What I'm Reading Now: The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Well. To say my first conference didn't go smoothly, is putting it nicely. I suppose I did meet my goal, which was to make new friends and start networking. I'll go day by day.
The best day of the conference by far. Workshops included Perfecting your Pitch and query letter basics/critique. I met a fantastic writer named Rachael Dahl (more on her later). The pitch coaches helped me condense my pitch into two sentences. Agent Kristin Nelson critiqued our query letters in the afternoon, and after helping me clarify one confusing sentence, said, "I like it." So good to hear that, since it's been months in the making!
First thing in the morning, 8:35 AM, I read the first page of my novel to an agent I was sure would be my new BFF. We like many of the same books and the things she's looking for are all over my manuscript.
End fairy tale.
Before I finished reading, she was marking things on her paper. I barely sat down before she started talking. She said there was no tension in the scene, that there's too much 'telling' versus 'showing' in the second paragraph, that the scene had a commercial quality but that my voice was, and yes she used this word, bland.
Just so you know, voice is everything--everything--in writing. It's your personal style. The compelling quality that keeps a reader reading. Granted, I had cut a lot out of my first page to try and get to a certain place on page 2 I thought was a better place to end. Maybe that took the voice out of it. I hope so, because if my voice really is boring... ouch. But I do see her point, on all counts, and while I'm so disappointed I blew a chance to impress her, a new scene will be born from her feedback.
The rest of the day went by in a fog, but I did accidentally sit with Donald Maass at lunch (he's one of the coolest and most successful agents in the business), so when I query him later that'll be a great thing to include in the opening of my letter. I also attended some awesome workshops. If nothing else, I have plenty to think about for my next revision.
More awesome workshops. Tried to keep my head down and learn things, and I did learn a lot of things.
Dinner. Oh my gosh. If you're not ready to pitch, don't wing it. I told myself I wouldn't pitch, that I'd just sit with agent Evan Gregory and if he asked about my book I'd give him my log line and see what happened. He didn't ask, but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to pitch anyway, at which time I learned he'd received two similar pitches that weekend. Hard to hear, because I thought I had something unique. That wasn't the worst part. He asked me questions about my book. You'd think they'd be easy to answer, right? I mean, I've been working on this thing for over a year, I created everything in it, how hard could it be?
I blanked. He asked me about the world of the novel. After an awkward pause, I muttered something about a parallel Earth where they wore jeans and used magic instead of electricity (wow, aren't you aching to read it now??). I told him the protagonist's sister was on a hit list because she's part of an elite group of people that has twice the power of anyone else in the world. Evan said something about, "yeah, can't let anyone have too much power, right?" That's not the reason my antagonist is after them. Of course, I didn't tell him the antagonist has found a way to use their blood to make himself stronger. I said "Eh, well..." and started talking about something else.
No, I wouldn't request sample pages from me either.
So please, please please if you pitch a book, be ready to answer the following questions and don't assume you can just think of the answers on the spot:
- What the world of your novel is like. What makes it unique? Why is this a place your reader wants to escape to?
- The motivation of your antagonist
- What drives your protagonist/what kind of person he is
- Details about your character's arc; how he's different at the end versus the beginning (and yes, they might ask you how it ends. Part of my problem during this exchange was I was trying -not- to reveal anything that would spoil the ending)
- Don't ramble. If you have to pause to think, tell the agent you need to gather your thoughts. No one likes awkward pauses.
Evan tried so, so hard to get creative details out of me. I just wasn't prepared. Lesson learned. Rachael Dahl, the writer I met on Thursday, sat next to me while I humiliated myself. Bless her. She reminded me later that he wouldn't have asked questions if he wasn't at all interested, that my book is fine, that I just need to practice my pitch and I didn't do bad for my first one. Especially one I hadn't prepared for (she, by the way, got two requests for her manuscript at the conference, one by the aforementioned Donald Maass. So excited for her!).
I would probably consider this the 'low point' of my journey. The realization I still have a lot of work to do, that I blew chances you don't get everyday. But I also learned what I need to do for next time, and for any of you out there writing a book or thinking about it, I hope you can learn from me without going through it yourself.
Time to digest everything, and revise.