In a star struck trance and physical pain from working on conferences all week, I am writing to you about the amazing day of writing goodness I had on Saturday, November 14th. I’m grateful I took a chance and went to the Boston Writing Workshop. I feel more equipped to query, to talk about my work, and to make my writing the best it can be. It’s no new revelation that a great premise takes work and refinement and even a bit of, dare I say it, marketing. But this post isn’t about that. It’s a retrospective on my experience at this marvelous workshop hosted by the inspiring Chuck Sambucino.
This weekend was a weekend of firsts: First Amtrak ride, first short term rental, first stay in a hotel by myself, first workshop, and first pitch. I had been to Boston before, and I am a terrible New Yorker who actually likes Boston. I was also fighting bouts of exhaustion from a crazy week of a conference at work, but I psyched myself up, convincing that it was nothing coffee couldn’t handle. I went to the workshop, pen in hand, Surface in my backpack, freshly caffeinated, my newly minted packet of business cards ready for action, and my head being too sleepy to allow me to properly worry.
I tend to go into most experiences with very little expectation, like when I went to Europe, I expected to be in Europe and do Europe things. When I went to the writing workshop, I expected to learn much about the business of writing. I also paid extra to pitch, so I expected to pitch. I also expected to meet a few kindred spirits, all at the same point in their writing career (spoiler alert: mission accomplished).
One thing most guides don’t tell you about how to pitch is how to prepare to pitch, and I’m not talking about just writing a bomb-ass three-minute talk about your work. I saw a lot of nervous people at the workshop.
It’s your work.
Present it to the agent like it’s this amazing new book, movie, whatever, that you just discovered. If you’re nervous because you’re not confident in yourself or your work, how do you expect someone else to be confident in you and your writing? Additionally, in this case, you paid money to be there to pitch, so own it.
Naturally, there a few specific ways that pitching can go at a conference like this, and none of them are bad. None. Zero. They’re all pretty good. In my meager experience, these seem to be the options:
- The agent wants samples
- The agent says no, but they’ll consider sending you to other agents at their firm
- The agent doesn’t want your work altogether
None of these are that proven, and if there’s an augment to any of these outcomes, PLEASE let me know. I don’t want to be spreading misinformation. None of these are that bad. Well, two of them are bad in the sense that you can’t just query someone and be on your way to publishing, but any advice and feedback is good advice and feedback. Rejection is a challenge to do better. The rejection is the feedback.
Aside from talking to agents individually, Chuck had some pretty solid advice for writers, ranging from “how to build a platform” to “I’ve sent my query to all these agents, what do I do?” I filled several pages worth of notes and got back to working on improving the marketing parts of my development as an author immediately. The most useful piece of the day, to me, was the first-page critiques by some of the agents. I’m very much someone who learns by example, so seeing samples of what to do AND what not to do gave me the right tools and direction to take my work.
For my own pitching, I pitched Lane Heymont of The Seymour Agency and Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary. I’m not going to spoil how either went, but my work is cut out for me. There’s still a ton of editing left to do but I’m feeling better about what I’m doing and I’m using their feedback to be the best writer I can be.
If you believe in your work and want to get somewhere writing the narrative you’ve come to love, definitely sign up for a writer’s workshop. There are so many great people to meet, so many interesting people there to give advice, and half the battle of getting into publishing just showing up and making your face known. Reading information on the internet is one thing, but hearing it from an industry professional and getting useful feedback on writing from agents who read new, submitted content hourly is so empowering.
And afterwards, the work isn’t over. It’s time to start getting your butt in a seat and some words on a document. And that’s what I’m doing, while prepping for the GRE and working on my day job.