Kick start your week with a lil' moxie!
I clenched my jaw against the screech of metal grinding against metal and didn’t relax until it stopped. The subway car filled with the droning hum of an idling train. And the groans of my fellow commuters.
It happened way too often for me to be concerned and nine times out of ten we’d be moving again in under a minute, so I remained quiet behind my New York Post. No point wasting the energy when I knew work would stress me out enough.
Peeking over the paper, my eyes skimmed over heads buried in books, those happy to have an extra minute of time in a world far from the bowels of New York City. My focus was drawn to the faces already painted in panic. The man who stood in front of me mumbling swear words under his breath. The huffers and the grumblers. The eye darters, the feet tappers, the head shakers. And to those who needed the entire train to understand how inconvenienced they were by the situation.
It wasn’t like I relished in other people’s discomfort. I was just captivated by human nature. Like how a situation could yield such a variety of reactions based on the culmination of individual factors that led them to this very moment. It was fascinating.
A pin drop silence filled the car when the idling hum came to an abrupt end. I stretched my jaw to clear the cotton ball stuffed feeling it caused in my ears and enjoyed the ten seconds of muted confusion before the realization kicked in and the air filled with irritation and impatience. Even the most passive of commuters joined in. We were going to be here for a while.
The crackly fizz of the intercom drew everyone’s attention. Every ear dutifully tilted upward as if straining their necks would help to translate the marbled words woven deep within the static. The announcement ended, none of us any more informed about the delay than before. This only served to garner more outbursts and exaggerated sighs from the attention seekers, more shuffling and nibbling from the nervous Nellies. Even the bookworm’s faces flashed annoyance before digging their noses back into their fantasy worlds.
Moments later, the lights flickered above right before the train jerked forward. The man standing in front of me knocked heavily into the woman next to him. He muttered an apology under his breath, but nose in book, she barely even noticed. Applause dappled around the train car, the strings of tension loosening. As the air thinned, I sat exhausted by the choppy waves of emotion that had crashed all around me...in the past three minutes.
It was the first time she’d seen him since he died.
Crossing Broadway and 72nd, Satomi was stopped in her tracks. Confusion numbed her to the throng of commuters knocking her to and fro around the bustling intersection like a pinball. As flashes of jackets and sweaters zigzagged past their unbroken gaze, the guilt washed over her.
She had never even shed a tear.
The angry horns of yellow cabs barely registered through the ticking. She knew it was the time bomb her family and friends spoke of when they thought she was out of ear shot. Her breathing grew shallow in anticipation of its detonation.
Heat, from deep within, rose to the surface in opposition to the crisp fall air. As her skin tingled, she had no doubt the time had come. A moment that should have happened months ago in the loving arms of her family, instead played out amongst the loud ringtones and honking horns of strangers.
Cutting through it all was his smile. It wasn’t until she tasted the salt in her tears that Satomi realized she was smiling, too.
It was the first time she’d seen her father since he died and her smile grew, knowing it wouldn’t be the last.
Pitch Slam – Literary speed dating. Where writers pitch their manuscripts to agents and editors while trying not to stumble over their words and/or pass out.
I’m proud to say that I didn’t pass out. One out of two isn’t half bad…oh wait, it literally is...but we’ll get to that.
Leading up to the conference, I made multiple, frantic Google searches in hopes of discovering what to expect. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to find and what was out there wasn’t specific enough to ease my growing anxiety. I needed details. Step by step commentary on what they went through. So, if that's the kind of information you need, you're in the right place.
One last quick note before I jump into it: Writer’s Digest provided an amazing session the day before called Pitch Perfect. It was all about what you need to do to make your pitch…well, perfect. The presenter, Chuck Sambuchino, was hilarious and full of so much information that I left the session feeling a little better about it all. A little bit. If your conference provides such an experience…GO, GO, GO!
Unlike previous years, according to those in the know, this year sessions were broken up into three, one hour sessions instead of one giant three hour lump. Since the final session followed the lunch break, I opted for that one so I could take advantage of the extra prep time. The nerves directed me straight to the line instead of to lunch. I wasn’t the only one with the idea and by the time I got downstairs I was, at least, the twentieth person in line. It was easy to see that everyone had their own way of preparing. Some people chatted away while some stood wide eyed and stone still. Some practiced their pitches on each other while others mouthed them to themselves. In my 45 minutes in line, I did a bit of each, but mostly I paced back and forth whispering my pitch and trying my best not to look my cheat sheet:
There were three agents that I wanted to pitch to for sure and two that I would go to if I had enough time. The goal: get an agent so excited about your manuscript that they hand you their business card. This meant a request for pages and that meant an agent would read my work and potentially want to represent me. This was when I had to remind myself to breathe and that I should be proud of myself for just showing up. Even if I ended up leaving the session empty handed.
When the doors finally opened, everyone fell quiet and headed into the Terrace Ballroom. Tables lined the walls and there were two agents/editors per table. They sat alphabetically which helped a lot.
I ended up being the first in line for...
He was in a conversation with his table mate so both myself and the first woman in line for the other agent had to stand around for a couple of minutes before we were called to sit down. After Agent 1 and I made introductions, he asked me what I was there to pitch. I was so glad that I practiced as much as I did! Making eye contact, I delivered it flawlessly, but despite that he stopped me right before the last line. The last line! Oh well. He told me that he didn’t think this was a good time for books with zombies in them. I told him that I understood and thanked him. BUT THEN…he handed me his card and asked to see the first ten pages and a synopsis. Although he wasn’t as excited about my book as I’d hoped he would be, I was thrilled to know that I wasn’t leaving the session with nothing. I thanked him again and made sure to write down what he requested as I headed over to…
Even before I sat down I knew I liked her. She was smiley and bright eyed, just really welcoming. After introductions, I started my pitch and before I even finished my first line she said, “love it already!”. My heart went nuts, but I had to ignore it and push through. Not only did I get to finish my pitch this time, but she made positive comments throughout. After, she said that she “really, really want to read this” and handed me her card requesting the first 50 pages. As a hugger, it took everything in me not to jump across the table and do just that. I was on such a high as I headed over to…
She already had someone in her chair, so as I stood in line I took note of how serious her face was. I should have told myself not to let that throw me since it was such a stark contrast from the last agent. But, I didn’t. After an awkward introduction, I jumped right into my pitch. Remember the stumbling over my words thing? Yep. I completely botched the beginning and didn’t recover until about the halfway point. When I finished, she obviously had some questions. I apologized for messing up the beginning of the pitch and then answered them. After a little more back and forth, she looked at me…expressionless. Uhhhhh. Then, she handed me her card and even though I heard what she said, I still asked what she would like me to submit…because I had clearly heard her wrong. “The full,” she said. How I didn’t pass out was beyond me. I had somehow hit the holy grail of pitching despite the difficulty I had forming words and pushing them out of my mouth. I thanked her, told her I loved her necklace and got out of there before she realized what she’d done. I headed straight to…
She had only listed Sci-Fi, not horror, on her wishlist. And, although I believe my story to be Sci-Fi, I know that some would also consider it horror since zombies are involved. After introductions, I told her to feel free to kick me out of her chair if my story didn’t fall into the realm of Sci-Fi she was interested in. She was super friendly and I could tell that everything people had written about her in the writing forums was true. When I finished she said she loved the idea and, if the tension was there, she’d definitely be interested. She handed me her card and requested the first 50 pages and a synopsis. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this was happening as I walked over to…
She had also only listed Sci-Fi, but stated that she wanted diverse authors and characters, so I had to try. Again, super friendly and open. After my pitch she looked at me and I don’t know what I was thinking, aside from this is awkward, but before I could stop myself I threw up jazz hands and said…TADA! Thankfully she had a sense of humor and laughed. [Disclaimer: I do not endorse ending pitches with jazz hands and/or Tada’s]. She asked some questions (is it an alternating POV? Is it adult or YA?) and seemed really happy with each answer I gave. She handed me her card and requested the first 50 pages, a query and a synopsis.
In a daze, I wandered to the middle of the room and noted that there was still 15 minutes left in the session. I scoured the list of agents to see if there were any others specifying Sci-Fi, since I’d had such good luck with them, but there were none. With no other options, I floated out of the Terrace Ballroom.
Undeniably, things went great for me, but I truly believe that even if I had zero requests I still wouldn't have left empty handed. I would have left knowing that, not only did I take a huge, scary leap into my writing career, but I survived.
Look, I could tell you not to be nervous, but no matter what, you will be. What I can tell you, now that I’m on the other side, is that however you anticipate the experience to be in your mind, is way worse than it will actually be. Agents aren’t scary, mythological creatures. They’re just people. Remember that and you'll be fine.
Next week I’ll post some tips from both the Pitch Perfect session and my own experience to help you to be as prepared as possible. Until then, feel free to ask questions in the comments below!
Earlier this month I tore myself away from the laptop to attend the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference here in New York City. For me, heading into the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel was equivalent to Indiana Jones stepping off the cliff in The Last Crusade. It was a huge leap of faith. In my writing and in myself.
I purposely filled the month leading up to the conference with CampNaNoWriMo, a writing challenge of 50,000 words in 31 Days. I reached my goal in the wee hours of July 29th which left me with three days to stress and panic about what I’d signed up for. I had to remind myself that my desire to learn and eagerness to meet other writerly folks outweighed the scary unknown.
Then, day one arrived. Hello nerves!
I arrived earlier than planned because the conference's hashtag on Twitter [#WDC14] was full of people already there and I felt like I was missing out. Showing up early paid off and I was let into one of the Pro sessions, Do You Really Want to be a Best Seller? Here’s How. led by Larry Kirshbaum, a Senior Literary Agent with Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. When the session ended, the Grand Ballroom filled with others like myself, that had signed up for the next day’s Pitch Slam [for a detailed post on my pitching experience, click here], where Chuck Sambuchino prepared us with his Pitch Perfect session.
All of the conference sessions fell into one of the following categories:
- How to Get Published
- How to Write Better
- Platform and Promotion
I mostly followed the How to Write Better track, attending sessions like How to Write a Page Turner, You Have Three Pages to Win Me Over: Essential Advice for Your Opening Pages, Setting and Description: Where Are We and How Much is Too Much?, and Working the Muddle Out Of Your Middle. Led by editors, agents, booksellers and authors, like Jacquelyn Mitchard [uh, The Deep End of the Ocean anyone?], the sessions were so chock full of information that by the end of the conference my head—and notebook—were filled nuggets upon nuggets of advice and encouragement.
As if that wasn’t enough, every day ended with a Keynote Speaker. All of them inspired me with their stories. Here are just some of the quotes that I know I'll lean on again and again:
[Author: Slow Motion, Black & White, Family History]
"It's hard to give yourself permission to call yourself a writer."
"There is no such thing as a magical place of arrival, there is only the solitary self facing the page."
[Author: Six Years, Missing You, Tell No One]
"Only bad writers think they're good."
"Don't be a douchebag."
Kimberla Lawson Roby
[Author: The Prodigal Son, A House Divided, The Perfect Marriage]
“It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80 years old. It’s never too late to live out your passion.”
"Double your determination and keep moving right along."
I was nervous going into the conference, but by the time it was over, I was sad to see it go. I felt myself grow with every session attended and every conversation had, whether it was with one of the speakers or a fellow attendee.
Speaking of, it was beyond amazing making writer friends on similar paths to my own. Friends that send you tweets like this when you feel like you're drowning in post-pitching nerves:
I can't recommend the Writer's Digest Conference enough. I walked away excited about my future in writing...whatever it may be. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot, and I worried about passing out while pitching a lot. What could be more fun than that?
Kick start your week with a lil' moxie!
[The city I love, as described through haiku.]
Too many people
During the morning commute
Should have called in sick.
The train’s so crowded
Yet you still wear your backpack.
I get it. You suck.
To the guy eyeing
me on the train for too long.
Please don't murder me.
I JUST NEED SOME MILK
Stylishly clad men.
Women setting fashion trends...
At grocery store.
I ❤ NY
Bright lights draw the stares,
but the soul of the city
Is what has my heart.
SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND
How do you stand out
In a city of millions?
Simple. Be yourself.
Just the thought of standing too close to the platform edge scared her. She’d heard the stories, although rare, of some demented psycho pushing a fellow commuter onto the tracks. There’s no way to survive getting hit by a New York City subway train. No way.
Across the platform a woman stands so close to the edge that both feet are on the bumpy yellow strip. The yellow strip you’re supposed to stand behind. Behind. How does she not know this?
The sound of the metal beast nearing causes a tightness in her chest and a shortness of her breath. As much as she didn’t want to die via subway collision, she didn’t want to witness it either.
Regardless, she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Away from the calm that never left the woman’s face. Her nonchalance as she teetered on the brink of death. She couldn’t comprehend the woman’s bravery. Couldn’t imagine what it was like not to flinch in the face of danger.
But she wanted to. She wanted to understand. She wanted to know what it was like to live, for one moment, not drowning in fear.
Screeching rocks her back to reality--surrounded by commuters plugging their ears against the grating of wheel to track. She watches as the woman, head aloft, disappears into the crowded car. She’s gone. Lost within the sea of black wool coats and free newspapers.
The intercom crackles above and, through the static, she knows her train will be arriving soon. Heart thumping and mind racing, she makes a decision her mind hasn’t quite registered. The platform vibrates under her feet as the train growls into the station blowing her hair back and away from her face. Startled and confused, she looks down. A sense of hope whirls around her--mixing with the gust from the train--as she finds her right foot firmly planted across the yellow line.