More pre-conference advice, and an editor

Hello, readers —

Still breathing regularly, everyone? With the conference only a couple of days away, it’s very important that you take good care of yourself, to help cope with the extra-high levels of stress. This is no time to be skimping on the Vitamin C, or to be skipping needed hours of sleep.

And yes, I know I sound like your mother. More on that later in the blog.

For those of you who have been writing in because the blogs for the first couple of days of July haven’t yet appeared on the archives: we have heard you, and the problem has been fixed! We’d gotten a bit behind, because everyone here at the PNWA is working triple overtime at the moment, trying to tuck in the last hanging threads before the conference hits the runway. (Had I mentioned that it’s a LOT of work?) But now we’re all caught up, and life is happy again.

As I mentioned yesterday, another agent and editor were added to the conference rolls after I completed my series on the agents and editors who will be attending. Yesterday, I filled you in a little on the agent, Kate McKean; today, I want to talk a bit about the editor, Michelle Nagler of Simon & Schuster. Here’s what she has to say for herself in her conference blurb:

“Michelle H. Nagler began her publishing career at Scholastic, where she edited all levels of children’s books from preschool novelty formats through young adult. Her primary focus was on middle-grade paperback series including Goosebumps, Animorphs, and Tony Abbott’s The Secrets of Droon.

“Michelle is now the Senior Editor at Simon Pulse, a division of Simon and Schuster. With their fingers on the “pulse” of the teen market, Simon Pulse is one of the leading commercial teen imprints, and the publisher of such classic hit series as Francine Pascal’s Fearless and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street; and newcomers including the Seven Deadly Sins series by Robin Wasserman, Scott Westerfeld’s successful Uglies trilogy, and the bestselling Romantic Comedy line. Michelle edits both series and single-titles, in a variety of formats.”

Well, that sounds promising, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at what she’s acquired lately (with the standard reservations about the accuracy rates of the industry databases that are providing me with this information):

Julie Linker’s DISENCHANTED PRINCESS, “about a rich socialite who’s sent to live with her aunt in rural Arkansas.” (acquired 2006; are there many poor socialites?); Kristen Tracy’s debut LOST IT, “the story of a wilderness-wary girl coming-of-age on the outskirts of Yellowstone, and her first romantic misadventures, in which she also gains insights into bomb making, bear survival skills, and the actual size of a bull moose.” (acquired 2006; now THAT’s a pitch!); Deborah Reber’s CAREER BOOK FOR TEEN GIRLS (acquired 2005); Kristopher Reisz’s “coming-of-age novel about two girls on a psychedelic road trip.” (acquired 2005); Johanna Edwards’ CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE SPY, “about a high school girl whose world is turned upside down when her FBI Agent dad brings his work — protecting a very cute 17-year-old boy — home with him.” (acquired 2005 at auction, in a two-book deal); Derrick Barnes’ SHE ROX MY WORLD! The Making of Dr. Truelove, “a humorous look at an African-American boy’s attempt to win back the girl that got away through the creation of an internet advice column.” (acquired 2005); Jennifer Echols’ debut QUEEN GEEK, “about a high school beauty queen turned band geek in a small southern town,” and a second untitled book (acquired 2005); Kelly McClymer’s SALEM WITCH TRY-OUTS, “about a girl who goes from being the star cheerleader at Beverly Hills High to a witch school in Salem, where it becomes apparent that her magic skills are sadly lacking, but she’s determined to improve,” and THE EX-FILES, “about a college student who never goes on a third date (while everyone deserves a second chance, not too many deserve a third), and is pushed to go back through her ex-files to see if she might have missed the love of her life.” (acquired 2005); Lauren Barnholdt’s debut IN THE HOUSE, “a snarky account of an eighteen-year-old woman’s attempts to distract herself from the fact that her college basketball player boyfriend is going to school a thousand miles away by trying out for the reality show In the House — shocked to find that she, the most normal teenager in the world, get cast, and will be watched during her first semester at college.” (acquired 2005 in a two-book deal)

Kind of a fun list, isn’t it? Before we move on, oh ye prospective pitchers, go back through these book descriptions: which is a good pitch, and which isn’t? Why?

Three things about her list caught my eye: first, note all the debuts. Ms. Nagler has a track record of being willing to take a chance on a first-time author, and for that, we should all look upon her with kindness, if not actual adulation. Second, three of these sales were from the same agent — Nadia Cornier, formerly of CMA, now of Firebrand Literary. Now, if I wrote YA, and I were taken with Ms. Nagler at the conference, I would seriously consider shooting a query off to Ms. Cornier before I set down my bag after coming home from the last day of the conference.

But hey, don’t ask me — I have it on pretty good authority that a couple of the writers who will be staffing the Pitch Practicing Palace at the conference know quite a lot about Ms. Cornier’s tastes, and perhaps by extension Ms. Nagler’s. Rumor has it that she’s their agent. If you write YA, stop by the PPP for a chat, why doncha?

Which gives me a perfect segue to reiterate: if you will be attending the conference, PLEASE come by the Pitch Practicing Palace and give your pitch a test drive. Everyone there, including yours truly, has a track record of successful pitching, and we are very eager to help you refine your pitch before The Big Moment. Why, two of the Palace’s pitch-listeners — again, including yours truly — landed our agents by pitching to them at past PNWA conferences! We’ve been there, and we can help.

And when will the PPP staff be there to give you feedback on your pitch, you ask? Why, Thursday, July 13th, 3 pm to 5 pm; Friday, July 14th (Bastille Day!), 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, and Saturday, July 15th, 7:30 am to 3 pm. We’re anticipating being pretty swamped beginning Friday afternoon (the actual pitch appointments begin at 1:30), so please, plan to visit us early (and WELL before your first appointment, please) to sign up for a time to practice with the pros!

Okay, back to conference-attending advice. Perceptive reader Judith writes in to ask a series of questions that I suspect are on everybody’s mind right now: “Looking at all the program’s offerings over four days, and imagining approx. 400 folks mingling, learning and networking — the question for me is: how do I best pace myself and use my energy in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me? Any advice you can give would be much appreciated.”

Judith, that’s such a sensible question that I seriously considered devoting all of tomorrow’s blog to it. However, since so many of you are tense right now, I decided I should just go long today and try to set your minds a little at ease.

As a veteran of many, many writers’ conferences all over the country, I can tell you from experience that they can be very, very tiring. Especially if it’s your first conference. Just sitting under fluorescent lights in an air-conditioned room for that many hours would take something out of you, and here, you will be surrounded by, as Judith notes, a whole lot of very stressed people while you are trying to learn as much as you possibly can.

Most of my advice is pretty much what your mother would say: watch your caffeine intake, and make sure to drink enough water throughout the day. Eat occasionally. I know that you may feel too nervous to eat before your pitch meeting, but believe me, if you were going to pick an hour of your life for feeling light-headed, this is not a wise choice. If you are giving a hallway pitch, or standing waiting to go into a meeting, make sure not to lock your knees, so you do not faint. (I’ve seen it happen, believe it or not.)

And do try to take some breaks. Yes, the schedule is jam-packed with offerings, but cut yourself some slack; don’t book yourself for the entire time. Get out of the building; sit in the sun; take a new friend you’ve made at the conference out for coffee, or even to the hotel bar for a drink. If you are new to the conference circuit, learning so much so fast can be overwhelming, so give your brain an occasional rest.

Oh, before I forget: open your word processing program right now (it’s okay; I’ll wait) and print out fifty little slips of paper with your name and contact information printed on them, so you are ready to hand them out to people you meet at the conference. Or bring your business cards. Conferences are about CONFERRING, people: network! But prepare in advance, so you do not add to your stress by having to scrabble around in your tote bag every time you meet someone nice.

And practice, practice, practice before you go into your meetings; this is the single best thing you can do in advance to preserve yourself from being overwhelmed. As I pointed out yesterday, not only will the Pitch Practicing Palace’s services be available to you, but you will also be surrounded by hundreds of other writers. Introduce yourself, and practice pitching to them. Better still, find people who share your interests and get to know them. Share a cookie; talk about your work with someone who will understand. Seriously, the first thing I said to many of my dearest friends in the world is, “So, what do you write?”

Because, really, is your life, is any writer’s life, already filled with too many people who get what we do?

At the risk of repeating myself, it’s a mistake, I think, to walk into any conference only looking to talk to the bigwigs: the agents, the editors, the published authors. Yes, you should try to meet them, too, but a literary conference, particularly if it’s your local one, is an INVALUABLE forum for meeting other writers. It’s the ideal place, for instance, to find fellow critique group participants. It’s also a perfect location for making friends for the long haul that is the road to publication. Trust me, it’s a much, much easier road if you’re not traveling it alone.

Why? Well, long waits, punctuated by mad, last-minute deadline-meeting rushes, are inevitable parts of the professional writer’s life. I say this, even speaking as a writer whose milestones were reached fairly quickly: after I won the PNWA’s Zola award in 2004, I had signed with an agent within three months; she sold the book for which I won the award six months after that. And now Amazon says my book is going to ship at the end of this month. (Keep your fingers crossed, please. I still do not have a firm publication date, alas.) That, my friends, is practically unheard-of speed in this industry.

That doesn’t mean that while each stage was going on, it didn’t feel positively interminable. Unfortunately, most non-writers have no real conception of what it means to sell a book to a publisher, land an agent, or even finish a book: bless their well-meaning little hearts, the vast majority of my non-writing friends have expressed their support, since I won the award, primarily by asking every time they see me: “So when is it coming out?”

Which, trust me, is an annoying question when, to pick a random example, one’s publisher is being threatened with lawsuits over one’s book and the publisher is waffling about whether to publish the book at all. (Not that I’d know anything about THAT.) But I’m positive that each and every one of them thought that he was being as supportive as humanly possible.

Fact: you will be an infinitely happier camper in the long run if you have friends who can understand your successes and sympathize with your setbacks as only another writer can. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but if you do not currently hang around with writers much, I can virtually guarantee that the first thing that 85% of your acquaintance will say when you announce that you’ve landed an agent is, “So, when is your book coming out?”

Seeing a pattern here? Guess what they’re going to say when your agent sells your first book? I don’t think any writer ever gets used to seeing her friends’ faces fall upon being told that the book won’t be coming out for a year, at least. Ordinary people, the kind who don’t spend all of their spare time creating new realities out of whole cloth, honestly, truly, sincerely, have a hard time understanding the pressures and timelines that rule writers’ lives.

Thought I got off track from Judith’s questions, didn’t you? Actually, I didn’t: finding buddies to go through the conference process with you can help you feel grounded throughout. (Among other things, it gives you someone to pass notes to during talks — minor disobedience, I find, is a terrific way to blow off steam — and you can hear about the high points of classes you don’t attend from them afterward.) Making friends will help you retain a sense of being a valuable, interesting individual far better than keeping to yourself, and the long-term benefits are endless.

To paraphrase Goethe, it is not the formal structures that make the world fell warm and friendly; it is having friends that makes the earth feel like an inhabited garden.

So please, for your own sake: make some friends at the conference, so you will have someone to pick up the phone and call when the agent of your dreams falls in love with your first chapter and asks to see the entire book! And get to enjoy the vicarious thrill when your writing friends leap their hurdles, too. This can be a very lonely business; I can tell you from experience, nothing brightens your day like opening your e-mail when you’re really discouraged to find a message from a friend who’s just sold her first book.

Well, okay, I’ll admit it: getting a call from your agent telling you that YOU’ve just sold your first book is rather more of a day-brightener. But the other is still pretty good.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S. to Iris: on question #2, hold off on asking until Friday, then go to the appointment desk and see if she has openings. On #3, I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out between now and the conference. See you there!

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