Thursday, August 4, 2016

PNWA Writers Conference

How would you like one minute to summarize a novel you’ve worked on for over a year? I attended the annual Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, with the main purpose of pitching my manuscripts to agents. This was down in SeaTac. (The unusual name came from this area being between the major cities of Seattle and Tacoma. I’m not kidding.)

Besides the pitch sessions, they put on interesting workshops. A helpful one described how writers should use social media, put on by Joe Gillard and Nicole Persun.

I’ll let you guess who's who

The editors and agents introduced themselves during forums, to give us a good idea of whom to pitch to. This was important for planning our four-minute pitches, which I’ll describe in a moment. Below is part of the agent forum, a little out of focus.

Third from the left is Sarah LaPolla, whom I was planning on pitching to. Fourth from the left is Elizabeth Kracht. I had no intention of pitching to her at the start, but I ended up doing so. Second from the right (and badly out of focus due to my inadequate picture-taking) is J.D. DeWitt, whom I also was planning on pitching to.

So on to the pitch sessions. In a large conference room, the agents and editors would sit at long tables. When those of us who signed up for a particular session were told to start, we rushed in. It wasn’t as bad as the start of a rock concert—more like the opening of a Costco on a Saturday.

Whoever found his or her preferred agent first had to stand on a blue line that was several feet in front of the tables. The rest of us lined up behind. At the ring of a bell, the first person could walk forward and have four minutes to pitch a manuscript to the editor or agent. We were advised to sum up the manuscript in one minute, then let the editor or agent ask questions for the rest of the time. At the sound of a bell, that person would have to leave, and the next person could go up.

I didn’t get a picture of this year’s pitch session, but this link will take you to last year’s.

No talking was allowed in line. If you think this felt like school, you’re right.

I put in a lot of rehearsal for my pitches. If you think aspiring actors spend time talking to walls, so do aspiring authors. I did all right in my three pitches. Editors or agents who are pleased will ask the author to send in sample pages. I won’t reveal the results of my pitches, since that would be telling.  

A major agent who attended was Andrea Hurst. She made herself available for one-on-one sessions, first come, first served. She gave me valuable advice on a manuscript pitch and a cover letter, which would normally cost a good amount.

Latest word on trends: Andrea Hurst said that publishers a couple years ago told her that dystopian stories are dead. Perhaps the most famous examples of dystopian stories are The Hunger Games series and the Divergent series. Things are so bad, I had just recently found out the final Divergent movie will be made-for-TV. Andrea Hurst didn’t blink when I said that.

Sarah LaPolla said that vampire novels are still unpopular. (The Twilight series, both novels and movies, set off years of submissions to editors and agents, which saturated the market.) She said that only an accomplished author could get a vampire novel looked at.

So this was a good conference overall. Here are links to excerpts from a couple manuscripts that I pitched—an excerpt from a vampire parody, and an excerpt from my reimagining of The War of the Worlds.

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