Sometimes writers ask me whether or not I think it’s worthwhile to attend a writer’s conference. I have attended several different kinds, so I thought I’d weigh in on that. Today, I’m going to talk about “pitch workshops,” where you have a chance to pitch your book idea, or your already-written book, to publishing agents.
Pitch conferences like the Algonkian Writer’s Conferences also offer classes on how to write a pitch, so someone is there to help you hone your skills. This is really handy, because you can learn a lot by going around the table, listening to different pitches, and hearing the moderator or instructor critique them.
Because pitches are short, you sometimes get the chance to make slight but crucial changes, and then try it out again and again. Personally, I found this kind of thing extremely useful, and once I got the hang of it, I was able to work on pitches more effectively on my own.
There are fine lines to be drawn in these kind of things–for instance, you want to compare your style to another writer who is successful, BUT not someone who is a legend, or else you’ll sound like a braggart. You have to brag, but not too much. You might be able to compare yourself to George R.R. Martin, for example, but not to J.R.R. Tolkein. That’s the type of thing you learn in a pitch workshop.
If you want to learn to write a good pitch, I do suggest going to a couple of different such workshops, because the effectiveness of your pitch is still just someone’s opinion, and in the end you have to compile all these opinions into something that works for you (and, hopefully, for a publisher). Then, after the class, if there is one, you typically get the chance to try out your pitch on an actual publishing agent.
Don’t expect the agent to jump out of his seat, scream, ‘That’s brilliant!” and throw money in your lap. Is it likely that an agent will pick up your book from hearing your pitch at a conference? No, it isn’t. But that’s not really why you go. You go to meet publishing agents, hear what they have to say about your ideas, and therefor get to know the industry a little bit better.
Typically, everyone sits around a big table and the writers do their pitches, one by one, and you get to hear what the agents think of all of them. Once you have met several publishing agents face to face, and heard what they have to say about a variety of pitches, you’ll really be able to put a face and a personality on the email communications you exchange with them.
Ever afterward, when you send manuscripts out, you’ll have a sense of to whom they’re going and what these people are looking for. I have given pitches at pitch conferences and had publishing agents ask me questions about my character, his motivations, and even a book’s theme. This is how I got to know what type of people I’m dealing with, and what they are looking for.
I once had a ghostwrtiing client who wanted to tell a fictional story and claim it was true. “Who will know the difference?” he asked, full of high and mighty bluster. I could tell he thought agents were stupid enough to fall for it. Having met numerous publishing agents at conferences, I could unequivocally state that they would ask for proof. They would ask a lot of probing questions, and they wouldn’t just take his word for it. One thing about these people: they’re definitely not stupid.
People in the publishing industry are some of the shrewdest people you’ll ever meet. So, I recommend going to a conference just to meet them, just to know who your potential allies are. And, if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll remember your name. A conference could lead you to publication, sure, but that’s not really why you go.