Final day of conference, and I won’t be taking part in any of the “fun” today. It’s been great, really, I’ve chaired a conference, much smaller than this shindig, and the work these folks put into this thing is amazing. Truly. They had unforeseen misadventures, but carried on with aplomb. The worst had to be when their Big Name Author was a no-show for his keynote. Never mind, they grabbed James Hall to pinch hit and he did a great job. Never heard of the guy before but he made everyone in that room forget there was another whats-his-name they were disappointed not to see.

This brought home a lesson I’ve taken from other conferences: if you’re doing a big talk, like a keynote for the entire group, make it funny. I knew this from teaching, although this audience, on the whole, has a bigger attention span than your average college freshman. So Hall was funny and intelligent and I bet he sold a lot of books. Not to mention his generously leaping into the gap created by James Patterson, whose name had been plastered in large letters on everything from the conference.

At the time, we weren’t offered an explanation of why Patternson didn’t make it, and since I skipped the cocktail party later, (another problem for conference organizers–cocktail smooze with agents and editors was supposed to be poolside, but it rained and so had to be moved inside) I didn’t get the scoop. Bet my buddy Jan knows. She’s going into the “Pitch Tank” today where we have the opportunity to pitch to all agents and editors–also whoever else is pitching. Then we sit down, nobody says anything, and we wait for the end, when, if an agent or editor is interested in you, they will come over. No thanks! I can still query every one of these folks, I’ve talked to them at lunch, sat in on their panels, and had an editor appointment that yielded a half dozen names of very good agents. I know most of them by reputation.

I asked for an agent appointment, but got a very nice editor from Henry Holt, Michael Signorelli. That took the pressure off immediately as I knew Henry Holt is not the right publisher for my book, and they don’t acquire directly from authors but through literary agents. So I just reeled off my three sentence pitch and had a conversation. Michael said St. Martin would be ideal for me–and he gave me a name of an editor there. And that’s the gist of everything I gleaned here: go for New York. No longer are small press or indie authors scorned, in fact they are being courted. If you have good sales figures, all the better.

One of the questions I asked Michael was if I have a publisher, should I still seek an agent, and he said absolutely. I know I need an agent. It’s one of the reasons I came here. I’m not great at the business end of writing, and an agent can be an advocate for me there. Another speaker said if you’re not great at promoting your work, hire a publicist. He said they are expensive but worth it. I got names. Because like anybody there are good publicists and bad ones. I’m seriously considering hiring a publicist, something that wasn’t on my radar before I came down here.

I suppose Jan is in the pitch tank now; it’s about that time. Me? I’m packing up and heading over to the other side of the state. But this conference, out of the dozens I’ve been to through the years, was really worth it. I decided that yes, I’m going to switch to mystery: psychological thrillers to be exact. And I’ve got a stack of research books to help me craft my next book while I search for an agent and wait for the verdict on that first mystery, sitting on my editor’s desk.


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