1. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Traditional Thoughts on the New York Pitch Conference

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by EdFromNY, Jun 8, 2015.

    A few months ago, when I first heard about the New York Pitch Conference (aka Algonkian Pitch Conference), I asked if anyone on the forum had heard of it. No one had (or else had anything to say about it). But the editor I had worked with knew of it and said that it had been a productive experience for one of her other clients, even though no one had asked for her ms. So, I decided to go.

    It's held four times a year, and it's four days (well, more like 3 1/2). A maximum of 65 people are accepted for each quarterly conference, although we had 50, broken into 3 groups, each group led by either an editor (not an acquisition editor employed by a publishing house), an agent or the founder of the conference (a former agent). After a full day of workshops, you get to make four pitches (one to an agent, three to acquisition editors). The workshops serve a dual purpose - to identify weaknesses in your novel that might hurt its chances in the commercial market, and to perfect your pitch. At the end of the pitch sessions, after the editors have gone, the group leaders tell the group who had manuscripts requested.

    You don't just register. You complete what amounts to an online query letter and apply for "membership" (costs you nothing). This is so they can cull out those who couldn't possibly be considered polished writers (which makes it more worthwhile for the editors who participate). The acceptance e-mail contains a link that takes you directly to the Algonkian web site, where you can then register (cost is $595). Some time before the actual conference, you will get an e-mail with several "assignments", which, when completed, must be posted in a closed forum on another site. These assignments are never discussed at the conference, but I believe they are used to decide on the composition of the different groups. They also are a really good way for you to self-evaluate your novel's viability. Is the goal clearly stated? Is there an antagonist or antagonistic force clearly identified? What is the primary conflict? What are the secondary conflicts? What are the effects of the conflicts on the environment of your characters? What are your comparables? And why? If you can't articulate these clearly, you'll have a hard time making a pitch.

    The conference itself is held at Ripley-Grier Studios on 8th Avenue in Manhattan - dead easy to get to from anywhere in the city. The studios are used for auditions and rehearsals of all kinds, so each room has a piano, a mirrored wall and a floor suitable for dancing. Singing of all kinds forms a background for the discussions (along from the sirens of emergency vehicles 16 floors below), and singers and dancers come and go in the hallways. You might think that sounds like a distracting milieu, but it really wasn't. At one point, as I was waiting to pitch an editor, the woman who was just ahead of me was pacing back and forth, shaking her hands and shoulders to loosen up. I told her that she looked like an actress getting ready to audition, and she said, "Well, if you think about it, this really isn't all that different."

    I was fortunate to be in a very good group. Our group leader was a former participant who subsequently sold her work, Fiction Class. She is working on another novel now and provides editing services as well. As I listened to the other 16 pitches, at least half were books I would definitely read if published, including the other three historicals. While the current trend in historical fiction seems to favor historical romances or mysteries or thrillers, none of the the four historical novels pitched from our group were of that ilk. Mine was the only "epic" historical, but the others were intriguing, serious works. And while the format of the conference might seem to be one that would foster a sense of competition, it really didn't work out that way. We all supported one another, made suggestions for improving either the pitch or the story and wished each other luck. When the conference ended, one of the group volunteered to put up a Facebook group and several of our group have already befriended one another on Facebook.

    The first pitch, made on the morning of Day Two to an agent, was done with the whole group in the room. She asked for several submissions (50 or 100 pages) but clearly was not interested in mine. Then again, when she stated as her claim to fame that she had "worked with the Khardashians", I already knew where I stood. And when she said, in commenting on an item in my pitch, that she didn't see any difference in the cost of living in an affluent Long Island suburb and a working-class neighborhood in New York City, that sort of sealed it. But the exercise yielded some good suggestions for the pitch from the group leader. And on the morning of Day Three, I arrived early and helped the leader of one of the other groups, the agent, set up her room, using the opportunity to pitch her. She was interested, made a suggestion for a minor change in the story (more about that later), and asked me to send her the first few chapters.

    Of the three editors, two declined to request my manuscript (although they both said they thought it sounded promising) and one has not yet made her selections. Pitches to editors were not made in front of the group, only to the editor with the group leader in the room, who took notes on any comments the editors made. These were shared with the group afterward. And herein lies the only really negative aspect of this conference - the massive amounts of dead time during the pitch sessions. Although a pitch is supposed to be only a minute long, each session between writer and editor was anywhere from 5 minutes to 20. So, for 17 writers, you're talking a good two hours of dead time for each editor's session. I suggested to the organizer that it would be better if there were some kind of activity or ongoing discussion during this time, but of course that would require more space and more people involved in running it, which would send the costs through the roof. There was also an opportunity to have your first page evaluated. Again, one on one, so a lot of dead time. But also a good session.

    I learned the latest publishing cliche - "It's too quiet". No one said that about my novel, but I heard it said of others and we were all told about this concern. I also had brought home to me the personal quirkiness that can determine the fate of your work. One novel in our group was set on a bus tour doing Romeo and Juliet. Another writer had a memoir about being a chef on chartered cruise yachts. One editor asked for the bus tour because she liked buses and rejected the memoir because she hated boats. This might strike one as offensive, but it takes a lot of tenacity for an agent or an acquisition editor to get a book from pitch to publication, and that tenacity requires a certain amount of personal passion.

    I received validation for my novel it IS commercially viable. I'm not just kidding myself. Everyone I pitched to - even the Khardashian fan - showed some level of interest. If my story has a flaw, it is in the connection of the story to the present (as the agent who asked for chapters said, the 1990s really can't be considered present-day). So, I'm off to write a new first chapter and a new last chapter.

    But it's also important to remember that your work belongs only to you. There will be no dearth of people who will want to suggest changes that will make it easier for them to sell your story. I'm convinced that if Mark Twain had been at the conference pitching Huckleberry Finn, someone would have said, "That's a great story you have there. But no one wants to read about Missouri. Change the setting to New Jersey. He can raft down the Passaic River. Maybe run into a couple of mafiosos!" As a good friend said to me once when I suggested a different approach to something she had written, "Yes, you could do that. But that's not the story I wrote." The change that the agent suggested to me is a good one. It doesn't change the story, merely adds a little detail to more securely connect it to the present. Another suggestion was made to me to make my narrating character (who is 13 at the time of the story) older. But as I explained to her, if I did that, a major premise of the novel would collapse. Every writer in the group understood.

    As any one who has queried knows, it's a jungle out there. Matching your work to the agent who wants it is like finding a needle in a haystack. The pitch conference is a way to jump the line. The agent who asked me for chapters may not have asked for anything more than she would require for a cold query, but the fact that mine is stemming from the conference means that she will give it a closer look. Jumping the line.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
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  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    let us know if that agent who requested chapters gets back to you!
     
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  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Iris, I haven't sent them to her, yet. I need to write the new Chapter One, first. Since she suggested it, she'll understand the brief delay.
     
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