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Prepare, Participate, Win: How to Use the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam & Other Conference Events as Career Opportunities

At writer’s conferences, you have opportunities to get immediate feedback and engagement with agents and editors. Anna Sabino shares her journey to representation and eventual publication through her preparation at the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam event.

I arrived at my first writer’s conference to learn about the industry and plan a strategy for my unfinished book. I am a proponent of the reverse-engineering process—seeing the big picture of what I want to achieve, then creating a strategy to get there.

This guest post is by Anna Sabino. Sabino is the designer behind the jewelry brand Lucid New York, which she started over a decade ago after leaving her Wall Street career path. Her jewelry collections are sold in over 100 stores worldwide and have been featured by the editors of People StyleWatch, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, the NY Times blog the Moment, and more. Anna is a contributor to Huffington Post, Thrive Global on Medium, and a certified, co-active career and life coach. She speaks, coaches, and leads workshops focusing on growing your creative business, creating multiple streams of income, and working remotely. She walks the talk running her New York based business remotely from Hawaii. She shares valuable business advice for artists and other creatives at AnnaSabino.com. Her book, Your Creative Career, will be published by Career Press in January 2018.

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It was August 2015 and I was at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City, ready to soak in all the information I could about the publishing business. I had a nonfiction book idea and over 20,000 words written. My answer to the staple question of what my book was about was as general and vague as you could get: I wanted to write about change, entrepreneurship, and mindfulness.

After a few days of going to every workshop and panel I could, I decided to attend my first pitch slam session. I wasn’t ready, but I knew that the refined concept of the book wouldn’t just reveal itself to me overnight. I wanted it to be based on feedback and potential alterations. I wanted to hear first impressions and reactions from agents.

The format of the pitch session was similar to a speed-networking event. I had an opportunity to pitch however many agents I could within an hour. Each pitch was three minutes long. I had some nods, interest, and valuable feedback during each pitch. However, I noticed agents asked for clarification, which might have meant that I needed to present in a more focused way.

Another thing I realized was that if I wanted to sell a book, I needed to write a robust proposal. It was necessary, and no one was going to do it for me unless I hired an editor, which I didn’t want to do this early in the process.This is a must-attend event for writers. Click here to register now!

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After the conference, I had a lot of energy and motivation, but it wasn’t enough to take action. I lacked self-discipline and that important push to start. There was no one imposing a deadline and I was dreading that proposal. I found excuses and justified why I didn’t need to write it.

“I started a few successful businesses and never needed a business plan,” I said to my friend, looking for reassurance.

“Do you want to sell this book or write it for yourself?” he asked. This question was the spark that ignited my strong desire to start my journey to getting traditionally published.

In February 2016, I decided to go to the Writer’s Conference in San Francisco. My goal was to use these few days to clarify my concept. Writers had the opportunity to sign up for 8-minute consultations with an editor, coach, agent, or publicist. I signed up for every session I could.

After three days of testing, brainstorming, and researching at night in my hotel room, I was ready to pitch my new concept. The morning of the pitch session day, I shared my pitch with a random conference attendee to practice. I expected feedback, and she said “I need it. I need this book.”

This unexpected reaction was the best feedback an author could ask for. I was ecstatic and ready to pitch. I chose to approach five agents. I projected confidence and clarity, declaring that the book was a strong, call-to-action for anyone wanting to design a creative career on their own terms. I drafted a robust marketing plan focused on preorders and long-term audience building. I pitched five agents and their reactions showed me that I was on to something. After I got home, I spent the next 4 months writing a sixty-page proposal.

Fast-forward to August 2016 and I once again attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. This time, though, I arrived with a strong, tested book concept, accompanied with the proposal. I leisurely attended the sessions during the conference, and when the pitch slam session time came, I was more ready than ever.

After my three minute pitches, every agent’s enthusiasm matched mine. Four of them asked to see the proposal. I sent it to them within hours. The next day, I had two offers of representations so I scheduled a phone call with both agents. Discussing goals, strategy, and long-term plans, I discovered an immediate match with John Willig from Literary Services, Inc., whom I signed an exclusive representation agreement with.

We spent the rest of the summer polishing the proposal and getting ready to pitch editors in the fall. What I appreciate most about working with John is how professional and encouraging he has been. With over 750 book deals closed, he does know how to seamlessly collaborate and act as an invaluable liaison between author and publisher.

[10 Meaningful Practices for Every Writer]

Within just a few months, John found the perfect publisher for my book, Your Creative Career: Career Press. The book will be published in January 2018.

There are many ways to seek representation for your book, and you may favor one instead of the other. What I liked about attending conferences and pitching agents in person was the immediate feedback. I was able to act right away. When you send your pitch to multiple agents via email, it’s rare that you get detailed feedback, so it’s hard to know if you should keep pitching or move on and revise the concept.

If you plan accordingly, attending a writer’s conference can catalyze your career. It’ll give you answers, inspire, and motivate you to take a step in the right direction. There are so many manuscripts out there that will never be read because they’re either unfinished or the author has run out of energy to persevere. Conferences and other writing events can infuse writers with the perseverance, and passion with a touch of obsession, that are necessary to relentlessly pursue the writer’s journey.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.

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