I’ve been to a lot of writers conferences, and though some were small and some were large, and some focused on genre fiction and others on literary fiction, they all had one thing in common. I noticed this similarity at the first conference I attended, though I couldn’t name it. I was too distracted, you see. I was going to be pitching a novel to an agent for the first time, and though I had practiced my pitch a dozen times with my wife, I found the whole concept of pitching nauseating. The relationship between that agent and me in the ten minutes we’d spend together seemed unnatural. The agent simply had too much power. I worried that with one word she could slay my writing dreams.
This guest post is by William Kenower. Kenower is the author of Fearless Writing: How to Let Go of the Things That Keep You from Creating Your Best Work. He is also the editor in chief of Author magazine, a sought-after speaker and teacher, and the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion. He’s been published in The New York Times and Edible Seattle, and was a featured blogger on the Huffington Post. His video interviews with hundreds of writers, from Nora Ephron to Amy Tan to William Gibson, are widely considered the best of their kind on the Internet. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author, where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.
And then I actually met her, and I realized that she was not an executioner—she was just a person. I sat down and started talking about the book, and there was nothing unnatural about our conversation. Talking to her, I remembered how cool I thought the book was, and now we were just two people having a lively chat. When our time was up, I thanked her and drifted out into the conference. There was that certain something I’d felt earlier, something crackling between all the other writers.
Oh, I know what that is, I thought. That’s fear.
Though we all tell different kinds of stories, writers usually share a common psychology that allows us to be quite happy alone in a room with ideas that interest us. Most of us do not enjoy sitting down with a stranger and asking them what they think of that idea. In fact, it often induces a kind of vertigo. The good news is that pitching need not be a writer’s worst nightmare. The trick to pitching fearlessly is knowing where to look, so to speak, when you pitch.
First, of course, you must hone your pitch, and memorize your pitch, and practice your pitch. That will be helpful. But then the moment of truth arrives. Now you are sitting in front of an actual person who is waiting to hear about your story. They’ve probably already heard two dozen pitches, and they’re going to hear two dozen more. You know this, and you may find this reality uninspiring. No matter. Now is when you must forget about that agent or editor. Forget about how many pitches they’ve heard. Forget about their tastes and about the crowded world of writers. None of it is of any use to you. Now you must bring all your attention back to the one thing in this equation you actually know: how much you love your book.
And you do. You love it. You know you love it. You wouldn’t have spent six months or a year or ten years writing that book if you didn’t love it. You don’t know if anyone else loves it, but you know you do. That’s enough. That’s all you actually need to know to pitch as well as you can possibly pitch. I have learned, having done it many times, that the best thing I can do when pitching is to get excited all over again about my story.
The fear I’ve sensed in others and experienced myself at writers conferences grows from the insidious idea that somehow we must know more than we possibly can know. Somehow, now that we want to sell this story, we must magically know what other people want. Moreover, somehow other people can tell us whether that story really is cool or funny or sexy or exciting. It’s an unnerving thought. If I can’t trust that what I think is exciting or profound or inspiring in the privacy of my workroom will be exciting or profound or inspiring to someone else, then I simply don’t know how to do this writing thing. It becomes literally impossible because I am always the only one in that room. What interests me alone has to be enough.
And by the way, that first agent wanted to see the book, but she didn’t end up representing it. Yes, that was a little disappointing, but I still consider our meeting a rousing success. In that moment the publishing world, which until then had been comprised of names of publishing houses or agencies, became real to me. Now it was made up of actual people, people more or less like me. Sometimes we get along, and sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. This is true whether I’m pitching or meeting a stranger on a bus. Regardless of where I am, I am never better than when I trust that to which I listen when I write, that loyal and friendly companion who consistently guides me to the stories I most want to tell and the life I most want to lead.
This all-in-one guide shows authors exactly what they need in order to find and secure an agent for their work of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and more. From basics like where to look for agents to in-depth instruction on how to pitch your idea, this book covers every aspect of how to find representation and become a successful writer.
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