Speed Dating in the Literary World

Pitching to Literary Agents – Round II

agent 1With one year under my belt, I felt a false superiority over the woman ahead of me in the registration line, juggling her phone and handbag in one hand while trying to unfold the day’s itinerary in the other.

“So, where are you from?” I asked, trying to calm her nerves.

She looked up, apparently surprised that a stranger was talking to her. “Me? I’m from Omaha.”

“Omaha,” I repeated. “Beautiful city. That’s a long drive. You got me beat.” She smiled at me and went back to untangling the wadded up piece of paper. OK, I thought. She’s not here to make friends. I’m good with that.

I looked behind me to see that the line was now half-way down the long hotel corridor. Like last year, the 2017 Writers Workshop of Chicago was once again being held at the Congress Plaza Hotel. And like the year previous, I was here to recharge my creative juices and meet a few literary agents…speed-dating style.

Along with the seminars and workshops, many writers’ conferences also allow writers to pitch their completed manuscripts to attending literary agents for an additional fee per agent. It’s kind of like buying your way into an interview, which sounds a little suspect but I prefer to look at it as an opportunity for them to meet me.

Each purchased pitch is ten-minutes long, and as I peak into the hotel ballroom, I see the literary agents setting up their spaces for the day, each one seated at an intimate round table topped with a linen table cloth. Ready to face a day of… “My novel has a different ending if you turn the book around…”, “The narrator of my book is my cat who…”, and “I would compare my book to “To Kill a Mockingbird, but its better because…” There’s not enough caffeine in any of their cups to get them through this day.

9:30 – My first pitch is actually with an editor of a publishing house rather than a literary agent. “Nice glasses,” I say to her as I take a seat. She smiles, but it vanishes quickly. This woman is all business. Her first question: What’s the name of your novel?

Chasing Crazy,” I reply, which apparently is the wrong answer. After hearing my reasoning for the name, she shakes her head and explains that Chasing Crazy sounds too lighthearted, and more fitting for a romance novel. Damn. I can’t even get the title right?  As she dissects my story description, I write vigorously while trying to move beyond the fact that my novel has a title more befitting of a Nora Roberts book.

“Time’s up!” the room monitor announces. And for the second time, the editor smiles, pleased, I imagine, to be done with one more pretend-writer.

9:40 – Its tough going from one pitch immediately into another. There is no time to gather my thoughts and as I walk to the next table, I wonder if I should say that I haven’t come up with a title yet. Or maybe I can come up with a new name. Straight Jacket & Sun Glasses, or Running with Scissors? No, that’s already a book.

My next meeting is with a literary agent that actually owns and runs her own shop. I had hesitated meeting with her out of intimidation. With her list of clients, she can’t possibly be interested in meeting with a writer holding her first manuscript. But just as you should never judge a book by its cover, I was surprised to find this rock-star agent to be genuine, kind and interested—interested in Chasing Crazy. Not the romance, but the story of a German mother suffering from a cocktail of mental illnesses, and the affect it has on her children. A story of violence, hope and crazy times.

11:30 – I learned something about agent pitches last year, after I purposely requested one for the last time-period of the day, thinking that after hitting it off, we might wander over to the hotel bar for a beverage or two and become best friends. No. I learned that as the day progresses, the agents start to all get a familiar glaze over their eyes that can’t be erased with a gallon of coffee. So with this information in-hand, I head over to my last pitch of the day while the day is still young, confident that the next agent isn’t comatose yet from countless writers starting to blur into one another.

As I chatted with yet another wonderful agent, I was surprised at the friendliness of her tone, the many questions she asked, and her interest in Chasing Crazy. Or should I call it, In the Shadow of Children, or…

Stay tuned…

Heidi McCrary

 

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