How nice it was to meet so many of you at last weekend’s PNWA conference and hear your pitches! The Pitch Practicing Palace staff heard over 300 pitches over the course of the conference and, as a testament to the quality of many of those pitches, we had barely stepped into the parking garage before we were all saying, “Wow. Let’s do that again sometime soon.”
Deep, heartfelt thanks a thousand times over to the Pitch Practicing Palace staffers, the generous and gifted Suzanne Brahm, the lovely and talented Phoebe Kitanides, the hilarious and incisive author-to-watch Kevin Scott, and the brilliant and lyrical prose stylist Cindy Willis, all of whom took time off work to volunteer to help other writers. Memorize their names, my friends, so you will recognize them on bookshelves in the years to come. These writers are the real deal, and the best way to express gratitude to those who have helped you is to buy their books down the line!
Kudos to all of you who were brave enough to come to the conference and pitch your work. A conference muckity-muck yanked me aside on Saturday and read me the riot act about how my readers and Palace visitants were buttonholing agents and editors in the hallway, because that is Not How It Was Done in Days of Yore, but I was genuinely proud of all of you who did. Like the outdated insistence that all pitches should be under 35 words, I think that limiting your prospects to a couple of formal meetings, followed perhaps by a few meek follow-up queries a week or two after the conference, is not to the writer’s best advantage.
And I just have to boast about this: longtime loyal blog reader Toddie even summoned up the courage to give her elevator speech to an agent IN AN ELEVATOR. I predict that she will go far. (And if you think THAT’s not going to be a great interview story when her first book comes out, think again.)
At the risk of sounding like Dr. Seuss, given the opportunity, I think an ambitious writer should pitch in a box, and to a fox, and on stairs, and over the back of chairs, and…in short, Toddie and the rest of you who pitched aggressively, I think you did the right — and hugely brave — thing.
Please remember, all of you who pitched successfully, to write PNWA — REQUESTED MATERIALS in letters three inches high on the outside of the envelope. Also include a cover letter that reminds the agent or editor in the first line (a) where you met him or her and (b) thanking him or her for asking to read your work. As I’ve been telling those of you who were kind enough to read my former blog as PNWA Resident Writer for the past 11 months, politeness pays off in the long run.
Why do you need to remind an agent whose bloodshot eyes lit up when you described your project who you are? Well, agents and editors meet so many writers at conferences that they sometimes do not remember individuals; names start to blur together fairly quickly, even if they remember the project.
If you did not get to pitch to all the agents you liked at the forum, go ahead and send each one a query letter that begins, “I enjoyed hearing you speak at the recent PNWA conference, and I think you will be interested in my work.” Or something similar. Then write on the outside of the envelope PNWA in great big letters.
And please, for my sake, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope with every follow-up missive — stamped, not metered — and read every syllable of your submission OUT LOUD and IN HARD COPY before you send it off, to catch errors. Make sure, too, that it’s in standard format — seriously, this is not the time not to be indenting your paragraphs because you think it looks cool. 12-point Times, Times New Roman, or Courier, please, and spring for at least 20-lb. paper. All of this will make your submission look professional, and assure that your good writing gets a fair reading.
If I seem to be rushing through this advice, I assure you that there is a very good reason: until Monday, I did not know that I was going to need to spend this week setting up my website! For those of you who did not follow me from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association website, I had been the organization’s Resident Writer for almost a year. On Monday, the first business day after the conference, I found myself unable to post a conference wrap-up blog; all evidence of my blog or me had been summarily removed from the PNWA site, with no advance warning.
Since I still have not been given any explanation for this, I’m not comfortable speculating here about why this happened so abruptly (take me out for coffee, and I’ll speculate up a storm, however). The president of the PNWA has taken over as Resident Writer, and I certainly wish her well in that capacity.
My experience at the recent PNWA conference reminded me of a story my learned father used to tell me when I was a child, about a great Athenian general and philanthropist of the 5th century B.C. (Hey, my parents were beatnik intellectuals; my bedtime stories were pretty heavy stuff.) Themistocles was a brilliant military strategist, leading the Greeks to many startling victories against their then-enemies, the Persians; equally adept at peace, he sponsored civic art. After many years of being an all-around praiseworthy fellow, Athens won the war, and returned to the important yearly business of picking whom among its citizens to ostracize – i.e., to throw out of the city for ten years. Think of it as a really heavily-enforced good neighbor agreement.
Being a civic-minded guy, Themistocles hied himself to the agora to vote. Every Athenian citizen was given an oyster shell upon which to write the name of a bum to throw out. As soon as Themistocles walked into the forum, he saw a blind man struggling to write on his oyster shell.
Our Themistocles, as my father used to say, had listened to his parents, and was kind to everybody. “Here, old man,” he offered, “let me help you vote, since I have two good eyes.” (This was before disability sensitivity training.) “Whose name would you like me to write?”
”Themistocles,” the old man replied promptly.
Themistocles was taken aback. Perhaps the old man was senile, and no longer understood what the ostracism ceremony entailed. Gently, he suggested that the old man reconsider, listing all the good things he had done for the city in the last twenty years. “Knowing all that,” he concluded, “would you still want Themistocles to be ostracized?”
The old man did not even pause to think about it. “Ye gods, yes! I’m so sick of hearing people praise him!”
Themistocles shook his head at the old man’s logic, but what could he do? He wrote his own name on the shell. And an hour later, he found himself unceremoniously escorted out of Athens, banished for a decade.
Did he sit down and weep? Did he curse his former beneficiaries? Did he beat on the city gates, demanding to be let back in? No: Themistocles knew he had done nothing wrong, and that he still had a lot to offer his community. So he picked himself up from where Athenian thugs had cast him into the dust, brushed off his toga, and took himself and his family to Persia. He knew they would need him there; they had an army to rebuild.
”And that,” Daddy used to say, “is why you might not want to be the most popular kid in school.”
I’m back, my friends, and I’m more committed than ever to contributing my mite to the support system that every writer deserves. This is where you will find me from now on, tackling the mundane, the difficult, and the ridiculous obstacles good writers face on the road to publication. We’re all in this together, so onward and upward.
Everybody, as always, please: keep up the good work!
– Anne Mini
P.S.: Soyon Im, longtime correspondent of my former blog at the PNWA, has a short memoir up in the current myspace competition! It’s a great piece: “Dreaming of Houston,” listed under the name Soybean (July 18). If you read and like it before July 25, vote for it, and maybe our homegirl will win! Go, team!