Ahh, the pitch conference. Three minutes to explain your darling child of a novel to a polite but dubious agent. Three minutes for her to ask probing questions that tear it apart.
I enjoyed most of the Writers Digest pitch conference in St. Paul, Minnesota last Saturday. The classes were more reminders of ideas we writers should always have in our heads than anything new. Mystery writer Kristi Belcamino reminded us to “get in late and leave early” so that you give the reader the essence of an action, rather than all the steps (hearing the knock, walking to the door, turning the knob). Set up a ticking clock. (To know that you have to catch a flight to Istanbul is just information. To know it’s an hour before takeoff and you’re still in the security line raises the stakes.) This is stuff most writers know, but I, for one, tend to bury important things in prose, then have to trim.
I had some hope of discovering how a self-published work of fiction finds readers. For all the good ideas, warnings, and suggestions, there was not much there.
Possibly the best takeaway for me was a session in which first pages of novels were read aloud to six agents, who then indicated when they would stop reading. One of the pages read was from a talented author in my Wednesday critique group. The agents had comments similar to those the critique group had when its members read that first page. Heartening to hear that the group is on point. Also very interesting to hear the agents’ take on what works and what doesn’t. Good writing is necessary, but not sufficient.
In any case, the experience kicked me into yet another rewrite.