What I Learned at the Algonkian Conference

There’s so much to blog about, I don’t quite know where to start. I could start with our trip back and the turbulence in the plane, my sudden birth as a Catholic where I tried to pray and say Catholicly kind of things, or when our connecting flight was delayed because Frontier Airlines couldn’t find their 2nd Officer. I mean, he was missing. Gone.

But let’s go back a little bit. My trip to New York was mainly to attend the Algonkian Pitch and Shop Conference. Five days to work on a pitch for your novel and then about three minutes with four different editors to sell yourself and your work. And I do mean sell yourself. One of the main things I learned about the conference is that publishers aren’t just looking for a great story. They want a whole package. (More on that in a minute.)

The conference was intense. The first day my group of sixteen spent all day listening to each other’s pitches and offering criticism. My pitch was well liked, so I felt good that I had sort of pre-pitched it online with you guys (whoever reads the blog). The next day we met with our first editor.

For other writers out there struggling to sell a novel, I thought I’d share some info with you. Would I recommend the conference? Yes. Absolutely. But you’ll need to be tough and have your work together. It’s not a love fest that’s for sure.

So. Here’s what I learned at the conference:

1. Shorter pitches are more successful.

You really need to condense your entire novel into one of those back flap pages you read when trying to pick a book. You need to get through a sense of your voice, the uniqueness of the book, and hook the reader with wanting them to read more. Save long explanations for your novel. The pitch is more advertising than anything.

 

2. Begin your pitch with one or two ‘comps’, that is, comparing your work to someone similar.

I compared mine to Jennifer Crusie and Nick Hornby.

 

 

3. Publishers want writers with established platforms.

What does this mean? It means they want writers who are not only serious about craft, but about promoting themselves. In the first pitch, we listened as a group as each person talked to the agent and I noticed she got a little exasperated when people didn’t have a blog or were networking. On the final editor pitch, I was able to say that I narrate audiobooks, have two books published through the small press Champagne Books, and have a social networking following on Facebook, Twitter, and through my blog. The editors want that. So do what you need to to start building a following. Promote yourself. Have confidence.

 

4. Don’t defend your work.

When you defend your work to an editor, you sound confrontational. Accept what they say. They know what they’re doing.

 

5. They might like your pitch, but if they don’t represent your type of work, they won’t choose you.

So, focus your pitch to the right editor or agent.

 

6. Editors know within about thirty seconds whether they want your work or not.

It’s true. They either like you or they don’t.

 

7. If your story is amazing, then none of the above rules matter.

Truly. There was one woman in our group whose pitch was so engaging and the story so interesting, that I think every editor asked for her manuscript. It didn’t matter that she’s a new writer with no publishing credentials or platform. Rightly so. She has a great story. Her story also crossed a few genres. It could go into mainstream or multicultural or into a literary market.

 

I actually made some new girlfriends at this conference and that was also a benefit. Writing is such a lonely endeavor, that it’s nice to have a little support group. And if you read my blog, then you know I’m all for therapy and support groups.

Next blog, I’ll talk about the fun things that I did in New York and my adventures with Kealoha. Let’s just say I was serious quirky writer by day, but by night, I was full-fledged awkward (and slightly intoxicated) Tanya.