Push to Publish 2014, Part 1

The writers of Push to Publish 2014, from left: Merry Jones, Janice Gable Bashman, Gregory Frost, Marie Lamba, and Don Lafferty
The writers of Push to Publish 2014, from left: Merry Jones, Janice Gable Bashman, Gregory Frost, Marie Lamba, and Don Lafferty

The Push to Publish conference graced the campus of Rosemont College on Saturday, and I had a blast…so much so, that I won’t even try to cram it all into a single post.  So, let me give you some highlights today, and I promise, I’ll get to the rest later in the week.

The conference was held in two buildings about a hundred yards apart, and nature decided to hamper our spirits with some wet weather that lasted almost all day.  Armed with a mug of wife-brewed coffee and a stern umbrella, I faced the guardians of the gates with appropriate aplomb.

The day began with a bang, since I’d arrived early enough to get my first pick of agents for the speed-dating event.  Unlike the pitch-slam of the Writer’s Digest Conference, this was congenial.  As a reminder: the WDC pitch-slam involved putting sixty agents in a ballroom, then sending in 200 writers to pitch to as many of them as we could in an hour, with ninety seconds for a pitch and ninety seconds for them to respond.  In the PtP speed-dates, each of us were able to spend ten minutes with the agent of our choice (space permitting).  Each pitching approach has its pros and cons, and while I missed the adrenaline rush of elbowing out fellow writers, there’s certainly something to be said for a relaxed conversation.  If nothing else, I would imagine the experience was much more enjoyable for the agents.

For good or ill, it was the oddest pitch I’ve ever made.  Based on some terrific advice I received at Pitchapalooza last week, I refined my sixty-second spiel.  I practiced it once or twice in my head as I waited in line on the spiral stone staircase of the college library, and when my turn came, I found my “speed-date” relaxing in a club chair with a second chair waiting for me.  The only things missing were a box of cigars and a decanter of brandy.

He invited me to sit, and after exchanging pleasantries, asked me what I’d come to discuss.  I began with my standard, “I’ve written a fantasy novel called Solomon’s Archivist, which is complete at 85,000 words—”

“Let me stop you right there,” the agent said.

Allow me to back up for a moment and state, in no uncertain terms, that this agent handles fantasy fiction.  I did my research.  I checked out his profile on his agency’s website, and even if I had somehow suffered an aneurysm and hadn’t done that, his writeup for PtP said he handles fantasy fiction.  So, to be clear, I was not pitching a fantasy novel to someone who only represents cephalopod nonfiction.

What the agent told me is that my pitch would only tell him about plot, and every fantasy writer has a good idea for a story.  What was important was how that story was told.

“Well, I did bring some sample pages—” I said, reaching for my Homestar Runner messenger bag.

“That won’t help much, either,” the agent said, and his reason was that it was the overall package that was the thing.  Neither a sixty-second pitch nor the first five pages of the manuscript would give him that.  What was he looking for?  “Characterization,” he said.  “Plot.  Story structure.”  And he explained that most starting fantasy writers get so much of that wrong.

After a minute or two, I mentioned that I was a professional playwright, and his tone noticeably changed.  “Oh,” he said, “so you understand a lot of this.”

“Yes,” I said, “though I notice the skills aren’t directly transferrable…”

And we spent the remaining seven minutes discussing the pitfalls of playwriting and, just for fun, A Game of Thrones.  The proctor called time, all the pitchers stood up from their pitch-ees to make way for the next wave, I shook hands with my “speed-date” and thanked him, and he gave me his card.  “Send me something,” he said.

I never touched my pitch, which tickles me to no end.  I pitched without pitching.  Very zen.  Or Dune.  Zen-Dune.

The thing I appreciate most is the guy’s honesty.  I’ve only been seriously pitching my book for about a year, but I’ve already suspected agents of slipping me their cards for the sake of politeness.  Yeah, I know agents aren’t exactly revered for their daintiness, but I don’t think they toss their drinks into writers’ faces, either.

However, this guy was completely straight with me.  He could do nothing with a sixty-second pitch.  He could do nothing with five sample pages.  I don’t know what he wanted me to do, exactly, but if it’s neither of those things, then, yeah, I would just as soon kick back and chat about Game of Thrones.

Boy, if this actually leads to something, I may never pitch anything to anybody ever again.

So, in my next entry, I’ll likely talk about the writers I met and the friends I made in the bar at Gullifty’s.  Remember, gentle readers, it’s always the after-party where the stuff happens.

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