This is an article I wrote for LARA, my local RWA chapter’s newsletter. Hope you enjoy it!
My first writing conference, aka adventures in pitch meetings
As a member of LARA I heard about the local “California Dreaming” convention, scheduled for late March, 2015, and decided to go. RWA is in New York this year and it was too overwhelming, too intimidating to be my first conference. California Dreaming was the perfect size.
I am always a little nervous about new things, new adventures. The trick has been to face that fear and do it anyway. So even though I was anxious, I signed up for pitch meetings. I was both delighted and freaked out when I was informed that I’d gotten the opportunity to pitch to Samhain, which had been my first choice.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had highlighted a bunch of workshops and to my delight they were amazing. Each one brought a new understanding of how to make my writing deeper. To be sure, they were also daunting. I winced in the “show don’t tell” seminar, realizing that despite my efforts I was guilty of the errors in the lesson. I had to be willing to put myself out there and accept the feedback. A particularly heartbreaking moment was in the query letter seminar. My query letter was one of the ones selected for analysis and all the editors said they would decline to read my story based what I had sent. Ouch.
I chose to throw myself into the midst of things, including a hands on pitch workshop the night before the pitch meetings. The low turnout (eight or ten people at most) was surprising to me, but then I realized that many of the people attending the conference had pitched before, whereas it was new to me. I was lucky in scoring Susan Meier as a pitch mentor, who will forever be my hero. After listening to a rambling pitch for my paranormal series she told me that my world building was great, but to use a newspaper term, I was burying the lede. Man! I thought I was so good with words! When it came to selling my own stuff I was like a monster with three tongues and none of them worked right. Susan very patiently walked two of us through improving our pitches. Since we had so few people at the workshop I also pitched her my contemporary and she suggested that I try to pitch it to another publisher. Armed with that thought I went to the available pitch slots the next morning and snagged a pitch meeting with Boroughs. Coincidentally, the story I had in mind was the one that all three editors, including Boroughs, would have declined based on the query.
After coming up with new pitches I ran them past Susan, who said they were much improved. Mind you, I have to speak in business meetings all the time. But when it came time for my pitches my hands were damp and all three of my tongues were dry.
Never let them see you sweat, I kept telling myself, but I felt Robert Hays in that scene from “Airplane.” With a determined smile on my face I marched into the first pitch meeting with Samhain. I had a much better pitch thanks to Susan, and to my surprise it went well. Paranormal is a tough sell these days, but Samhain was interested in seeing the first book in the series.
Then I went to Boroughs, and my ill-fated query letter hung like an albatross around my neck. I rehearsed what I wanted to say over and over again. When it was my turn I crossed the room with what I hoped was a good opening line. We exchanged pleasantries and then I said something along the lines of “just so you know, my query letter was one of the ones you read in the seminar and you wouldn’t have asked for it.” They asked which one and I told them and Michelle said that I was here now and to pitch it. When I was done Jill looked at me and said “that’s a book I want to see.” Success!
The funny part? That became a running theme through the rest of the weekend. I was also fortunate enough to be one of the people selected for a small session with Sylvia Day. After the time was up another LARA member was discussing her query with Sylvia. Jill happened to be walking through the room and upon hearing my reply to the other LARA member, looked at me with a smile and said “it wasn’t that bad.” The best moments can come out of seeming calamity. There’s a great writing lesson in there for me.
I think that any conference gives you back what you put into it. I’m still not going to RWA in July but I plan on it next year. This seminar was the perfect size for me to get my feet wet, and at the end of the day I met all the goals I had in mind. I learned things I was doing wrong but more importantly, how to fix them (such as my query). I took the opportunity to pitch not once but twice. It was an amazing conference, and it is the first of many. The only way I can fail is to stop, and armed with the knowledge I gleaned at that conference, that is not an option.