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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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