Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Learning from a Group Pitch Session

Instead of doing individual pitch sessions, Jennifer Weltz interviewed writers in groups of eight. This was invaluable because I could listen to other pitches and see what worked and what didn’t. The authors in the room had excellent ideas and Jennifer gave great advice to all of us.
After introducing herself, Jennifer asked us to go around in a circle and summarize our books in two or three sentences. Half-way through, she stopped us and said people were talking about the time period and not the book itself. She’s already familiar with the history; she wants to know what we did with it.
When one person finished, she even said, “But you still haven’t told me what your books is about.” She gave him the chance to try again, and his second try was much better.
I want to give a big shout-out to Shelley Watters for hosting her Twitter Pitch Competition. I can't tell you how much it helped me with this: 
When it was my turn, I said, “My book is about a Vestal Virgin who’s accused of losing her virginity by a vengeful priest who failed to seduce her. The only way to prove her innocence is to show she’s favored of the gods by performing a miracle.” That was two sentences, but Jennifer still looked interested, so I continued. “Tuccia has struggled with her faith ever since another Vestal Virgin was wrongly executed, so she doesn’t believe Vesta will save her. She decides to take a leap of faith and carries a sieve of water from the river Tiber to the Temple of Vesta.”
Next, Jennifer asked us why we wanted to write our books. What made us passionate about them, and why should she be passionate too?
Many of the authors talked about how they personally discovered the history or why they love history in general. She reminded us she wanted to know why the story was good.
Another complaint she had was that some people didn't say anything about their main characters, and that's the most important part of the book.
My answer went something like this: “The Vestal Virgins were fascinating women. They had to watch a fire constantly, and if they failed in any of their duties, the gods would lose favor with them and Rome could be destroyed. They were arguably the most important women in Rome, but while most people know who they are, few people know much about them.”
I can’t remember how I transitioned into this, but I also told her what I said to Shana about why if Tuccia lost her virginity, the book would be depressing and meaningless.
“That would be a bummer,” Jennifer agreed.
“Exactly. My book is more about Tuccia’s conflict between believing the other vestal was innocent and believing in the gods. She wants to be a good Vestal Virgin, but because of her doubt, she feels inadequate. She’s lived her life in doubt and fear, and when she gets accused, she decides she doesn’t want her life to end that way. That’s why she takes a leap of faith.”
Suddenly, what she said about focusing pitches on plot made perfect sense. I couldn't just tell her about my time period because regardless of the setting, I could have written anything. For all she knew, my book might have been a bummer. 

By this time the session was over, so she went around and told us what she thought of our pitches. She pointed to me and said, “I want to read your book.” I tried to suppress a grin, but I’m sure it was easy to tell how happy that made me.
She told two people she didn’t represent their genre (alternative history). That sucks for them because no matter what they said, she still wouldn’t be interested. One person gave a good pitch, but Jennifer said she wasn’t as into the story as another agent might be, so they wouldn’t be a good pair. She gave her card to another person. To some of the others, she said she didn’t get enough of a feel for the characters and what the book was about.

I always wondered what it's like to be an agent and have the power to, in one sentence, cause great disappointment or give someone so much joy.


Tune in tomorrow for a religious discussion I had with Kamran Pasha.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to read this from your pov. I think one of my favorite moments at the conference was when Kristen, another attendee in your pitch group, came up to me to tell me that you'd nailed the pitch. She said, "Teralyn did the best of everyone." Yay you!!!

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