Thrillerfest–Pitchfest

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.

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Thrillerfest–Craftfest Day Two

The second day of Craftfest was an abbreviated version of the first day. There were formal presentations in the two morning timeslots. I arrived a little late for the first presentation, so I went for a cup of coffee and a quiet location to prepare my pitch for Pitchfest in the afternoon. I knew from attending a past event that conserving your strength was a good idea. During that interlude I had a chance to chat with some fellow attendees which was probably the most valuable part of the event. As a lifelong introvert, I tend not to engage with others too much, so I was able to let my guard down and enjoy a few really good conversations about thrillers and writing in general. I also had the good fortune to meet the head of the volunteers at Thrillerfest, a gentlemen named Walt Gragg. Walt is a very gregarious and generous  individual, and I enjoyed my conversation with him that day. Walt will be the subject of a blog post in future weeks. With no disrespect to the presenters I missed that day, my encounters with Walt and several other attendees that day may have been the best part of the entire conference. As I have said numerous times before in other blog posts, networking is very important to a “developing” writer, and I have to do a much better job of practicing what I preach.

I would consider my attendance at Craftfest to be very valuable to me. Every presentation I attended was informative, and well-prepared. All of the presenters were accomplished writers in the thriller genre and were more than willing to share their “secrets”. I was impressed with their skill and self-discipline to accomplish what they did, but I was even more impressed with their willingness to take the time to prepare and share what they have learned with a group of strangers wanting to learn their profession. Many thanks to all involved with such an informative and valuable experience. Yes, it is not cheap to spend several days in New York and attend this conference, but I felt it was worth the money and effort. Let’s see if it helps me to write.