Pointy Uncomfortable Shoes, Perfect New York Editors and Pitching at RWA12

August 13, 2012

So we’ve established that the average number of shoes an attendee took to the Romance Writers of America 2012 Conference in Anaheim (I told you I wasn’t done talking about it) was five pairs. Five pairs… I took five pairs, but I’m starting to suspect that number is a little conservative. Several of the women who told me they took five pairs said things like, “I took five pairs, plus a couple pairs of flip flops,” or “I took five pairs of shoes…and my tennis shoes.” These statements sound to me suspiciously like undercounting. Undercounting is not fair. Some of us take these things seriously, and what I want to know is how many pairs of shoes you ACTUALLY took.

This is important, because shoes seemed to be the theme of the conference. The most consistent advice that I received before the conference was, “Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be running from one event to the next all day long, every day,” and this was proven to be true.

So, Friday was my big “pitch” day. I was lucky enough to schedule two pitches with editors, and two with agents. Three of those were Friday. I left my comfortable shoes in my hotel room and put on my favorite business shoes. They are generally comfortable for several hours, but I know they aren’t all day shoes.

I wore them all day.

Although a continental breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, boiled eggs, and muffins was provided in the lobby, right outside of the ballroom where pitches were to be held, I didn’t eat. I was afraid to….the thought of sitting across a table from an editor or agent with egg breath, a blueberry in my teeth, and yogurt on my blouse made me lose my appetite, so I skipped the continental breakfast and started my morning by arriving well before my appointment time in the grand ballroom where the pitches were to be conducted.

I have to say that RWA was incredible. They know what they are doing. Not just in the pitch room, where aspiring authors nervously connect with agents or editors that they might never get a chance to meet under other circumstances, but the entire conference ran smoothly and professionally, making the experience just amazing.

The pitch session was orchestrated to a fine symphony, each section following direction from beginning to end. We entered the ballroom, gave our name, and were seated to wait for our appointment. Pitches were 10 minutes long. You were to arrive twenty to thirty minutes before your appointment…I showed up an hour ahead for the first. They called each group of writers for their pitch time and lined us up in alphabetical order by the first name of the agent or editor we were pitching to, then took us to the other side of the ballroom, which had been discretely divided for privacy. Small cocktail tables were set up with agents and editors organized alphabetically, of course, in rows on one side of the table, a chair for writers on the other. You were taken to the row where your editor or agent was seated just before the appointment, then precisely at the appointed time…sent to the tables.

My first pitch was a nightmare. I did everything I was taught to do. I had put together a lovely little three line pitch. I memorized it, along with other important details…and when I opened my mouth I froze. Luckily I had my notes in front of me, but the story didn’t flow out of me, it kind of stumbled out in little chunks. IT WAS BAD. Luckily, the editor I spoke with was incredibly patient and kind, listened, and seemed to get the story. She kindly told me, “Don’t worry. Some people can’t pitch at all, but they are amazing writers, and others can give great pitches, but they can’t write a word.” Hmmm… but she did ask to see my full manuscript. I think this may have been a pity request, but I’ll be sending it to her anyway. I kind of wish I’d used a pen name instead of my real name, but alas, I did not.

My second pitch immediately followed. This time I was talking to an agent. I threw out all of the advice I’d been given…shredded my notes, and sat down and talked to her. I felt an instant connection and was so thrilled to know I wasn’t totally inept. She asked me questions related to my story, and when she asked to see three chapters and a synopsis, I didn’t feel like it was out of pity, I felt like she actually wanted to read my story.

I had one more pitch late that afternoon. Another agent. The one I’d really pinned my hopes on when I did my research. My toes were now pinched in my pointy business shoes, and my feet were starting to ache. Still I left my business shoes on my feet. The pitch went well, and she asked for my full manuscript, but now I wasn’t sure which agent I really wanted. Well, I can only hope that one of them really wants me!

That evening I heard that a couple of agents were taking pitches in the lobby. I decided I was there, they were there, and I wasn’t missing any opportunities. I wore my now quite uncomfortable shoes to the lobby and became part of a mob waiting to see these agents. (I still don’t even know what they looked like!) A young woman walked up to me and started talking. She asked if I was a writer, told me SHE was an agent, and asked if I wanted to pitch my story to her. I did of course, and I’m happy to say she asked to see the manuscript.

My final pitch was Saturday morning. I wore my ugly but oh so comfortable shoes and decided that hopefully the editor I was meeting with wouldn’t even notice them under the table…and if she saw them, maybe she’d just think “smart girl.” I had worn my favorite business blouse the day before because most of my appointments were Friday, so between the shoes and my less than perfect blouse, oh and the fact I gave up on my hot rollers, I was not feeling as professional as I’d have liked.

When the RWA coordinators took my group of writers to the other side of the ballroom, I looked at the back of the heads of a sea of editors and agents. I spotted the one perfect head. Her hair was beautifully colored, cut and styled. She wore a stylish business suit and perfect shoes. Somehow they looked both professional and comfortable.  She looked very “New York.” I was very intimidated.

Please don’t let it be her. Please don’t let it be her. Please don’t let it be her. I whispered to myself.

It was her.

But, she was approachable, easy to talk to, and when I left there…with another request for my manuscript…I felt really good about the pitch. I should be so lucky as to work with this editor.

So now that I’ve gone on and on about the pitches. You can see that I need to get back to work on my story.

If you have any “pitch” stories to share, we’d love to hear them. If you have any questions about pitching, please feel free to ask. I am not an expert, but I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.

Of course, we won’t know what worked until I get a contract!

By the way, I am already on a quest for comfortable business shoes for the next conference!

Oh, and if you didn’t make it to the conference, many of the workshops were recorded and can be ordered at http://www.rwa.org/cs/conference_recordings.

Tari

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