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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reality Check

By mid-February, with less than a week to go before the conference, my pre-conference project evaluation had yet to arrive. It finally came, a few days before I left for San Francisco, but the novel I now planned to whittle out of the tome I’d described in it was so radically different, the lukewarm evaluation it received neither surprised nor hurt me. I was in the perfect frame of mind for the conference: I had a great core concept I just hadn’t yet found the way to articulate.

And actually, “inarticulate” is probably the exact word uber-agent Ken Atchity would have used to describe my pitch at the end of that first day of the conference, if he ever had cause to mention it to anyone, that is. Ken couldn’t come to the pitchfest scheduled at the conclusion of the conference Sunday morning, so he worked his visit in on Friday.

Before Ken’s arrival, we covered the industry, the market, the competition, what our pitches would need to get attention, and what our WIPs would need to live up to those great pitches. Conference coordinator Michael Neff had warned us many times in many ways not to come looking to have sunshine blown up our rears, and he didn’t disappoint. We spent a healthy portion of the day happily “off the agenda,” listening to our fellow writers’ pitches and questions, and Michael’s unabashedly honest critiques and occasionally overconfident answers. I felt that all points on the spectra of originality, salability, execution, and promotion were represented, and, looking around the room, I thought I could almost hear the Learning. It was fantastic.

Since we had 60 eager wannabes and one clearly weary agent, we drew names for who’d get to pitch Mr. Atchity, and I became a “winner.” Two of the writers preceding me gave polished, punchy pitches that seemed to cause the closest thing to a crack in the glazed, wake-me-when-I-can-go stare I’d begun to think might be the man’s permanent expression, but I personally couldn’t incite so much as a quiver in the long flat line. Ken Atchity obviously agreed with Michael that my terrorism-thriller-framing-a-family-saga WIP was “DOA.”

I felt about as far from getting published right then as I ever have. I skipped social hour that night (like everyone else, I later learned) and went back to lick my wounds (again, the prevailing motivation, I heard the next morning.) Sixty undiscovered literary giants had walked in that morning, but, for various reasons, almost sixty once-and-future nobodies sulked out that night.

Of course writers heal by (what else) writing, so I immediately pounded out an emotional, overwrought, perspectiveless sour grapes piece to tell the world off, and impetuously posted it and tweeted about it before I went to sleep that night. I’ve never done well with that whole “breathe” thing.

The only thing that got me out of bed that next morning was the fact that I’d paid a few hundred bucks for the conference, my hotel room was already paid for, and Rolex had nothing on my travel and work schedule for precision. I’d get up and go through the motions, sure, but I was so not going to fool myself any longer about ever really getting anywhere as a writer.

But as they so often have in my life, a friend materialized beside me in my hour of need: Karlene Petitt, or, as we in the Twitterverse know her, @KarlenePetitt, whom you’d be doing yourself a big favor to find at her blog,


  1. Cool... and your novel will be a great success! I know it. Glad I was there in your hour! You buy the champagne when you're published...I buy when I am! Karlene

  2. Just because Atchity didn't jump on it, doesnt mean it won't work.
    Ken is only looking for projects that will elevate HIS status-
    Check his Press releases, his blurb is as big or bigger that his "client".

  3. Thanks for the support, Anonymous, but I'm not really down on Ken so much as myself for making such a horrible first attempt at a pitch! I don't think he was in a very good mood, and it was kind of a "perfect storm" of that and my nervousness, I guess.

    He is successful, we've got to admit, and when an agent's successful, by definition the writer's successful, too.

    I'd love the chance to help elevate any great agent's status with this book right now, egomaniacal or egalitarian, Ken Atchity or otherwise!


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