When I first pulled out my laptop and started plugging away at a novel, I didn't know the first thing about getting a book published.
Wait? You're telling me word counts MATTER? Are you saying there won't be a frenzied bidding war over my 310K novel?
But it's so good! All my sisters and friends and my UPS guy say so.
Once I got a clue about the current market instead of the market of say, 1845, my google searches on writing started to surpass my other Googling passions: Bono and Web M.D or as I like to refer to it: Yes-You-Are-Going-To- Die-From-That-Seemingly-Harmless-Symptom-Dot-Com.
And as I did my research on becoming a too-legit-to-quit writer, over and over again, there was one suggestion that kept popping out at me.
If you're serious about writing, get thee to a writers' conference.
And I thought to myself, "I could never do that."
Because, you see, I'm shy.
Yes. I know you're sputtering and laughing in disbelief right now.
To attend a conference? To walk into a convention center filled with hundreds of total strangers? To EAT with those total strangers?
Way too far out of my comfort zone.
But writing conferences were supposed to be a great way to hone your craft, glean sparkly jewels of writer wisdom from bestselling authors, network with other writers and the big one, pitch your novel to literary agents.
And I'm not talking your best curveball.
Pitches fall into two general categories.
There's the elevator pitch, which is essentially a snappy, concise, (about 30 seconds) summation of your novel, something you could rattle off to an agent or anyone else who asks, "So, what's your book about?"
It's aptly named the elevator pitch because if you have the chance to pitch an agent on an elevator, you should go for it.
Actually, if you have a chance to pitch to an agent at any time or place during a conference, you are encouraged to jump all over it.
Except for the bathroom.
Aspiring authors are told over and over again to never pitch an agent while they're taking care of their potty business.
And I'm thinking: Really? Does that even need to be said out loud? It reminds me of the warning label on my stroller, back in my daughters' baby days, that read: ATTENTION: REMOVE INFANT BEFORE FOLDING UP STROLLER.
Every time I used to pull one of my babies out of that stroller, I'd glance at that essential caution and have a little chuckle. And no, I never forgot to take the baby out before folding up the stroller.
There was the time my husband forgot to take the baby out of the stroller when he parked in stroller parking at Disney and we all strolled into Country Bear Jamboree. But that's a story for another day. That baby is 17 now. And she's still not sitting in stroller parking at Country Bear Jamboree, just in case you were worried. We remembered her, thankfully.
But I was talking about stating the obvious.
Honestly, if you have to be told NOT to slide your pages under a bathroom stall, well then, maybe you shouldn't be at a writers' conference or, really, even in public, for that matter.
But besides the bathroom, you can pretty much pitch an agent an elevator pitch any time you can trap one of them in a corner.
Then there's the longer pitch, which is about 2-3 minutes, in my case.
The longer pitch is for an actual pitch session where you have the opportunity to sit down, one on one, with an agent and try your hot-doggiest to convince said agent to take a look at your book.
I remember the first time I read about pitches, I said out loud to my ever-present pack of horse-dogs, "There is no way I am EVER doing that."
I said the same thing about camping. Unfortunately, I've since camped twice in my life. Gross.
And I vowed I would never color my hair, but now? I've discovered there is magic in platinum blonde.
I also said I'd never eat sushi, drive a minivan, ride a mule up to the top of a scary-ass mountain, climb on top of a hissing camel, own a cat, wear sensible shoes, like any song by Rihanna, drink coffee, tell off a priest, (Sorry about that one, God), or wear baby blue eyeshadow.
I also uttered those same words in the fourth grade when my best friend told me how babies were made.
I have never been more elated in my life to walk the freak away from my comfort zone.
From the moment I got there, it was just one fantastical writer's ride.
I checked into my hotel right behind the keynote speaker and bestselling author James Rollins.
James already had a booming career as a veterinarian, when he decided to start writing. He chalked up rejection after rejection, his no's climbing up into the 50's, with one heartless agent even sending him back a kick-in-the-gut note that said, "This is unpublishable." And yet, he kept writing until the day came when not one but two agents wanted to represent him. His story was inspirational—his message loud and clear—keep your head up and keep the words coming. And just as impressive as his writing story, is the fact that he can spay a cat in under 30 seconds.
For the record, he did not demonstrate spaying a cat for me at check-in. He filled us in on that neat fact during his keynote speech.
Directly after checking in, I headed to the elevator where a lovely woman waiting for the elevator asked me if I was there for the conference. She held out her hand and introduced herself.
As an agent. As in an agent I was planning on pitching to that weekend.
I immediately started speaking my second language, the language of Gibberish, as I introduced myself. I paired this with my trademark nervous flailing hand motions. And...
I think I might have spit on her a little bit.
Odds are, I did, in fact, spit on her. I have an alarming amount of saliva according to my dentist.
And also according to my children, who are embarrassed on a regular basis when I drool without warning. And not only do I drool, I always say, "Did you see that? I just drooled." Because, hey, no reason to ignore the obvious.
By the time the elevator came I was surrounded by agents who all got on the elevator. With me.
Hello, Elevator Pitch.
Here I was standing on that elevator, sucking in saliva, surrounded by agents and I couldn't even remember my name, much less what my novel was about.
In hindsight, I should have slapped the stop button and said, "Okay folks, let's do this. Right here. Right now. Listen up. And please disregard any streams flowing from my mouth as I speak. Hopefully you all know Gibberish?"
But I didn't.
Thank Heaven. I probably would have been the talk of the agents that weekend. And not in a good way.
The slobbering girl on the elevator who spastically mimed her pitch.
And even though I missed a fantastic opportunity to mass pitch, from that moment on, the entire weekend was an intoxicating experience.
I spent the weekend making fast friends out of fellow writers who understand, who really get it. Who spend most of their time in their own daze of a writer world, just like me, hammering out plots, characters, scenes in their head. Most likely while in their jammies, too.
I was so enlightened, thrilled, motivated and plain out of my mind happy to be there. I walked into Texas all by my lonesome and I left there with an instant tribe. Every time I sat down or lingered for a half a second, whether it was in the main lobby of the conference center, over the giant array of cookies, in a class and yes, even at a meal, there was someone new next to me, extending a hand, flashing a smile. Love and acceptance everywhere and people so eager and willing to boost each other up.
I could hear Michael Jackson with a chorus of angels above me, singing, "You are not alone . . . " Really, I could.
One of my new fast friends and fellow Chicago Girl, the phenomenal Ms Birdy Jones.
My new tribe and I practiced our pitches on each other. We shared our query journey highs and lows. We celebrated each other's pitch victories. And bolstered each other up when a pitch got a "not for me."
I even rubbed a very nervous writer's shoulders, like a prize-fighter coach, getting her ready for the big one-two.
And one of the best things of all, I got to spend a good part of that weekend, with my oh-so-fabulous, writing friend and partner, Ash.
It was a true privilege to experience this extraordinary weekend with such a fine friend.
We broke bread together. Slept together. (Calm down boys, in separate beds.) Talked until our eyelids were forcing themselves shut in fatigue. Flitted about the cocktail party.
Took pictures in the bathroom.
Where we might have staged a silly photo shot in honor of the Slide-The-Manuscript-Under-The-Door Move.
And took classes together.
The classes. Oh. My. Goodness.
I had so many light bulb moments.
Jodi Thomas in her Writing Deeper class taught us to stop calling our character, characters. We need to refer to them as our people. And as any writer will tell you, those characters we've plucked out of thin air are, exactly that, our people. They live their lives inside our heads, 24/7, even infiltrating our dreams. That is, if we're lucky.
Jody taught us that in order to keep a reader's attention, we needed to be there in the moment really feeling our story, before we can expect others to feel that same way. She told us to describe what's not there. Oh, how I loved that little nugget. She told us to describe what summertime tastes like. And to walk the land of our story. Walk in the shoes of our people. Oh, just repeating her fine, fine words gives me goose bumps and makes me aspire to be a better writer.
During Candace Haven's Fast Draft class, I think my mouth just hung open the whole time as I furiously wrote trying to keep up with Candace and her game-changing style of writing. Her lessons have reshaped the way I write.
For me, her methods keep the creative juices fired up, instead of what I had been doing, stifling my juice.
She believes in writing your first draft, fast and furious, without looking back, without changing a word, so that you don't get caught in the Bermuda Triangle of Writing—going back and back and back again rewriting the same chapters. This is my biggest sin. My perfectionism pulls me back into those deadly waters every time. But by allowing yourself to make mistakes and to just write—that big, bad voice that resides in every writer, (Candace calls it your internal editor), the one constantly telling you your words aren't good enough, doesn't have time to keep up.
Candace preaches a mighty talk, a belief that writing should be not something you do when all other obligations in your life are fulfilled, but a course of action that takes precedence over everything else, temporarily, while you hammer out a fast draft.
She believes in a style of take-no-prisoners writing. Write and write hard. The harder you write, the more you fatigue your senses, the more your subconscious takes over, allowing that internal editor to fade away, bringing out a raw voice, the voice that all writers crave.
Candace says to believe in the magic. And I do believe. Oh, how I believe.
In fact, as she empowered me with her voodoo writing powers, I recalled writing one of the most pivotal scenes in my book. It's a good scene. In fact, a great scene.
And it came to me on a day when I'd been writing for hours. My family was all home from their various school and work days, the household was alive with frenetic activity. But I couldn't stop. The words were pouring out of me and I needed to capture them. My hubs talking his booming talk on his cell phone, the girls, loud and bubbly making food messes in the kitchen, the TV blaring and my dogs barking furiously at the ever-present squirrels outside, were all big distractions. I couldn't find the quiet, until I went into my tiny water closet, turned on the fan, put the toilet seat lid down, sat cross-legged on the toilet and let that scene unfold.
I was depleted from a big day of writing, annoyed by all the chaos around me and not that comfortable, sitting yoga style on a toilet. But the words that came to me on that day, on that toilet, are some of my best. Ever.
I wouldn't have even realized that until Candace showed me the way.
Every single class I took from Inside Publishing, taught by the extraordinary and knowledgeable Jill Marsal, super- agent, to James Robbins' rock-star classes, where he shut the door and gave us some kick-ass advice for our little aspiring authors's ears only and every other lesson sandwiched in between was utterly fabulous.
I walked around that two day event, feeling like every atom in my writerly soul was just humming in euphoria.
And that was before I pitched.
Writing my two different pitch versions was a mite agonizing and it took me about a week.
When I finally got them down pat, I practiced them constantly for the next three weeks. My family started fleeing the room anytime I walked in, knowing that I would try to corral them for another pitch practice.
By the time my first pitch appointment came, strangely, I wasn't that nervous. My war cry had gone from, "I could never do that." To "Hell yeah, I am DOING this."
I signed up for several pitches. In fact, I got so addicted to pitching, I would have signed up for more, but I ran out of time.
I'm not going to talk about the outcome of those pitches because I don't want to jinx any good writer juju I might have going on.
But I'll tell you this: I decided I would reward myself with the conference center's crackalicious giant cookies every time I got a request for pages.
I had myself some cookies. In fact, I ate a cookie every time I finished a pitching session.
My ass is not thanking me.
But my little writer's heart is.
I even got to pitch to the agent I spit on. I introduced myself and she said she remembered me, as she discreetly wiped imaginary things off her face.
I'm happy to say, I ate a cookie after talking to her. And more importantly, I didn't spit on her. Or on any other agent, for that matter.
Now that, Internet, is what I call a smashing success.
Even if I get a solid wall of rejections from these agents, attending the DFW Writers Conference was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done for myself as a writer. It was like eating cake without ever gaining a pound, dancing onstage with Bono, (as God is my witness, I will make it happen one day), and having a lifetime of fabulous hair days all rolled into one.
And I'm going back next year. Anyone care to join me? DFW Writers' Conference—here's the link. There's a Super Early Bird Special that's going on, I think, until tomorrow. Only $225.00, a deal. Because the knowledge, the empowerment, the agent connections, but most importantly, the tribe you'll walk away with—that, my friends, you can't buy for any price.
Today's Definite Download: "Human" by the Killers, for all my DFW tribe and my writer friends everywhere.