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I’ve been observing the tweets written by authors nervous about the Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam who were asking for advice. I’ve been hesitant to offer any words of wisdom I might have because I haven’t been to a WDC before. BUT, I have attended many other seminars, workshops and conferences, as well as an MFA program in writing, so I hope I have at least a few intelligent things to share.

The following comments are not about “how to pitch.” There are numerous websites, books, magazine articles, blogs, etc., that can give you the rundown on what agents/editors expect. My focus here is more psychological:

  1. Take a chill pill. Try to relax & have fun (easier said than done). If you’re nervous it’s probably because you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. While it’s natural to be a little nervous any time you put yourself on the line like that, it’s not about succeeding or failing. It’s about showing up and participating. The rest of it is out of your control.
  2. Realize that you have no control over anything; even if, (especially if) you think you do. All you can do is give it your best shot.
  3. It’s not about YOU; it’s about the work. Unless of course you’re famous for something or other and have a huge fan base that is certain to buy your book, THEN it’s about you.
  4. I believe that agents & editors (to a certain degree) don’t really care about your story. They only care if they can SELL your story to an editor or to their publisher. So, while you want to communicate what your story is about, also try to give them some insight as to why you think there’s a market for your particular book.
  5. Your time is limited, so give them the essence. Of the story, and of YOU. Yes, I said it wasn’t about you, but here I’m referring to the reason behind the book. While you don’t want to give them a detailed history of the project, you should try to communicate your enthusiasm for the book. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re not excited about the project, how do you expect to entice someone else into buying it? If you can express that enthusiasm, (without going over the top) you will not only excite the agent/editor, but your nervousness will be replaced by your passion.
  6. It’s not about YOU. Yeah, I already said that, but it bears repeating. It’s a conference and it’s about community. The less you focus on yourself and the more you engage with others, the less nervous you’ll be, I guarantee it. I was in a seminar this past weekend, taught by my friend, the author of “How to Buy a Love of Reading, “Tanya Egan Gibson, and she made a very good point: “You are not in competition with other writers. Your book/idea doesn’t succeed because someone else’s fails. It stands alone.” I’m paraphrasing, but it was a good reminder, because it’s easy to forget that when you see a room full of people all vying for the attention of YOUR agent/editor.
  7. I’m not sure how they set up the Pitch Slam, but I believe you have to line up to pitch the agent/editor you most want to meet, then go to the back of the line of the second one you want to pitch. In other similar sessions (San Francisco Writer’s Conference) I’ve seen writers waste valuable time waiting to pitch some “big” agent, the one who “writes” the books, the one who reps the big names. Personally, I’d rather have the opportunity to get in front of ten agents instead of three or four. I believe it’s better to cast a wide net, because as you know, it’s all subjective, so it’s about finding the representative who, for whatever reason, is excited about your particular story or concept. So think about how long that line is and what it’s potentially costing you.
  8. Finally, the best advice I have to offer is: Leave your ego at home (or in the hotel room). That goes for those who tend to dominate conversations as well as those afraid to start them. Put that Blackberry or iPhone in your pocket and talk to the person sitting next to you. Ask them what they’re working on. Who knows, in a few years that very same person just might refer you to the agent they secured at this conference. Will your Android do that for you?

Have a great time. Good luck, and I hope to see you there, Marco

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For a while today I was on shaky ground. For some reason I couldn’t get the image of Snooki out of my head, and mind you, I’ve never even seen an episode of Jersey Shore. I’ve seen enough clips on news & entertainment shows to know that it’s not for me.

Invade TV if you want, fine, there’s not much left to ruin anyway. 500 channels and still I have to resort to Netflix. But venture into the realm of, dare I say, literature, and that bothers me.

It’s not so much that anyone with a pen (and a platform) shouldn’t have a voice, but this chick, who claims to have read only two books in her lifetime, seems to be making a mockery of it (as well as a few bucks).

Perhaps it didn’t help that the words of Michael Cunningham were roaming around in my head all morning, standing in sharp contrast to those “penned” by Ms. JS.

Mr. Cunningham writes: “He can feel something, roiling at the edges of the world. Some skittery attentiveness, a dark gold nimbus studded with living lights like fish in the deep black ocean; a hybrid of galaxy and sultans’ treasure and chaotic, inscrutable deity.”

Snooki writes: “He had an okay body. Not fat at all. And naturally toned abs. She could pour a shot of tequila down his belly and slurp it out of his navel without getting splashed in the face.”

Mr. Cunningham writes: “The bedroom is full of the gray semilight particular to New York, an effusion, seemingly sourceless; a steady shadowless illumination that might just as well be emanating up from the streets as falling down from the sky.

Snooki writes: “Yum. Johnny Hulk tasted like fresh gorilla.”


Can’t you just see the fires burning in the distance after that last one? I know I did. Until I remembered that this is nothing new. Celebrities (and I use the term loosely) have always wandered into the realm of the book.

I don’t mind James Franco tossing his short stories (Palo Alto) into the ring; at least he had the good sense and respect for the discipline to study the craft. But what about the others? Pamela Anderson (The Star), Adrienne Barbeau (Vampyres of Hollywood), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Outside In), and that other (un)reality star, Lauren Conrad (LA Candy)? Lest we forget to add Willie Nelson to the list (A Tale of Luck), but he only co-wrote that treasure. And what about Blair Underwood’s foray into authorship, with a cover stating he “Presents” (From Cape Town with Love), whatever that means?

Perhaps those other actor-authors didn’t bother me so much at the time because there were still a few bookstores around where one could find great writing and like-minded people. But seeing photos of all that beehive and cleavage in one of the few remaining book bazaars, was, well, bizarre.

I mean no offense. To each his own. I can live in a world where the majority of people find “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “A Shore Thing” entertaining, but I know I can’t survive in a world where that’s all there is.

 

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Well, this is the first of what I hope will be many posts as I explore the literary world.

I am off next week to a couple of conferences in New York: The Writer’s Digest Conference and Digital Book World.

Based on the seminars/sessions being offered, it looks like it’s going to be a fun-filled informative week.

I hope to run into/meet a few of you while I am there. I find those who attend those kind of events to be the most interesting, curious, and determined people on the planet. I look forward to hearing your questions and your pitches and to being encouraged and inspired by you.

I do have one burning question that I hope someone can answer in one of the many classes offered, either during their speech/panel or in a Q&A afterwards. That is: What is going to take the place of the author’s inscription in this new digital/E – world?

I don’t know about you, but it’s an honor and a thrill for me to be able to have a quick conversation with an author I admire and then have them sign my (their) book. A book is a book, but one with an inscription is a memory. (And worth a few more bucks on E-Bay.) Kidding!

I have a Kindle and an iPad, so I’m all for this new frontier, as long as we can figure out how to make it profitable for all concerned. But while e-books are great for traveling, etc., I still prefer the real thing when I’m lounging at home. Nothing can replace the experience of holding a “real” book in your hands, one that has your name in it, handwritten by a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Be well, Marco

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