A Feast of Days (Part 3): Pitch Fest

Photo by Michael L. Stanton

Today’s guest post is by emerging writer Darrelyn Saloom, who recently attended the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference, and is offering up a 4-part narrative on the experience. Darrelyn is a regular guest here at No Rules. Follow her on Twitter or read her previous posts.

On the thirteenth of November I woke up panicked by my surroundings. A ceiling fan wobbled above me and my eyesight blurred just enough to turn my world into a mirage. With no snoring husband beside me, it took a few minutes to remember I was in a hotel room in Oxford, Mississippi. Relieved, I stretched in bed and basked in solitude. Then a thought snatched my reprieve—I’m at the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference and the pitch fest is today. 

Into the shower I tried to remember the new blurb I had practiced on co-writer, Deirdre Gogarty, last night after a reception at Memory House, the former home of William Faulkner’s brother John and his family. We had mingled with guests, instructors, and authors in the century-old Greek revival. In the dining room an antique table held silver trays of chocolates and sandwiches. The bar was set up on the long and winding back porch, so we spilled from dining room to Victorian veranda all evening.

The images of the night swooped up to greet me as I stood before the bathroom mirror and practiced my pitch. I recalled one of the literary agents at the party telling me I didn’t need to bother standing in line to pitch her the next day. She said she was interested in the memoir and to just send her the proposal. Such a relief! But Deirdre and I had traveled to Oxford to pitch two literary agents. So I rushed off to eat breakfast in a hurry to blunder my way through a day of calamity.    

Down the elevator and then a long hallway, I polished my pitch on anyone who’d listen. Deirdre met me in the hotel’s breakfast area, so we filled our plates and sat down to discuss the day’s upcoming events. While collaborating on the memoir, I learned how Deirdre spent a lifetime struggling with shyness and knew about her unease in social settings. As she ate, she allowed me to babble away and never interrupted my pitiful delusion that I should do the pitching. We would go to the pitch fest together, but I would do the talking.

We made our way to the third floor of the Overby Center and found long queues had already bloomed, the longest one stretched in front of the agent who already requested our proposal and the agent we came to pitch. I’d spoken to him often during the conference, so I was surprised my palms were slick while my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I was digging in my bag for a cough drop when he waved and said, “No need to wait. Just send the proposal.” 

Stunned, I pulled Deirdre to the side of the crowded room and told her I needed to practice my overly memorized pitch on a professional somebody. And that somebody had just taken a seat. I pointed to author Dinty W. Moore of Brevity, a nonfiction literary journal. He wore a long-sleeved, black shirt and beamed a welcoming smile as we approached his table. “The agents just want us to send the proposal,” I told him. “So I’ve had no opportunity to deliver my pitch. Can I practice on you?”

Dinty W. Moore

“Sure,” he said in a booming voice as he looked from me to Deirdre and back again. “Okay,” I continued. “Well, um …” A buzzing in my ears, I continued to talk but could no longer hear my voice. Dinty Moore’s smile disappeared and he tilted his head in apparent confusion. Not a good sign. He then crossed his thick arms in front of his wide chest and turned to Deirdre as I floated out of my body. I’ve done this before but only under traumatic circumstances. 

I hovered on the ceiling and observed Deirdre’s mouth move effortlessly. Next thing I knew the affable Moore again flashed his brilliant smile. He then swung his fist in victory. “Now that’s a pitch!” he declared in a timbre born for public speaking. The excitement of his exuberance brought me back to my body. So I added the poetic ending that I’d lost in the humiliation of the moment. Again, I drew the tilt of his head.  

Deirdre and I were walking back to the hotel when it dawned on me that, although shy, she had managed to climb into a boxing ring and fight to become a world champion. She’d been interviewed often throughout her career and had been featured in numerous newspapers and magazines. She’d graced televised chat shows and documentaries. She even sparred with Regis Philbin on Regis and Kathy Lee. What was I thinking?      

“So what did you say to Dinty Moore?” I asked the champ. I had to ask her because I didn’t hear a word of her pitch. The buzzing ears, the trip to the ceiling, I had missed the selling point, the story, everything. Deirdre calmly explained that she had told him all the things I’d been talking about for days. She had not practiced in front of a mirror, or bombarded everyone who would listen.

She had ad libbed the whole thing.

Did you know? This year Dinty W. Moore wrote a book, Crafting the Personal Essay, with Writer’s Digest. Go check it out.

Or read an excerpt, “The Personal (Not Private) Essay”

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25 thoughts on “A Feast of Days (Part 3): Pitch Fest

  1. Darrelyn Saloom

    My goodness, Beau. You should have told me. I hope you weren’t enthralled because you are Deirdre’s American coach and make a helluva great character in the book. Lord knows, I enjoyed writing about you.

    But seriously, even if you had consulted me, my ego probably wouldn’t have budged. Best way to put that sucker in its place is with a good dose of embarrassment and humility. But that lesson has left an indelible mark, and next time I’ll move it out of the way.

    Thanks for leaving a comment, by the way. That goes for all of you I have not yet thanked: Barbara, Jill, Cindy, Carolyn, Sally, and Jillian. Hope you come back for Part 4. 🙂

  2. Beau Williford

    I could have told you that Deirdre would never freeze-up! She is the ultimate professional, both in and out of the ring. When I read the manuscript, I was completely enthralled,and I knew the story. I believe the book will be a BEST SELLER, and there will be many agents scratching their heads for not reading the manuscript.
    Best of Luck,
    Beau Williford

  3. Sally G

    Darrelyn..It’s 6am, I’m exhausted already but you gave me my first big smile of the day!! What a funny rendering of a terrifying moment. I would have loved to have heard what Deirdre said to the man in the black sweater while you were busy floating around the ceiling!! Candid and honest as usual. How nice for us that you and D. collided together from beginnings across the Pond. No wonder you were asked to just send in the manuscript–I can’t wait until the movie comes out!!!!

  4. Cindy Bullion

    Darrelyn, I am so excited for you! Reading about your experiences at Oxford is almost like being a fly on the wall; I felt like I was there with you.
    Looking forward to the Part 4!
    Cindy B.

  5. Jill George

    Loved part three. You make me smile just picturing you during all of this pitching. 1st, I would have been happy but alittle PO’d that the two I came to pitch gave me the "send it" from what I had gone thru etc. 2nd, like you, I would have been elated to Pitch anyway to anyone who would listen, just to DO it! Once again you made me feel like I was you standing there. I know you made Deidre tell you in detail exactly "what" she said. But that can remain between you two. Can’t wait for part four. Excellant!

  6. Barbara Weibel

    How I wanted to read EXACTLY what Deidre said to Moore! And how wonderful for you that TWO agents asked for your manuscript. Makes me wonder what part four could possibly be about. But I guess I’ll just have to wait for the final installment. Happy New Year, Darrelyn.

  7. cynthia newberry martin

    Darrelyn, they’ve all been wonderful, but this installment is the best! Not an unnecessary word in the post. Strong verbs that put me right in the moment and drew me forward. I agree that I felt as if I were there too. And what a story–Deirdre’s and the pitch fest. Looking forward to reading #4 and the memoir. Happy New Year!

  8. kathryn magendie

    I do believe I lost my comment – it was brilliant by the way -brilliance inspired by Darrelyn’s engaging and witty writing (and if the aforementioned comment eventually shows up, forget what I said about it being brilliant :-D)

    Darrelyn’s honesty here is refreshing and endears her even more to me.

    Now, I since I can’t remember what I wrote except for this: you were asked to submit the proposal – this is WonderFul news! They don’t do that because they like you (well, they can like you but . . . anyway!…), or feel sorry for you, or because just because – they ask for it because they see its potention- so Y’all Go!

  9. Jenn


    Thank you for sharing all the lessons you are learning along the way. I am thrilled to hear about the interest in the memoir & can’t wait to get it in my hands.

    Sounds like you & Deirdre make the perfect team!

  10. Julie Innis

    Candid, funny, and oh so real! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and insights with us, Darrelyn. Excited for the next installment, and beyond!

  11. Darrelyn Saloom

    I usually try to thank everyone for leaving a comment by finding them on Facebook, Twitter, or their Web site, but I couldn’t find everyone, so thank you for your comment.

    Lessons learned:

    1) Do not over memorize your pitch. Know your story, and of course you do because you wrote it. But ad lib works because questions may be asked spontaneously and that throws an "overly memorized pitch" in the dumpster.

    2) As Susan Cushman said, most people are nervous. So, if possible, take a world champion of women’s boxing with you. Or volunteer to work conferences the way Susan does because she did a lot of public speaking and spent time with agents, editors, and publishers which, I imagine, helps to lessen anxiety. Hopefully, next time Susan pitches a book she’ll let us know about her experience since she’ll soon be blogging here, too.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to comment during this busy time of year.

  12. Susan Cushman

    Since I wasn’t pitching this year, due to my responsibilities as one of the conference directors, it was fun being a fly on the wall as I moved around the pitch room, keeping the lines moving and watching the clock for the agents, editors and publishers. But I could feel the tension in the room as I remembered my own nervousness the previous year when I was standing in the lines waiting to give my pitch. You captured it perfectly, Darrelyn. I could even see Dinty’s head cocking to the side–"vintage Dinty."

  13. Jane Bretl

    Now I have caught up on all three installments of this story — and I cannot wait for the fourth! I am not surprised that you had two agents ask for your proposal without the pitch, and I am impressed that you faced your fear to pitch anyway, to anyone. What a scene you have painted; I wish I had been a fly on that Mississippi wall. Now, if you ever find yourself floating up by that ceiling again? Remember to glance down at that beautiful, confident writer who is you and hustle back down. I believe agents will want to hear what you have to say.

    Thanks for recreating this adventure in such vivid detail that I smell the coffee and feel the excitement in the room!

  14. Dawn Herring

    I did not miss the irony of that post, with Diedre giving the pitch with no practice after listening to you! It’s awesome the interest shown in your manuscript! Good luck to you in all of it. 🙂

    Thanks for an entertaining experience!

    Be refreshed,

  15. George LaCas

    Great piece, Darrelyn. It makes for interesting reading, even more so as your blog posts about your book and research comprise their own narrative: the long and winding road from creation to publication.

    Keep them coming!

  16. Ezra Barnes

    I came across a piece of yours earlier this week, and have been enthralled by your writing style Darrelyn! If possible I would love to read your manuscript. I’ve been an avid boxing fan my entire life. (my father is as Irish as they come :/ ). My email address is arabianknight999@gmail.com

    I would love to chat sometime– Ezra

  17. Marisa Birns

    This post had all the elements of a good page-turning story! Loved that you wanted to find someone to pitch your story to for the practice. 🙂

    And I guess the main point one can take away from this is pitching one’s story doesn’t need to be rehearsed and spic-span clean. The selling point is simply the story.

  18. Heidi

    Yet another wonderful installment, Darrelyn. I’ve tried describing my book in multiple settings and always feel I am completely blowing it. However I suppose when someone responds enthusiastically I must be doing something right. I can really relate to the dramatic way you’ve laid out this scene, the nerves causing you to not even hear yourself or others. As I’ve said to you before, your craft as a writer is clear. You pull me in with compelling details in just the same way a piece of fiction would, and it always leaves me wanting more. Also, I have to say it is to your credit that although BOTH agents asked for your proposal you still decided to gut it out and pitch. Well done.

  19. Erika Robuck

    I love it. You’ve perfectly captured the stress of a pitch fest. I go to that circle of hell in January at the Writers Digest Conference Pitch Slam. Last time I did one of those I had a mega-agent stop me five seconds in and say, "Stop. You sound like you rehearsed. Just tell me why I should read your book." Someone else told me to pretend I was telling someone with a short attention span about a great movie I just saw.

    I love the honesty of this post and the way you set up your scenes. I know you’ll get an agent, and I really look forward to reading your book.


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