Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Want More Writers Conferences

Back at the end of July I went to the PNWA summer conference. I met with one agent in a one on one 10 minute pitch session, and I met with one editor in a six on one half hour pitch session. I also elevator pitched to three other agents.

Of those meetings I have had the following results: The agents I elevator pitched to said "fine, send me something. I have been rejected by two of them (one form, one very nicely. Both took weeks to reject me) The third agent I elevator pitched to asked for a 10 page partial and I haven't heard back from her. The agent that I met with in the 10 minute one on one requested a 100 page partial. I am waiting to hear from her. The editor request my full. I will now recount the meeting with the editor:

The scene: a packed conference room. Five nervous would-be authors sit around a table with a pleasant but detached looking blond woman. She's the only one not sweating bullets. The seventh chair at the table sits empty. The sixth author failed to show. Idiot! We all think. Can one of us do our pitch twice?

Our editor says hello, introduces herself. She's with St. Martins Press, an actual respected publisher, not some crappy vanity place. We all swallow the lumps in our throats. She turns to the woman on her left and indicates that she go ahead and give it her best shot. She begins "My fantasy novel XXX begins..." and she finishes her pitch. Editor looks at her kindly and says "I'm sorry, but fantasy is not one of my genres. Thank you for coming." The author, tears in her eyes, says "can you give me some feedback?" Editor: "I'm sorry, I really can't. It's not one of my genres, any feedback from me would be useless." Author stands up and walks away. I understand, but wish she could have pulled it together and stayed. It just looked kind of tacky. The next person goes. Editor: "It doesn't sound like its for me." The third person goes. Editor: "It sounds like a fantasy." Author: "Well it mostly is, but there's a lot of romance in it. Maybe you could call it a romance." Editor looks slightly pained. Author argues his point more. He really really goes for it, and I have to applaud his persistence. Apparently the editor does too, because she says "Fine. Send me something." Hooray!!! The next person goes. She's this smarmy (I assume smarmy is derived from school-marmy, so the word is really spot on to describe this person) overly-fake-friendly person that I met earlier in the conference. You know, all of her compliments are back-handed, everything she says screams "I am clearly better than you! Be thrilled that I am speaking to you!" She begins, in her long-winded way, finally getting around to the fact that her novel is middle grade fiction. The editor stops her there. "I'm sorry, that's not one of my genres. I'm afraid I'm not the editor for you." She turns and looks at me. "Yes?" I am so nervous at this point, but I begin. She looks resigned. I'm three words in when school marm interrupts me. "Can you at least listen to my pitch and give me some feedback?" she says in her nasty way. The editor looks at me, I realize for my yes or no. I have, after all, started my pitch. Crap. Do I give in to my inner bitch and say "fuck you, this is my time" or do I act graciously and rise above it all? I choose the latter, but it's hard. School marm launches into her very lengthy pitch, while I try not to look pissed. When she is finally done, editor says "I'm sorry. Middle grade is just not my genre. I don't have any feedback for you." She turns to me: "Go ahead." I say "I'm kind of nervous at this point. Would it be okay if I just read my pitch?" This may have worked out for me after all. I'm a much better writer than I am a speaker. I'm a competent speaker, but let me reiterate for you: I AM A MUCH BETTER WRITER THAN I AM A SPEAKER. She says sure. Yes! I get to read something I wrote, rather than just babble excitedly!!! I begin reading. She looks bored. I glance up from time to time. It is as though the editor is connected to a dimmer switch. She brightens a little more each time I look up. At the end, she looks positively excited. She asks me "Does it have a strong opening?" I say yes and describe the opening a bit. We discuss my title for a few; the pros and cons. Hasn't there been a successful book with that title recently? Yes, I say, but it's nonfiction, and it has a long subtitle. My target audience won't be confused. She looks at me point blank. "Is it good?" I don't get cutesy. I don't say "Well *I* think it is." I don't say "I certainly hope so." I don't say "Why don't you be the judge?" I say: "Yes." She says "Time travel is huge right now. Send it to me. Send it to me right now." Then she turns to the next person. I can barely register what's going on, but I realize that she shoots him down almost immediately. I am a-twitter with excitement.

I mail it to her on Monday morning. I send it regular first class mail. No express mail. I don't want to seem like a freak. I do pay for delivery confirmation. Not signature confirmation. I'm not an idiot. I get real busy for a couple of days with the kids. On Wednesday I send her an email letting her know it's on its way. She emails me back on Thursday saying "You too! I got the ms and it's on top of my To Read stack. Thanks!" (The "you too" was in response to my telling her it was a real pleasure to meet her - which it was. At this point, its probably the best thing that happened to me all year.) That was on August 6th. I'm starting to hear crickets. They're not loud, but they are intimidating. Yes, I put a SASE in with my manuscript, but not knowing the postal rules, I had it metered. Now I know that probably won't work, since she's in New York and I'm on the west coast. Fab. Why couldn't the postal worker tell me to buy stamps in the amount of 15 bucks or whatever it was? I would have done that. The postal worker should have known that it wouldn't work, I told her it was an SASE. Bitch. So I probably won't get the manuscript back if the response is a no. I really really really want to hear what she has to say. In the interim weeks from the time I mailed her, I have thought of a much better way to open the novel, and I've determined that there was one entire scene (almost a chapter) that could and should be deleted. What if she hates my opening 2 paragraphs, and she thinks the book was really promising until chapter 13 and then I blew it? Man, I could drive myself crazy over this.

So the two people I'm most excited about, the two people who have the most of my work (the agent with the 100 page partial and the editor with the full) have not gotten back to me yet. I take this a good thing, when I'm thinking rationally. It means they're still reading it. In between all the other things they have to do, in snatches of time, they're reading it. I have not been rejected yet.

In contrast, I have been almost immediately rejected by nearly everyone else I have sent a query to...some within minutes of zapping it off. Most within at least one day. Does my query really suck that bad? I've revised it again and will send some more queries shortly. I've also submitted my query to Query Shark. Even though Janet Reid has already shot me down (very, very quickly) I revised my letter and submitted it to her Query Shark blog. Perhaps she will recognize it, perhaps not. Maybe I'll get some good feedback, maybe not. We'll see.

But finally, I am arriving at the meaning behind the title of my blog post. The people I met in person are still viable options. They wanted to see my stuff. The elevator pitches have met with a 66% reject rate and a 34% unknown (let's face it, it's probably a rejection), but they took several weeks to reject me, not several hours. I think they at least read what I sent. The longer I spoke with a person, the more they wanted to see from me. And I haven't heard back yet, which I think is promising. (I won't think it's promising anymore once I get a rejection, but for now, let me cling to that.) I want more opportunities to speak to people in person. I want more writer's conferences. Good ones. Not some place where I sit around with a paintbrush in one hand and everyone wears saris. I want a business-like, lets make a deal environment like I got at PNWA. And I want it now. Could someone please organize another conference RIGHT NOW in Washington State so that I can go get a fix?

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