Since I am no longer an agented author, I decided I needed to go to the Willamette Writers Conference and find a new agent or an editor to pitch my novels to. My first problem: deciding which novel to pitch since I write and edit several novels in a year and I have two different worlds I am currently working in. My second problem was coming up with a good pitch. (More information on that in my next post.) My third problem, maximizing my time, since I was only going to be at the conference Thursday and Friday.
Here are some things I found valuable about the Willamette Writers Conference:
Thursday Night Pitch for the Prize
I am not just recommending this because I won this year, but it does help. All weekend people were coming up to me congratulating me and telling me how great my pitch was. I felt like a celebrity. I worked so hard on the pitch for ADVENTURES OF AN ACCIDENTAL WITCH.
Here’s how it works: Each year there is a contest in which a writer pitches to a panel of agents and editors in front of an audience. The panel offers feedback so that the writer can improve his or her pitch. Additionally, this is a chance to get noticed by these agents and editors if one does well—which is how I landed my first agent, several years ago. The way the format worked this year was there was a $5 charge and names were drawn. I listened and learned from people’s strengths and mistakes for an hour and waited in anticipation to see if my name would be drawn. I didn’t even know I would get selected, and then I was. I was the very last person. I had my pitch memorized, but I couldn’t remember it in front of everyone, so I half-recited and half-read it.
I was tied with Rex Moody who delivered a phenomenal pitch for Road Kill: A Love Story. The detail that broke the tie? I said what my publishing experience was, and he didn’t. He had a really good pitch that captured the voice and humor of his novel and it sold me on his book. When it comes out, I will want to buy it.
I did Pitch for the Prize years ago—before there was a prize. I think it was called Pitch for the Pros. I didn’t win back then, but I was given good feedback and got noticed by agents and editors.
This is the main draw of the conference for me, though it does cost money for each pitch and makes the conference expensive. This year I paid to pitch to seven agents and got eight requests. You might be thinking I’m bad at math since this worked out to be 8/7ths, but the reason for this is that one of the agents who heard me at Pitch for the Prize asked me to send my manuscript to her.
I like that there are different tracts for different focuses: fiction, non-fiction, marketing, etc. If you’ve been to the conference before, you start to have favorite workshops and presenters. One of my favorite presenters is Eric Witchey. It doesn’t matter what the topic: scene, plot, character, ED ACE; I get a lot from it and find it valuable.
Each year William Hertling presence on topics related to digital marketing and self-publishing. This year it was Optimizing Sales and Web Presence. This is probably the third or fourth time I have gone to his presentation and I learn something new each year.
Kristina McMorris is my new favorite presenter. Ironically I went to her presentation by mistake. I thought I was going to Superfans: Secrets to selling more books, but I was in the room for Innovative Promotion: Create “Big Book” Campaign on a Not-So-Big Budget. I know Kristen from the Rose City Romance Writers Chapter in Portland and we greeted each other. A couple minutes later, I realized I was in the wrong room for the presentation I had intended to go to. Because I had made that connect with Kristen already, I didn’t want to leave. People leave presentations midway through all the time because of the pitching at the conference, so I could have left, but again, I didn’t want to. As it turned out, this ended up being the information I actually needed to hear. I learned a lot and I would take this presentation all over again next year.
I was really excited there was a bookstore available for members who have books not available in the bookstore. Because my novels are either sold through small publishers or self-published, this was a great option that hasn’t been available before.
I’m not very good at this. I’m an introverted writer and it is painfully difficult to figure out how to start a conversation with people. However, this was the easiest year so far to do this. Part of this is because I entered and won Pitch for the Prize, so strangers came up to me and conversed with me and they talked to me about my pitch and I didn’t have to think of anything to say. Whew! Also, because I have been presenting at various chapters of W.W. for the last three years, there are more people I know and I visited with those people.
My experience and success at the Willamette Writers isn’t just luck or chance. I have been going to this conference and other conferences for years. It takes a lot of hard work to write a novel (hopefully well), do research, tailor a resume and pitch, build up writing credentials and everything else.
Every year, I think, maybe it’s THE year that I will get an agent, the agent will sell my novel, I will be offered a huge contract for one of my series, and I will be able to quit my day job and walk on the Write Path for the rest of my life. We’ll see how that works out.