Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Maybe yes? Sadly, no

I attended the Pikes Peak Writers conference last weekend. What a great experience! There were great sessions on the craft of writing and the business of marketing, and I attended sessions on forensics and covert operations to glean details to use in future story lines.

But several things made the conference very, very special.

The first was the pitch session with Sandra Bond, an agent based in Denver. My research showed she was very nice and very professional. Both facts were true. I did most of the talking during the eight-minute session, and Ms. Bond interjected to ask a few questions for clarification. Then she ended with the words I wanted to hear: "Send me your first two chapters. It sounds intriguing."

I sent in my material and waited for a reply. I got that reply. The result? I will tell it by using parts of the note I left for my wife this morning.

"Sandra Bond said no to requesting more of my manuscript. She said she was excited about the premise ... the second agent to say that ... but she thought my writing was too rough and my lead-in too disjointed. She is VERY BIG on opening chapters being strong enough to grab and keep readers. Ah, there is a lesson here. Two agents target the same problem."

Once I got over that original "well, crap" moment, I started putting ego aside and thought about what Ms. Bond and Jeff Kleinman had said. None of the people I had read my manuscript had said my opening chapters needed work. Well, I am going to ask three friends or acquaintances with experience in publishing novels to critique those opening chapters. I want them to be ruthlessly honest. That is how we learn.

Now I have two more people who have, or will have, the opening chapters to review. One is an representative for a major agency in New York City, and I just stopped her to ask a question about a term, upmarket fiction, that is a buzzword these days. I told her I wanted to pitch to her because her background and material she wants fit my work, but I had sent in a query to another agent at the firm earlier. She said to send "a nag" to her anyway and that she would in turn "nag" her boss. She requested the first 15 pages of my manuscript, which has three full chapters and starts the fourth. I await her reply.

I also stopped to ask an editor for a Christian publishing house a question about incorporating Christian worldview in secular novels, because that covers part of my story line. She asked what my story is about. I gave her a short overview, what is referred to as an "elevator pitch" because you can meet agents in elevators, the hallway or at lunch and try to sell your material. I never thought she would be interested in my novel, not with the level of violence in spots and the use of swear words, including an assortment of f-bombs. I told her about those details. She said she wanted to take a look because her firm was starting a new imprint that was looking for "edgy" material. Trust me, my novel is "edgy" by Christian standards. She wants a query, synopsis (an overview of the entire plot) and the first four chapters. Putting together that package will be my work once I sign off here.

The keynote speaker for the Saturday night banquet was John Hart, who is one of the best and best-selling novelists around. He has had three best-sellers, "King of Lies," "Down River" and the book I'm reading now, "The Last Child." John is a marvelous writer and the winner of many awards, and he's also one helluva nice guy. I had two short conversations with him. I asked him the best piece of advice for a first-timer such as myself. He said it was to have a thick skin, because you will get rejection after rejection. He had several for "King of Lies" when he was among the first-timer ranks, and that novel eventually was on the New York Times and London Times best-seller lists for months. He said he still has every rejection letter he received ... now on yellowing paper ... as a reminder of where he came from and what it took to get where he is today. His advance for "King of Lies" was $7,500. His advances now are in seven figures.

Hey, I have to sign off. I have lots of work to do. Last day of vacation, and it's been a working vacation filled with very valuable experiences. Onward and upward!!! I love doing this.

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