a novella, but with currently at 60,000 words, I can see it turning into my first novel. I started writing this book when my husband introduced me to Michael Crichton. I read two of his books: Prey and Next, and I was baffled with how little I knew about what was happening with technology and science during that time, so I immersed myself into researching and learning as much as I could about bioengineering, nanotechnology and CrispR gene editing. As I read more, I immersed myself into the world of A.I. and read Kai Fu Lee's A.I. Superpowers, and James Barrat's Our final Invention, and The End of Life as We Know It, by Doctor Michael Guillen. I sifted through magazines and other resources, and I couldn't help but wonder why this wasn't at the forefront of anyone's concern? I began to ask questions like what would that look like to average, every day individuals who had no idea about the capabilities of these new technologies if unethical scientists where left went unrestrained? How would average, every day people deal with the disruption in their lives? So I crafted characters from different walks of life, most who were born before the year 2000, and I fell completely in love with them. One was a homeless vet, a retired missionary/ teacher, a disillusioned law enforcement officer, a disgruntled former investigator, a Kurdish refugee, an angry self-defense instructor, and a thirteen-year-old Gen Z-er. This is a generation that is caught in that transition between the older technology and the new interconnected technology that we ourselves are on the verge of reaching. The world they once knew will change dramatically, and they are thrust into an even bigger life challenge when they realize that they have to pull together if they want to survive.
3. Compel: Use a meaty paragraph that tells them enough about a story by describing with the four W's:
Who is the book about?
Where is your setting?
When does it take place?
What is happening when the book opens?
Mine opens in the near future. Our society has collapsed and these group of individuals are making their way through El Chapo's underground tunnels, the notorious drug cartel leader. Those tunnels were modified as escape tunnels from Missouri to Texas to help this group survive, and they must live because they are being hunted by genetically modified humans, who no longer have any humanity left in them. Why not come to the surface you ask? They face an even bigger threat: self-aware humanoid robots and genetically modified giants.
4. Credentials: Do you have any publishing credits? If so, state so. Why are you the person to tell this story? Agents need to know that you are serious about committing to see this to the end. If you have any credits for writing, say so.
I've been writing since 2004. I have three publishing credits with the Chicken Soup series, one with Black belt Magazine, Spotlight on Recovery, a first place award with Mutuality Magazine, a first place acknowledgement with the Latino Writers of San Antonio, and an Honorable Mention acknowledgement with Writer's Digest. I was also the resident writer for the Krav Maga self-defense center of San Antonio, writing human interest stories for clients who made amazing transformations. This journey has been a long one. I've had several missteps and a series of unfortunate events that may have thrown me off track, but I never gave up, and that should speak for something. My Instagram profile reads "Writing while Life-ing" and that's exactly what I've be doing for several years: Finding time to write even when when life kept getting in the way.
If I can't find an agent who doesn't find this remotely appealing, then I'll continue to forge my own path, holding tight to my vision, until I do. God has his reasons and his own timing. If this is right for me, I know I will find one who was worth the wait.