The Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam Experience

When I decided to go to the 2019 Writer’s Digest conference, it was 95% due to their Pitch Slam event.

If you are unfamiliar with conference pitching events, they’re basically a supplemental feature to a writing conference where writers get a very short amount of time to pitch their work to agents who are open to considering and/or taking on new writers. I’ve only done it once before at the Hampton Roads Writer’s Conference and that was more of an appointment-based one-on-one thing where you sign up for a time slot and pitch to an agent or indie publisher alone in a room.

Pitch Slam was not like that.

There were maybe thirty agents, probably more, in one big event space, two per table. Writer’s Digest is great about posting the attendees ahead of time, so that gave me plenty of time, months, even, to research who would be there, what they’re looking for, whom they currently represent, etc.

I was lucky to learn that most of the agents there seeking my genre (YA Contemporary) I was already following on Twitter and therefore kinda “knew” them in that voyeuristic way you learn about people on social media. I had already considered querying about half of them due to write-ups about them in WD, stated desires on the #MSWL (manuscript with list) hashtag, or in general agent research. That made strategizing my hour allotment in the room a whole lot easier.

Friday’s sessions in the conference tended to go over, and occasionally focus directly on, pitching. While the social aspect of #WDC19 was fantastic, all types of writers were present with all types of work so everyone’s pitching style was extremely varied. It was fantastic to get some tips from agents who knew what they were looking for.

There were three sessions, two in the morning and one after lunch. I selected the second session but got in line with the first. As it happened, this meant I was first in line for the second session but I was not alone in my early queueing. Other delightful early writers were in line with me, and together we shared encouragement, nervous laughter, and shared our pitches.

When it was our session’s go time, I was first in the door. Here’s some advice:

  1. They may tell you not to go right for your first choice agent, but I did and I’m glad I did. I had the advantage of being early and that was a tremendous advantage. The lines can get quite long for the more well-known and prolific agents. My first pitch was probably wobbly and nervous, but the agents are all humans and kind ones at that, so I felt a lot better having gotten the “biggie” out of the way.
  2. I prioritized all eight agents I wanted to see, but after the first three or so it was the wild west. I had printed off a chart with the agents with special notes about why I was pitching to them. After my top three I went to whoever was open or had a short line, and was also on my list.
  3. I went in to the room with a well-researched and often-reviewed list of the agents and specific reasons I wanted to pitch to them. Reasons ranged from, “you specifically asked for my book by coincidence on MSWL” to “I really like how you support writers on Twitter and suspect we could be pals IRL.” That second one is kinda loose and borderline stalkery and I would still NEVER pitch them if they weren’t looking for YA Contemporary. Hence why I really want to be BFFs with Janet Reid, alias Query Shark, but will likely never pitch her because she’s not looking for YA.
  4. The timing thing got tricky. It’s kinda like speed dating in that each interaction is only supposed to be three minutes, but that was very loosely enforced. After all, if an agent wanted to keep talking about my book I wasn’t going to run away. Lucky for me my pitch seemed to be good enough to get interest right away from the agents I pitched and I was able to jump up at the bell, conversation resolved. Other writers complained about not getting enough time with an agent because the previous writer took too long at the table. I sympathize with both. It’s a bummer to not get your time, but also if an agent is interested and wanted to blow through the bell, who am I to arrest a potential career-maker due to an easily disregarded rule?
  5. I didn’t have business cards, and it seemed like everyone else did. I was horrified, and whipped out a one-pager and had my husband pick it up at a copy shop for me before the pitches. I forgot to hand a single one out. You want their cards, not the other way around. They’re not going to get in touch with you, you get in touch with them if they invite you to. I’ll probably order cards for upcoming conferences just to have my $h*t together, but it wound up being a non-issue.
  6. I wrote out a pitch on my iPad and referred to it. I asked each agent if they minded and each one said no, and a few expressed that they were glad I had notes and was prepared. I made a point to not check in with eye contact.
  7. My pitch was too long. I didn’t get enough of a conversation going with each of the agents, despite them requesting pages. I’m kind of kicking myself for that. I talked too fast as well, but that was probably nervousness.

I pitched eight agents, and got eight levels of interest, but all were positive. I definitely vibed more with some agents, but that has to do with my book as well as communication styles, demographics, timing, everything.

The Sunday sessions were very different in tone.

The common thread was, “play it cool” and for good reason.

I, like most of the attendees probably, found a lot of things to consider and rework in my query and manuscript. Although my manuscript has been drafted and rewritten, edited, beta-read, rewritten, re-beta-read, edited, polished, edited again, and is finally at a point where I’m ready to send it out, the aforementioned Janet Reid made a really good point, “Don’t sent out your query tomorrow,” she said kinda (I’m paraphrasing.) “Take a deep breath, revise, show the agents that you learned something at the conference. Plus nobody is working until after Labor Day anyway.”

So here it is, Labor Day.

I have two emails drafted, six to go, and then I hit the much longer query tracking document as the passes and no-responses pile up.

As of tomorrow, I am officially querying. Wish me luck.

Have any questions about WDC or Pitch Slam? I’ll try my best to answer! Comment below or tweet me @SarahHillDarrow.

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