Pitching Lessons Learned from 2014-2015 WDC by Amy M. Hawes

Amy M. Hawes remembers her pitching experiences at the 2014 and 2015 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference.

Thoughts on pitching intermingled with plain old thoughts . . .

I just retrieved the newest issue of Scientific American from my mailbox. It celebrates the 100 year Anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. It got me thinking how perspective is everything. Einstein changed our perspective of reality. His theories, both the General and the Special, made Newtonian (read Classic) physics a forgotten wallflower. Modern physics was the new girl everyone wanted to dance with.

Perspective. Perspective changes everything . . .

I wrote my first book in 2014. I came to the Writer’s Digest Conference, NYC in 2014. I signed up for their Pitch Slam in 2014.

Oh my, what was I thinking? Where was my perspective?

I had never gone to either of these things before (a Writer’s Conference or a Pitch Slam) so I suppose I should have forgiven myself for being unprepared. Except, I didn’t (I’m easy on others, hard on myself–don’t ask why, like everyone I’m a motley of contradictions).

I researched agents who represented thrillers and made a list of about ten of them. This was the extent of my preparation. I didn’t write a pitch. I didn’t have a synopsis. I honestly wasn’t aware I should. I also failed to concoct a pitch when I found out the “deal” because whenever I looked at the frantic faces of all the writers around me rehearsing theirs and heard their practiced eloquence, I realized I couldn’t create, memorize and get comfortable with a pitch in less than a day. But I did know my book. And I had my list of agents.

I decided to wing it. I don’t recommend that route. But it was my unsteady reality for the entirety of the 2014 Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam.

With a pounding heart, sweating palms and shaking knees (I know that’s a full-on cliché but it’s quite accurate), I pitched Brainstorm, a 75,000 word thriller I created for adults. As I met with each agent on my list my pitch varied. I essentially discussed my book like I was talking to a friend. That seemed to work okay–meaning, in the end, I got many business cards and requests for partials and even a full.

That was when the hammer of reality hit. My story was good. But what about my writing, my craft, my execution? The business cards the agents gave me imparted x-ray vision, helping me to see my sweated-over manuscript accurately. By the light of that very scary perspective I went back home and labored over Brainstorm until I felt it was worthy to place in front of the eyes of an agent.

No results yet, but I still have one agent who has the full. Yes, it takes a long time to hear back, even if an agent is interested in your work.

That was year one. This year I went back to the same WD conference in NYC. I didn’t know if the manuscript for my new novel would be completed in time, so I held off on signing up for the Pitch Slam. Nevertheless, I practiced my pitch for my second novel, Ember, from the moment I registered for the conference “just in case”. I drive to yoga almost every day. I practiced my pitch on my drive to yoga almost every day. I had learned my lesson. I didn’t want to be unprepared two years in a row. In addition, I researched potential agents for my 90,000 word supernatural thriller, Ember (again, just in case).

I completed my manuscript. And, feeling confident, tried to sign up for the Slam. Tried to. It was closed out. They wouldn’t be able to tell me until the morning of the event if I had a slot. I decided it was up to the fates. But I had no idea what the fates had in store for me. It’s not bad, but it is . . . interesting.

The night before my potential pitch outing the keynote speaker of the night, Jonathan Maberry approached the bar in the host hotel to order a martini. Feeling it was the appropriate thing to do, I intercepted him and asked if I could buy him a drink. Genial and compassionate man that he is, he both said “yes” and joined a couple writer friends and myself at our table. As Jonathan shared his insight and stories, the group around our table grew, the hour got later and later, and the drinks flowed. At some point the party dissolved. I can’t tell you exactly when. My clarity of mind dissolved well before the party.

The next day arrived. I should have known that would happen and prepared appropriately but fun can create beautiful and terrible amnesia.

I pried my eyes open, certainly not feeling my best (understatement extraordinaire). I reached for my phone to see what time it was and saw I received an email indicating a Pitch Slam slot was available in about an hour. Crap. Sure, I had prepared my pitch but I wasn’t in the best condition to deliver it. My fault . . . but, still.

You can do it, coaxed that ever-present cheerleader in my head. Just go then you can come back here and sleep. I knew it was a lie but it worked. I made my way downstairs. I’m not even sure if I got myself a coffee. I meandered into the entry line for the Pitch Slam.

You know what? I was relaxed. I think part of the reason for that blissful surprise was I had done it before. The other part was I had no energy I could exploit towards worrying. Besides, I had my pitch memorized. A hundred recitations had to be worth something. Right?

They were. But not in the way I thought they would be. When it came down to it, I didn’t “recite” my pitch. I just talked about my book using my memorized pitch in the way a decent sports analyst may glance at a teleprompter only if they lose their train of thought. I pitched Ember, as I said above, it’s a supernatural thriller intended for adults.

Although I felt radically different internally, the results of my second pitch slam were largely identical–several requests for partials and one for a full.

My emotional experience was rocky versus smooth. But four touchstones were the same–1. I knew my story. 2. I researched the agents. 3. I pitched. 4. I got requests for submissions. (Friends would add that I’m gregarious by nature and convey a deep passion for my writing regardless of my level of stress and this may have helped).

My take-away perspective turned out to be exactly the same–in the end it comes down to craft. The story is only the beginning.

I want to honor my stories with good writing, be a good mid-wife to them.

Both Pitch Slams have taught me there is only one way to be a published, successful, writer–keep on working until you are. It is that simple. It is that difficult.

Pitch Slams are a wonderful tool. I encourage writers to utilize them. I also encourage them to write, edit, work, and remain humble, open-minded, and persistent.

In the words of Michelangelo, Ancora imparo. I am still learning. A wonderful perspective.

Amy has pitched two novels BRAINSTORM in 2014 and EMBER IN 2015. You can see both pitches here along with some commentary about lesson learned.

More on Amy M. Hawes

The ability to tell stories is one of humanity’s best gifts to itself. There is nothing like traveling to another world without having to get up from your comfortable chair. That’s probably why I like reading and writing so much! As I think back, I’ve been doing both my whole life.

As I child, I journaled, wrote poems, and created quite a number of works of questionable quality. As an Art History major, I wrote a paper comparing Goya’s artistic style to that of contemporary rap artists and another highlighting the relationship between Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity and the birth of Non-objective art. As a men’s specialist at J.Crew, I published several articles in their company newsletter including: Why Orange Pants Go on Sale and Tall AND Skinny Men DO Shop at J.Crew. Then I worked at my husband’s biotech company, and assisted with various scientific publications.

Now, I write novels, blogs, and the occasional poem. Seems like I just can’t stop myself . . . there are too many stories that want to be told and they know I’m an easy sell.

You can find Amy at her website www.amymhawes.com

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