Day 1: In the history of time, things haven’t always gone well. Wars, plagues, telethons, etc, don’t always work out as one might imagine they would when they began. But the Writer’s Digest conference was no such occassion. Everything, friends, and I mean everything, went smoothly.
Allow me to specify: The keynote speaker was none other than my fellow This Writer’s Life
soul mate columnist Jodi Picoult. I’m sure they were heavily debating which one of us should give the keynote since we’re both so ridiculously successful, and probably flipped a coin or something bc they couldn’t decide, and I was probably heads, and it came up tails and they probably debated just giving it to me anyway, but eventually decided to be fair. Her talk, which was on all of the research she does for her novels, was great, and her personality is very dynamic for a writer. Also, she asked the question, “are you sure there isn’t a little bit of incest?” to her mother, in college, while searching for something to have angst about. That, friends, is humor.
The next part of the day involved deciding which session you would attend. I was torn between attending Maria’s session to provide moral support and attending my friend John Warner’s (author of Fondling Your Muse) session titled “How to Make Humor Your Bitch”. Notice how I said my friend before i mentioned his session? That was to subtly inform you that i have writer friends. Anyway, I went to Maria’s because she was reading my Life Changingly Awesome Query Letter to Outside Magazine as an example of how not to query an editor and I wanted to make sure she was annunciating. And, again, as things went all day, her talk went well and my query letter even got some laughs, especially when Maria said “drop on your ass”.
There was another session, but I spent that one wandering around, taking the “freebies” that they handed out, and pretending to be on my cell phone involved in an important debate with my agent about money. “Well, you can tell Random House that that baby ain’t going nowhere unless I see six figures,” I’d say very loudly whenever anyone got in earshot. I lost my street cred when my phone actually rang while I was pulling the stunt, so I gracefully retired to the restroom for the rest of the session to sit down in the stall with my penknife and scratch KA + Jodi 4 Eva into the wall.
Lunch came next. Editorial Point Re: Lunch: Lunches at convention centers freak me out, mostly because I watched the scene in the movie Fight Club where they do terrible things to the food, and I can never not think about that when they are serving 500 plates of chicken in a white sauce. My only defense is to be really friendly to the staff and hope that they make those types of decisions about who to give toxic plates to post-salad, targeting the rude people. Yes, I know that makes no sense, but I need to be able to rationalize why I still cleaned my plate and ate some stuff off of John Warner’s as well. Actually this is probably a conversation better suited for my therapist. Moving on…
The book signing. Jodi’s line wrapped around the conference room and out of New York into New Jersey, so I didnt’ get a chance to say hello and do our super secret This Writer’s Life handshake, which I’m sure devastated her. The highlight of the book signing for me was getting a free pink t-shirt with the logo “Redneck Debutantes” from a woman who told me her book (not yet completed) was basically “Steel Magnolias meets Sex and the City with casting by Chevy Chase”. I don’t really understand what that means, but, as I type this, I’m wearing the shirt.
There was another session, but i didn’t go to that, as I spent most of the time in the “Green Room” backstage watching as the agents straggled in for the Pitch Slam, helping direct them to their right rooms and drinking the complimentary waters. Most of the agents are older and have that congenial librarian look, and everyone seemed to know everyone else, and, as they sat drinking sweetened iced teas and eating cookies they talked in a language I couldn’t really understand, always about “pubs” and “auctions” and “markets” and whatnot. I saw a few younger agents wearing hip clothing and tried to make eye contact with them and initiate convo’s about cool new Indie bands, Emoticons, and YouTube, but it was all for naught, as I had drunk too much water, and had to retire to the bathroom before the Pitch Slam began, sans penknife.
The Slam: Maria and I were given the job to watch over one of the rooms during the Slam. This is how it works: for two hours, writers have three minutes to convince an agent that they should look at their book. You try and see as many agents as possible, and you try and seem like you know what in the hell your book is about, where you see it being placed, why you’re the person they want, what part Ashton Kutcher will play in your movie etc, etc, etc. Our room was mostly non-fiction, and that, coupled with the fact that most of the attendees are novelists and this year we had 50% more agents than last year, meant that none of the lines in our room were very long and you could probably pitch all the agents there in 55 minutes. This was a good thing and it kept the
unwashed masses happy. I had the pleasure of keeping time and yelling out “Ooonnneeee Minute!” when there was one minute left, and then ringing the bell and saying “Next!!” when they were done. I tried various voices during the “One minute” yell and think the auctioneer meets Kentucky Derby announcer at a loud Applebees bar was the best variation. Some people inevitably try tricks, like having the art for their book already picked out and put on a card, or self publishing demo copies of the book, or getting up on their chair and singing (seriously) but the people that had the most success were always the self-assured people who were confident they’d written a good book, had done their homework about which agents at the Slam worked with books similar to theirs, and kept it simple and fresh and clean. Amazing how that works out…
Anyway, that’s pretty much it from the conference. There was a dinner that night for the speakers, agents and WD staff, but we aren’t going to talk about that, other than to say that the bartender was pouring heavy and I may or may not have spent 20 minutes talking to Agent Stephanie Evans in a faux German accent. I took Thursday off from the BEA to recover and garner strength for today, when things really start to jump off. I’ll keep you in the know.
Question to Ponder: If you’re the “celebrity chef” for Applebees does it really mean you’re a celebrity chef?
Drop It Like It’s Hot,
Ps- Pictured Below: The lovely ladies of Steel Magnolia’s competing for Best Big Hair and a bonus movie pic from Fried Green Tomatoes, which I originally thought was the same film. Now all I need is a picture from Beaches, and I’ll have listed every DVD my mother owns….