Pitchfest is a session covering the better part of an afternoon in which conference attendees can make pitches about their work to a number of agents and editors who have come to Thrillerfest to find new talent. For many, this is the most important part of the entire Thrillerfest Conference.
Pitchfest has been compared to speed dating. Unfortunately, I am far too old to have had the “speed dating experience,” so I had no preconceptions about this event. The kind folks at Thrillerfest provide a lot of information to prepare for the event. If you do plan to attend Pitchfest, I suggest you read it thoroughly. I can attest to the speed part.
There are numerous preparatory events, including seminars on how to behave at Pitchfest and how best to get an editor or an agent to bite on your pitch. These are useful events. The most useful event, however, is a Practice Pitchfest in which many published authors volunteer their time to listen to your pitch and make useful suggestions. It is a good way to get the kinks out of your presentation, refine your pitch, and build up a little confidence. You are able to choose whom you pitch to. Most likely you will get to make one practice pitch. A list of the participating authors was provided beforehand. The Practice Pitchfest took place in a large conference room. The authors were seated at tables around the perimeter of the room, and chairs were provided for those waiting to make practice pitches. The crowds were a little intimidating, but the event was very well-organized and the lines moved quickly. If you intend to make a pitch, the Practice Pitchfest can’t hurt. The published authors participating in this event deserve a lot of thanks. They worked hard that day.
After the Practice Pitchfest, the writers making pitches were ushered into a line before going down an escalator. This was the most discouraging part of the whole day. This is a very competitive business and I can’t think of a more vivid measure of that competition than seeing that crowded room for the first time. It is also very entertaining to see the looks on the attendees faces as they make their way past the seemingly endless throng of hopeful writers to find their way to the end of the line.
Inside the rooms assigned to Pitchfest there were tables with the agents and editors sitting and listening to pitches. It was all very well-organized, but there were many lines. There was an oversupply of patience in that room, and the organizers deserve a large pat on the back for making it all run smoothly. You have only a few minutes (there are actually timers) to make your pitch. At the end of the time limit the agent or editor may ask for a further sample of your work, or will give the most often-heard response of “not for me.” That response is hard to take, but this is a tough business. The “not for me” might mean they are not interested in the particular story you are pitching. In the interest of efficiency, they aren’t expected to give a reason. It is a very friendly, but very businesslike encounter. You don’t get your ego stroked in this room.
I would like to say every agent was interested in my novel, but that is not what happened. As I made my way through Craftfest and Pitchfest, I realized my first draft was not ready for prime time. If a session had the title “Ten Mistakes Newbies Make” I could count at least four in my own first draft. Other more objective readers might increase that count. I made a last-minute decision to visit the “No Pitch Zone” in which editors would take a look at your first several pages and give some real honest criticism. I met one editor who did just that. Her points were well-taken and very valuable to me. I made the right decision to seek that kind of feedback and my second draft will be far better because of it.
On to the revisions…Next year I intend to have a completed second draft with a lot fewer of the issues I learned about at this conference. You don’t get anywhere in this field without a lot of perseverance, and I have to reach in my back pocket to get some.