In my last post, I provided an overview of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014. Now, I want to delve into its various moving parts, starting with its most significant, the Pitch Slam. You can attend the sessions without signing up for the Slam (and save yourself a hundred bucks), but I can’t see much reason for doing so, unless you genuinely don’t have a manuscript that’s ready to pitch. The Slam is the sun, and the rest of the conference falls into orbit around it.
600 attendees were divided into three groups, and each group was allowed inside a ballroom where you had one hour to speak to as many of the sixty agents as you could, like a dainty hummingbird flitting from flower to flower, only instead of nectar, you were sucking solicitations for manuscripts.
The agents sat behind desks around the perimeter of the room, something like a job fair (which, of course, is what it was). You had ninety seconds to pitch your novel to a specific agent, and then that agent had ninety seconds to ask questions and respond with either a flat denial, a request for pages, or anything in between. It’s one of those things that, the more you think about it, the more it resembles Brockian Ultra Cricket.
What are these people thinking!? Taking 200 writers—one of the most squirrelly subsets of humanity—and locking them in a room with the only people who can possibly provide them careers. It’s Midnight in Paris meets Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Incidentally, it’s exactly as difficult as you think it is to squash your novel into ninety seconds and not sound like an idiot. You have to convey the thrust of the plot and a sense of the characters and the flavor of the prose, all while convincing the agent that you are a socially well-adjusted individual, which is particularly amusing, since authors are notoriously introverts.
“I’m here to talk about my completed, adult, fantasy novel. It’s called Solomon’s Archivist. 85,000 words.
“The dragon made a mistake when it killed Po’s master, all those centuries ago. The old man was the only one to show Po any kindness, back when he was nothing but a skin-and-bones orphan with a scrap of talent. His master’s murder hardens Po, and drives him across Asia to continue his magical education under the tutelage of King Solomon, the greatest magician on earth. After years of devoted study, Po becomes the archivist of Solomon’s vast, arcane library, and he uses the wisdom he finds there to trick a demon into trying to possess him…but Po possesses the demon, instead. Finally, he has the power he needs to hunt his enemy. What he doesn’t realize yet is that the hunt will last 3,000 years.
“Today, a conclave of magicians offers Po the one thing he still lacks: the location of the dragon that has eluded him for millennia. But the price they demand is an ancient weapon so dangerous, Solomon commanded that it be hidden away from the reach of humanity forever. To finally avenge his first master, Po must betray his second.”
If you say that at a reasonable pace without throwing up, it works out to about seventy-five seconds. I know. I practiced it many many times.
Believe it or not, the one-hour time limit didn’t bother me. My dad was a high school math teacher, so I’m decent with quick-and-dirty math. 600 attendees in three groups means 200 per group. There are sixty agents, so the line for each agent would be three to four people deep at any given time. Each pitch is three minutes long, so it would take nine to twelve minutes to visit any one agent. Naturally, this assumes that each agent is equally popular, which can’t possibly be true, but I can only stress about so many things at one time.
The good people at Writer’s Digest had released a list of attending agents in advance, so I had plenty of time for research. In the final analysis, eight agents directly handled fantasy novels and, in my opinion, only three concerned themselves with my particular bailiwick. If I could pitch to those three agents, I would be happy, so even if their lines were six-people deep, I would be in good shape. Any agents beyond those three would be bonus points. I could safely focus on not throwing up and not sounding like an idiot.
After the dust settled, I pitched to five agents, including my three favorites. Four of them gave me business cards and requested sample chapters, which I think is pretty good. I suppose it’s possible that they were being polite, but frankly, they didn’t seem the type. They were there to make money, not make authors feel good. My colleagues boasted similar numbers, but I’m willing to chalk that up to a similar fastidiousness in research. They are writers, after all.
So, to any and all fans of Solomon’s Archivist, cross your fingers. I’ll let you know what happens.