By Leslie Miller
In the literary world, there’s a lot of talk about character development, referring to the characters in your book. But I’m here to tell you that the whole process of traditional publishing offers untold opportunities for a different kind of character development—that of the author herself!
I had an amazing time at my first-ever writing conference, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. If you are an aspiring author and have never been to a conference of this sort, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I hobnobbed with aspiring authors at the same stage of their careers as me, as well as published authors with way more experience, and I attended fascinating workshops and panels with agents and editors. I had my first ten pages critiqued by an agent in one workshop, and I did my first ever one-on-one pitch with an agent.
I have to admit that I was terrified before the pitch. Although agents all insist “we’re just people” (and of course they are), the fact is that with a pitch you have a very small window of time (ten minutes) that just might lead to a very large and potentially career-making opportunity. So nervous is natural but terrified seems a wee bit over the top. In the days leading up to the conference, I’d spent hours perfecting my one sentence “hook,” aka my logline or elevator pitch, and attempting to memorize it. But the day before the conference, I made the mistake of monkeying with it, in an attempt to improve it.
Now, the old version and the new version were garbling together and coming out of my mouth wrong. Or worse, my mind was just freezing into a blank when I tried to practice in front of the mirror.
The hour right before the pitch was definitely the worst. I took two laps around the hotel, arguing with myself that there was nothing to be so nervous about—I knew my book and what I wanted to convey about it.
I knew exactly what I wanted to say to the agent, to break the ice. I had been in one of her sessions the day before and really liked what she had to say. I reminded myself repeatedly that when I sat down and started chatting with her, I’d be fine. Then I waited in “the green room,” chatting with other anxious, gearing-up-to-pitch authors, cracking pitch jokes until someone came to get us, walked us to the agent pitch room, and sat us down in front of our respective agents.
Guess what? Exactly as I’d told myself, as soon as I started talking to the agent I was fine! It was fun! And . . . she asked to see the first thirty pages of my novel. Woo-hoo! One hurdle vaulted in fine style.
It seems that every step forward on this journey toward authordom triggers new and hilarious insecurities, from fear of talking about a book I’ve spent months on to an interested stranger, to fear of unnoticed typos and clichés I didn’t realize were clichés, to fear of hitting the “send” button and uploading my thirty pages to the agency’s site.
And now the waiting begins, offering even more opportunities for insecurity, second guessing, and unnecessary tinkering with a novel I’ve declared completed (for now). I need to keep a close watch on all this insanity and try to maintain some perspective. Getting an agent and book deal could easily turn into an obsession that takes over my life.
The fantastic thing about pitching live is the opportunity to get a real sense of the agent as a person, and for him or her to get a real sense of me, as well as my book. And to get live, in the moment feedback that you won’t usually get if you simply send off a query to an email address. But since the conference has passed and there aren’t any more in this area till spring, it’s time to start my digital querying in earnest.
QueryTracker, here I come. Agents, look out. Insecurities, stand down.