It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the 2013 Pennwriters annual conference held in Pittsburgh, at the Airport Marriot, where the corridor outside of rooms 203-208 was filled with chattering teeth, sweaty brows and more deep breathing than a yoga class. This was where aspiring-to-be-published authors waited in line for their turn to pitch their book to an agent, face to face for ten whole minutes. Scary stuff, right?
As unpublished writers, we tend to harbor a sense of insecurity about how others view our authenticity. We know, or at least think, we’re good at laying pen to paper (fingertips to keyboard,) but we’re terrified of being judged, especially by people who get paid for having the “right” opinion. I mean, their words can make or break us. They can agree to read our manuscripts, to take us on as clients and sell our projects into print, to make our dreams come true. They can flat out reject us for any old reason they like. Maybe our books aren’t a fit for their companies. Maybe they don’t dig our turquoise flatform open toed shoes… Who knows, really?
So, in the midst of totally freaking out over having only two hours and thirty seven and a half minutes left before my oh so pivotal pitch appointment with an editor from a big name publishing house (who was never ever going to buy a book from an unpublished, unrepresented writer anyway...,) I had a bit of a revelation.
I was there, at the 2013 Pennwriters conference, to learn something. And getting ten whole minutes in front of a successful editor meant that, even if I knew he wasn’t going to buy my book, I could ask him a slew of really important questions and get answers from an expert. After this seemingly common sense tidbit struck me, I stopped wigging and started pondering all of the information I wanted to take away from this place. Information that would help me make good decisions about my work in the future. I stopped shaking. My heart stopped trying to punch its way through my chest. I was ready to interview this guy.
I ended up pitching to four agents and an editor at the conference. I also did my best to casually speak with other agents and professionals, not to try to sell them my book but to pick their brains for the answers I was seeking. I left the conference overflowing with ideas and information and so grateful to these talented and knowledgeable individuals who’d shared their expertise with me.
Funny, we, as aspiring-to-be-published authors had put these agents on pedestals, made gods out of them as well as demonized them. They’re just people doing their jobs. Some of them are superstars in their industry and have so much to teach us at venues like these conferences. Others… not so much superstars… A few seem as nervous sitting across from us and our lists of questions as we may be pitching to them. Maybe they are the ones with the shaky hands, funny faces, squeaking voices. Believe it or not, it happens.
Ultimately, it was the best of times. I got what I paid for and so much more. Sure, for the first couple of hours,I may have sprouted a few gray hairs and a stress pimple worrying about my big chance to shine, but after I came to my senses, I sucked up all the good stuff I could get. Great job Pennwriters! I’ll definitely be attending next year’s conference.