My mom and I are going back to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City this weekend!

It was sort of a last minute decision that started two weeks ago when Mark asked me if we were planning to go again. “Oh, no, “I said, “Not again.”  Why not, he asked.  “Oh, people don’t do that twice . . .” Why not, he asked again. “Weeeell, uuummm, I don’t know.”

So, after checking to make sure he wouldn’t mind being the sole parent all weekend (“I wouldn’t have suggested you go if I minded, honey”), I brought it up to my mom and, over the course of one conversation, we got so increasingly excited about the possibility of going back again that we couldn’t even imagine not going.

This is the conference, of course, with the much-coveted Pitch Slam, for which we were so nervous last year.  This time, with the great benefit of experience, we are able to strategize in much smarter ways.  I’ve been carefully studying the agents who will be there (there are only a few repeats, so that’s not a worry) and have focused my attention on those with more years of experience in the industry.  Over the past year, I’ve heard from several young, new agents who’ve told me my work is compelling and well written, but because they lack experience and are still forming relationships with publishers, my type of memoir would simply be too hard for them to sell. It’s not hard for an agent to pitch a young adult paranormal vampire romance to an editor, but it is hard to say, “I know, another cancer memoir . . . but trust me, this one is good,” unless they’re pitching to someone who actually does trust them. So I’ve found a few women with twenty-plus years in agenting, one of whom said in response to a question about the most frustrating aspect of her job, “Those rare moments when you find a book that’s absolutely amazing and editors agree that it is, but feel that the market for it is too limited for the book to be commercially viable in the current economy! Argh! Then I just keep my head down and keep plowing until I find someone willing to take the risk. As I mentioned earlier, those books often turn out to be successes far beyond what anyone expected.” Now that’s the kind of agent I need!

I’m also going to pitch to at least one male agent (who said, “Voice and story can carry a memoir, even if the author doesn’t have a platform”), which I haven’t done in the past.  I tend to think of the target audience for my book as mostly female, but I’ve had some of my positive reviews from men, one an editor at Writer’s Digest, one a published novelist and university English professor, and a few other early readers and critiquers.

Having gone through the Pitch Slam last year (and having survived!), I think we’ll also have a completely different — and more realistic — set of expectations.  I remember being so afraid that no one would ask to read my work and then thrilled when the first agent invited me to send her ten pages.  I thought I’d struck gold!  It was only in the hallways and elevators afterwards that we discovered that everyone had been asked to send in their work by almost every agent. This is how the Pitch Slam works — they simply say yes . . . only to say no later. So this time, I’ll have a more level head.  I’ll see this is an excellent way to get my foot in the door and then will hope, that with a combination of good writing and the right agent, this will actually happen.

It only has to happen once, after all.

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