I spent Saturday at Writer’s Workshop of Chicago, an event I’d marked on my calendar for many months. This was going to be the day where I’d live pitch my most recent work, and get someone interested in it. That’s the point of any pitch – it’s a sales message. This is what trips up a lot of my fellow writers. They underdo it, meaning the message they send out lacks the right emotions or fails to show what the stakes are. It’s also possible to overdo it, and blow through any of the guidelines and try way too hard, thus failing to put in the key information an agent needs to get a good idea of what you have so they can gauge their interest.
It is by no means easy, I would never tell anyone that. It’s a process and it requires a writer to understand the balance. Even good queries get rejected. Great queries too. It could be wrong for the agent herself, either the wrong genre, or maybe even bad timing. I’ll echo what I heard several speakers say yesterday – there is no magic pill, there is only the mindset that you will move on to the next one. Progress must never stop.
My first session was with Moe Ferrara, and if you missed her talk on world building, did you miss a good one. She rocked that stage! We got some seriously good information, but one thing I drew out of it was the point she made about rules. Know them before you break them. It’s the breaking of the rules where you’re going to find a story at. She also cautioned us against the dreaded info dump. This is particularly present in Sci-Fi and Fantasy pieces because writers have to build that world for our readers, and that’s where we can fall into the trap of dumping.
No one likes a big dump. They prefer world building information intertwined in crafty dialogue, rather than monologue. There are many facets to what your world might need, but it’s the way you choose to show them on the page that makes the difference. Like – I’ve never considered creating my own language for a fantasy world, and from what Moe shared yesterday, that’s a very good thing. I’m not a professional linguist, nor do I plan to be, so I’ll take her advice and shelve that for good.
After that first session I hit the query letter comprehensive course. Now, I’ve done a metric ton of reading on query letters, the process, and what’s good and what’s not. Most of what I heard during the session was what I’d read by other agents before. That’s good. I never think of it as a waste, because we can all learn something if our ears are open. To be clear – a query letter is not a book report. So study up from the sources out there and go pound it out.
With my 10 ten minute pitch coming up after lunch I had to take some time and run it over in my head. Truth is, I’d done it about a thousand times already that day, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I sat with some writers I’d met that morning and we chatted about what they were using. I started hearing good news from people about requests they got (go on with your bad-selves Kay Daly and Sara Locatelli!)
Before I knew it, I was sitting across a small white table from a literary agent.
She was great. We chatted for a minute or two, and then I dove into the project. My biggest concern was coming across like some madman who had a wall of pictures behind him exposing a vast conspiracy theory. You know, the Always Sunny meme with Charlie. That guy. I did my best to break the idea down into the flow of the story, and show her why the story means so much to me. She did a great job of listening, and then asking me questions about the project as a whole. I think she was well aware of how nervous I was, but as a professional she probably deals with nervous writers on a regular basis. Then the volunteer WWOC uses to tell pitchers like me our time is almost up came around – ten minutes had evaporated. At the end, the agent said she wanted to know more. That my book sounded like an interesting story, but she wanted to know how much world building I’d done in this space opera tale, and get a feel for my voice. Thus, I got a partial request.
Relief washed over me and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s just a request. It may not go anywhere other than that. It surely won’t stop me from querying the rest of my 52 agents inside Querytracker. What it is though, is a step in the right direction, and that’s a foundational brick I can build this house on.