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TheWillamette Writers Conference last weekend was a blast! Thursday night started with a few panels, for one of which I was the moderator; you know, the one with the microphone who introduces everyone and keeps time of the speeches. Though it was much like running a Toastmasters meeting, which I’ve done, I’ve never been moderator nor participated in a ‘pitch with the pros’ session where writers/screenwriters have the opportunity to pitch their project to agents.
Honestly I never saw the point of getting all nervous and pitching my project in front of agents that I may or may not be interested in working with (or them me), and certainly did not see the benefit of doing this dreadful thing in front of a group of my peers. And I certainly did not want to open myself up to some angry New York agent whose plane was late, luggage lost and hadn’t slept in 24-hours and who now would seize the occasion to exact a toll on the first thing that got in his/her way, and rip me apart. Nope, did not appeal to me, because I’m a coward, but, I’d certainly introduce others for whom this was a golden opportunity.
The room was set up with about 75 audience chairs, a stage with a long white table-clothed table with four microphones for the agents and a side table with one microphone for the ‘pitchers’ and myself. I took a picture so I could show you but it came out looking like a shot of paranormal activity from some weird ghost show; figured that would not inspire you to go pitch to the pros any time soon.
At the door was a volunteer who took names from a group of anxious writers already queuing up to give their pitch to the literary agents who would soon arrive.
As I got set up the first agent strolled into the room, introduced herself and explained that her flight out of Philadelphia had been late and she was sleepy. My first impression was, Wow, she’s young! She looked like my granddaughter. I wondered what she could know about good storytelling and how she could be a benefit to someone pitching a book about, say, a glorious mid-life crisis. I know what you’re thinking, but, let’s face it we’re all ageist at some point in our lives and apparently, to my shame, that was one of my moments. Naturally, I also thought, oh great! Here’s the cranky east-coaster I worried about. Instead, she was bright and charming. I liked her immediately.
Anyway, then the rest of the agents showed up – all jovial, wine in hand, smiling; no angry NY agents so far, just a sleepy Philly-girl – then the anxious writers being held back at the door spilled into the room and filled the empty seats – all microphones checked out, and it was on. I introduced the agents, Ken Sherman, Jennifer Mishler, Annie Bomke, Gordon Warnock, and myself, then invited the first writer up to give a three minute pitch about their project to the panel who then had seven minutes (collectively) to respond.
From 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm we listened to eight pitches and the agents responses. What I learned from listening to other writers pitch and what the agents who were friendly, generous with their feedback, and who not once ripped into a writer, is immeasurable.
That young granddaughter like agent was Jennifer Mishler from The Literary Counsel and her feedback was thoughtful, spot on, decisive and heartfelt. The legendary Ken Sherman and Gordon Warnock were so generous with their insights, suggestions and feedback that if I weren’t standing there with a microphone, I would have been taking notes. And Annie Bomke listened attentively to people as if she was searching and hoping for them to be the writer she was looking for. This panel of agents certainly changed my mind about what ‘pitching with the pros’ was about. They were kind, generous, and sometimes brutally honest, but always professional and perceptive.
The writers who stood, often visibly shaking, up in front of that room of peers and agents to give a three minute pitch, were open to suggestion, full of hope, and just plain brave. The audience (some who pitched and others who came to watch and learn) was supportive with smiles and applause. I will never again hesitate to ‘pitch with the pros’. You shouldn’t either, if your book/screenplay is ready to pitch – it’s a golden opportunity to get feedback or to sit in the audience and learn from the pros who critique. It was an enjoyable night and the community-feel of it, contagious; kicking off what was a fun-filled and eventful weekend at the Sheraton Hotel with 750 other writer friends.
So, if you’ve ever been nervous about pitching, or wondered if ‘pitching with the pros’ is worthwhile, I’m here to say IT IS!
More about the conference next time….
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