By Sandra Brannan, author of the Liv Bergen Mystery Series
If we haven’t met before at a previous ThrillerFest, we’re just friends that haven’t met yet. I’m Sandra Brannan, author liaison for the world’s greatest story-pitching extravaganza known as ThrillerFest PitchFest. ThrillerFest is all about authors volunteering their time to give writers a leg up in the industry and it’s all about paying it forward. As PitchFest Director, I solicit the industry’s finest agents, publishers, editors, and producers to attend this New York City event each year for an entire afternoon to meet writers like you. And believe me, they are all so excited to meet you!
Each year, I work with hundreds of top-rank professionals to find the four or five dozen looking for new clients. Here’s the list from ThrillerFest X 2015 Participating Agents…
Each agent, publisher, editor and producer at our event lists what type of books they want and what they don’t want. I hear from them that their pet peeve is when a writer presents them with something from their ‘don’t want’ list. No matter if you attend events like this or write queries, do your homework, please. We wouldn’t want to waste their valuable time or yours. Agents expect you to be professional and to do your research before you contact them. At PitchFest, we ask that your goal should be to prioritize those agents you think will say ‘yes’ to your pitch. We take a lot of time to gather the information, the agents are careful to be accurate with their information, so we ask that you please use what we’ve created to your strongest advantage.
Step 1: Learn Your Audience
First, let me start by explaining the difference in the people we gather at PitchFest to hear pitches:
Agent: An independent professional who works for the author, not for the publishers or studios. He or she judges your work, figures out who’s most likely to love your manuscript, makes the deal, and represents you throughout the process. Agents are the traditional way to get your work in front of publishers and producers.
Publishers: Occasionally, we are fortunate to have some publishers who want to hear pitches directly, not that they don’t take agented work, but that they like to hear fresh ideas from you, the writer.
Editors: Not all editors do the same job. Acquisition editors work for a specific book publisher – Kensington, Random House, Grand Central, dozens more – and can buy your books directly.
Producers: The video version of an acquisition editor is a producer, someone who can be independent or work directly for a particular movie or television studio: Fox, MGM, NBC, etc. They can buy your book directly and turn it into a movie or television deal.
ThrillerFest’s PitchFest does promote all subgenres of thrillers, suspense, and mystery, but the agents do represent and seek many different genres, including YA, horror, romance, historical, science fiction, political, medial, non-fiction, etc. Even when we confirm an agent’s attendance in the winter and spring, they may change what they’re seeking right up until the event in July to fit the market.
Step 2: Know The Schedule/The Submittal Process
Whatever the event, know the schedule, read the information that’s disseminated or on the websites. Volunteers spend a lot of time providing writers with answers. What I’ve found is that too many writers aren’t willing to invest their time to read and research. Instead, they want a quick answer. My prediction is those that bypass the hard work – researching, reading, learning – are the writers least likely to succeed in the industry. Being an author takes work. A lot of it. As my publicist always tells me, ‘This is a marathon, not a sprint.’ So if you’re not willing to go the distance, always looking for a short cut, I’d recommend you take up another pastime.
At our annual PitchFest event, writers have 3 ½ hours to meet who they choose and normally have as much as 3 minutes with each agent or editor. Because others, too, want to meet those agents, most wrtiers only see one out of the five industry folks I’ve recruited. So hopefully the writer prepares under Step 1: Learn Your Audience and prioritizes who might best represent their book.
Be open-minded and prepared to see an agent with no line at these events, even if he or she is not on your priority list. Selling your book is a numbers game and the more people you pitch, the better the odds that someone will get excited about your book.
Step 3: Seek Answers
I remember having so many questions the first time I was exposed to this industry in 2010. I felt like the proverbial fish out of water as a South Dakotan country girl, trying to understand the business of writing in NYC. Don’t be afraid to seek the answers. As Author Captain for ThrillerFest’s PitchFest, I’m here to answer any of your questions and I can be reached at Sandra@SandraBrannan.com . Also, we’ve created a great list of Frequently Asked Questions for PitchFest attendees and I can assure you, the FAQs at http://thrillerfest.com/pitchfest/faq/ will likely answer most of the questions you have about our event. And let me be the first to pass on the advice Shane Gericke, original Author Captain, gave to me at my first PitchFest… Pitch until you drop! In other words, even if you get your three top agents to say ‘send me your work’, keep pitching. He’s right about this being a numbers game and the more who say they want to see your work, the better chance you have in getting a publishing deal. So stay after it, if you have the energy.
Step 4: Understand The Process
Almost all of the volunteers we have at PitchFest are published authors trying to help you advance your career and know what you’re going through. Each pitching room has a couple of authors – volunteer room monitors – who have been through PitchFest many times and can answer any questions you might have during the event. I’m there circulating for the same reason, as is my Assistant PitchFest Director, Terry Rodgers. Between all of us, we make sure we’re there to make this a pleasant experience for you.
I found my agent the second year I pitched because I was more relaxed. Try not to be nervous. The agents, publishers, editors, and producers are there because they want new clients, want to find you, and they want to hear about your story. So have a great time chatting with them.
Step 5: Land An Agent
Finally, the question uppermost on your mind is ‘Will I get an agent?’ at an event like PitchFest. I wish I could tell you. I can’t tell you that everyone gets an agent at PitchFest and that everyone who gets agents is published. What I can tell you is the smart attendees listen and learn. If you really embrace that this is a marathon, not a sprint, you’ll understand that a singular attendance to something like PitchFest isn’t likely going to springboard you into a publishing deal. Read Ralph Walker’s The Imperfect Pitch, which I found to be the most accurate depiction of how most of us unrealistically feel as new writers.
Your effort is more about landing an agent someday and not today and if you understand that, you will eventually get an agent. At my first PitchFest, I pitched and within an hour, I stopped pitching and started asking, listening to the advice of the experts, who kept asking ‘What else do you have?’ It finally dawned on my they weren’t looking for a book. They were looking for a writer. And one book didn’t a writer make. So I went back to work and wrote more and more novels. Then I was ready to answer the question ‘What else do you have?’
There is no way to know if you’ll land an agent by attending PitchFest. You might get a dozen offers, or one, or none. You may be invited to send the first 10 pages of your manuscript, the entire manuscript, or nothing. We work hard to provide the forum for writers to meet the agents, publishers, editors, and producers, but we can’t promise results. All we can do is gather the experts who want to hear from you. The rest is up to you.
I hope you consider signing up for PitchFest at http://thrillerfest.com/ . The 2016 event is already scheduled for July 5 – 9, 2016, so come see us. I am confident you’ll be ready to pitch when you do and that you will become that published author. I’ll be first in line to get an autograph from you!
Send me an email if you have any questions or concerns. Otherwise, come find me in New York City some July and practice your pitch on me.
Sandra Brannan’s Liv Bergen series is “Good and scary” according to Library Journal. Only real life experiences after 25 years building a career from shoveling to a top executive in rock mining can stimulate storytelling grit found in this series, earning Indie NextList, Indie Notable, Top 10 e-book, Best Suspense List by Suspense Magazine, Denver Post bestseller. Sixth in series Jacob’s Ascent 2016.