So next weekend is the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors conference at the Hyatt Regency. I’ve spent the last three weeks adding new stories to my blog, like this one. Yesterday I sat at my desk and made a list of the panels and speakers I wanted to hear. Then, I familiarized myself with the agents and editors at the event. I narrowed my list down to the agents representing memoir. Finally, on a road trip to San Antonio I listened to the Writer’s League of Texas Podcast about how to perfect my pitch.
For anyone not in the writing world, a pitch is a few short sentences you say to convince an agent or editor to ask to hear more about your book.
My pitch sounds something like this: “My family all owns guns. I love them all—even though my son died because of a reckless gun owner. My story is how I survived. How they tried to call his death a suicide. And how I am learning to be responsible while I grieved.”
The last time I went to this conference my pitch was different. I was still in the writing stages, not quite finished with a first draft of my book.
This didn’t matter, though. I was nervous, really anxious at the prospect of talking to an agent. I mean the kind of nerves that leave your entire body shaking, and then have you laughing inappropriately. I have a great inappropriate laugh.
So there I was, laughing inappropriately at the conference last year during the welcome reception. Have I mentioned my outfit? How I spent all afternoon in my closet, trying on every blouse, searching for the best look with my white jeans? No? Well, I settled on a red tunic because the color enhances my skin tone. At Jon Powers’ school for aspiring models, we always knew our go-to skin tone matches. Makeup-counter kind of wisdom.
Armed with my fashion wisdom, I took my walk at the reception. While my outfit was cute, my pitching was not pretty. In the Hyatt ballroom I saw the lines of people waiting to talk to agents. All fighting for their 15 seconds of face time.
It was my first rodeo, my first writer’s conference. More like a three-ring circus, and I felt overwhelmed. I searched the crowd for my safety net—the people in my memoir workshop group. Ah, my supporters were there, huddled together. I joined them and ordered my first beer. Even my group pals could not make the bubbles of nerves go away. I needed to stay present, in the moment.
A staff member of the writer’s league announces contest finalists, and my writing coach is recognized among the contestants. Anne, a writer in my memoir group, takes a selfie of us all. Then everyone wanders. I, on the other hand, remain next to my coach Ron Seybold, clinging to my Michelob Ultra. Ron points to a short woman leaning against a high top table. “She’s an agent,” he says. “Why don’t you go over and give her a try with your pitch?”
I’m hesitant but say, “Wish me luck.”
I introduce myself to the woman. I am trying to make a spot for her in my memory bank, and all I can come up with is she’s a Kathy Bates lookalike — the actress who played Annie Wilkes in the movie Misery. Annie was the novelist’s Number One Fan. I hope for that much while I wait to pitch. The agent is from New York, her response to hopeful-writer Caleb’s pitch goes straight to the point, and there’s no fluff.
Suddenly I feel sick. My heart races, and I have a case of the inability to speak. I ramble—saying things about losing my son, in a college town and guns. The agent holds up her hand and stops me. “Sorry,” she says. “But I can already tell you’re not for me.”
I secretly think, “Good, you’re not for me either.” I want to walk away but I don’t. I’m a competitor, the kind who doesn’t give up that easily. I pitch more, until she interrupts me. She says, “We don’t have to worry about those kinds of problems up north. Guns—those are a Southern thing.”
I look at her, not sure how to respond. I’ve never thought of guns as a Southern thing. But apparently this agent doesn’t know any book publishers who want to sell books in the South. Or something like that. I am flummoxed, but I smile. And laugh inappropriately.
I’ve learned how to do more than smile and laugh at this year’s conference. I’m not worried about rejections. They’re a part of every writer’s life. I spent the last year learning more about my story and how it can improve everybody’s life. Not just people from the South. If the agents at this year’s conference need to learn about readers and stories from the South, there’s no better place to do it than in Austin.
How do you authors prepare for your pitches for books? Readers, is there such a thing as an “only in the South” story about gun safety and the loss of a child? Tell me in your comments below.