A Dragon’s Pitch – DFWCON 2017

Well, I didn’t “knock it out of the ballpark” as far as my face-to-face query session went, but I sure didn’t choke this time. Most notably, I managed to speak with a quiet mind. No inner monologue paralyzed me this time; I just sat down with the agent, and told him about my novel.

Two days before my pitch, on the day before I left for Dallas, I settled on pushing Saundra as a super-hero novel. She gains specific magical powers, her friends and enemies do as well. There’s a costume change involved; it all works.

After some meditation and prayer, I came to two decisions. The first was to heed the advice that the incomparable Ru Paul regularly gave to students on Drag U: ask yourself what your inner drag queen would do. Well, my inner drag queen is a dragon (and not much of a queen per-se, but he sure is fabulous!). Every time I got nervous, I just reminded myself, “I’m a dragon, bitches!” The second decision was to remember that I am a pretty damn good customer service rep / salesperson, and the agent is my customer. So, rather than imagine that I was putting my heart and soul on the table to be judged, I put my novel out there to be bought.

Bolstered, I found that I could pitch to my husband with courage and charisma, when previously the mere thought of it petrified me. “Keeper of the Worldgate is an offbeat super hero story about a plus-size, pacifistic woman who must defend an extra-dimensional portal from a sociopathic computer hacker, who would use it to bring the most horrific nightmares from the internet to life.” Bam! There it is.

When my time came, I stood up tall, reminded myself to be a dragon, and strode into the meeting with strength and confidence. If saw the shade of doubt flutter across my customer’s expression, I dropped an attractive tech-spec on the table: “My test readers and editors have praised my suspense as being genuinely suspenseful.” If I saw his brow quirk with interest, I reinforced the topic that so moved him: “This manuscript definitely passes the Bechdel test.”

We had only ten minutes, and while it’s tempting to think that I could have landed a full manuscript request given just a few moments more, the truth is that my approach was scattershot. I spent far too much time experimenting with how to best describe my novel in superhero terms, and far too little driving home the uniqueness of its story. By the end of my sit-down, I think I confused the agent more than interested him.

My approach was clumsy, but he invited me to query him anyway. While I expect this was just a courtesy, he flinched when the time-over gong cut him off. He was still speaking, and looked like he wanted to know more. Did I detect a hint of dithering? Curiosity?

Whatever the case, I walked away proud in the knowledge that I’d not made a fool of myself. I will be querying him, and not unsolicited. Will my writing stun him and reverse his decision not to request a full? I doubt it. It’s a great story, and it will appeal to pacifists, and feminists, and big people. If that’s not his usual fare, though, he might not have the best connections to push Saundra out as far and wide as she needs to go. He may know someone who is, though, and I may get a referral out of this experience.

The agent hunt continues, and as the weather in central Texas has taken my day job offline, I’ve nothing to do today but write, research the next batch of agents, and compose another set of queries.

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DFWcon2015: Day 1

The official Day One began with (no surprise here) a hangover—it wasn’t terrible, just a bit of a headache and some drymouth. I got cleaned up and headed into town for the official first day of the DFW writers’ convention. Now, I am not a fan of driving, especially in cities, especially in big cities I’ve never driven around in before. So naturally, I was a bit frazzled upon arrival, but I found the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre without any difficulty, and parking was a snap.

Inside, I grabbed my name badge, bought my official DFWcon coffee mug (they were green this year), and spent the next 45 minutes riding the elevators, trying to figure out where everything was.

I had signed up for a couple of limited-seating workshops that I was pretty excited about. The first was called “Read and Critique,” presented by Harry Hall and David Goodner. The group would be reading the first several pages of our manuscripts aloud for comments and advice from the presenters and our peers. I attended a similar workshop last year, and it was pretty painless, so I was feeling really good about this one. The other workshop I signed up for was “Query Letter Workshop,” presented by Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, Rosemary Clement-Moore, and Janet Taylor. This one had me a bit more nervous, because I didn’t know what it would entail, but I knew my query needed a lot of help.

The first open-access workshop I took part in after the opening remarks, was “Pitching Practice,” presented by Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, and Rosemary Clement-Moore. Now, I wasn’t going to go to this workshop at all, because I didn’t want to terrify myself before my real pitch session. But, I decided at the last second that maybe if I humiliated myself early, I would be looser and a little more relaxed. Nowhere to go but up, right?

So, the room was packed. We were given a pep talk—some pointers and encouragement, and then told to break up into groups, pick a professional, and make our pitches! I got to sit down with the absolutely lovely Julie Murphy, and I delivered my pitch at about 900 words a second.

Bam. Done.

…silence…

She asked a few questions, was very generous with her complements, and gave me some great advice. And then, like a robot on autopilot because my organic pilot had passed out from sheer terror, I thanked her, shook her hand, stood up, and left. Zerrt zerrt! Thank you very much! I will excuse myself now!

Okay, so, I’m not psychic. I’m not in her head, but I’ve done some face-to-face selling in my time, so I know what it looks like when I’ve made an impact, and when the shutters of disinterest come down.

I failed to make an impact, but she never shut down on me, so that’s good! This was a dry run, and I walked away with some great pointers: describe how magic works in the story—name the characters; give them some personality. Relax. Great advice! I wrote it all down. I even made myself a cheat sheet with bullet points so that if I choked, I could just pull it out to remind myself of critical topics and discuss.

I’ve been working on this story world since 1999; I know it like the back of my hand. All I need to do is start talking, and it will all flow. I even wrote down a catchy “elevator pitch.”

Confident! Excited! Ready.

Immediately after the workshop: my pitch session, for which I was late. Yeah, somehow I had convinced myself that my end time was actually my start time, and I was prepared to walk in at 10:10—exactly when my session should have ended. Fortunately, I caught my mistake a few moments after my group was sent in to make their pitches, and the gentleman at the door allowed me to skulk in after them. And skulk I did.

I tiptoed over to my scheduled agent, sat down, and proceeded to forget everything. I forgot my notes, my bullet points… that perfect elevator pitch. Poof. Big purple head of cotton candy.

She was so patient. She smiled and asked me questions about my novel, but I drew nothing but blanks. Hell, she could have asked me what my main character’s name was and I would have forgotten! So, I just stammered and laughed. Oh yes—my fatal nervous laughter. My skull is empty of brains but filling up with the sweat of a thousand terrors. Let’s laugh.

Anyway, after much effort, I managed to squeak out a hint about my plot, so she asked more specific questions. “Why is the world of magic coming back into the real world? Why is it coming back now? How will your villain do spoiler with spoiler?” My brain collided with itself again and again.

I know the answer to this,” it said with glee.

But what does she care about how the world got the way it is? None of that information is in the actual book,” it retorted. “To carry on about details that are not actually present in the manuscript would be downright irresponsible.”

To which my brain replied, “Yeah, but I know the answer! It means I know my world! I’ve thought all this out! All I have to do is get the mouth to start, and then charisma can take over and everything will work out.”

And then, “Charisma is being able to answer the question without this kind of one-man debate gumming up the works, so that’s right out. Besides, look at her. The shutter’s come down. She doesn’t care how well you know your stupid fantasy world.”

My brain actually sputtered then, “Then why the hell would she ask?!”

The response being, “Probably just to shut you up.”

That doesn’t even make any sense!”

YOU don’t make any sense!”

Now you’re just being juvenile!”

And she’s just being nice!!”

“… yeah, probably …”

Now, chuckle like a good little idiot, and let’s get out of here.”

And, what comes out of my mouth is, “Uhhhh *nervous chuckle*”

In the end, she said it sounded a little too quirky for her. Heh, yeah. How else could it sound coming from a big fat, purple-headed doofus? She invited me to send her five pages and a query anyway, (which I did last week, but of course I’m not holding my breath).

As I walked out, I remembered my cheat sheets, my elevator pitch, my bullet points—all of it. I just wore my best smile and chuckled, and when my buddy outside asked me how I did, I told the truth.

“I choked like a joke.” One of these days, I’ll look back on this and laugh for real.

Anyway, I know that I’m supposed to be all up-beat professional with my blog, but this is the way it happened. I’m not the only person whose brain turned to tomato aspic when it was needed the most. Maybe next year I’ll do just a little better.

But, I couldn’t mope around! I had a day and a half left, lots to do, and there were far too many people around to go about looking like the family dog who got left out in the rain on meatloaf night. So I hopped on the elevator and rode it upstairs, where I was just in time for my next workshop.

“Read and Critique.” Two pros and a handful of peers—read for a few minutes and we all critique each other. Man, there were some neat stories around the table, and some very useful critiques, too! I was still reeling just a little bit from my pitch session, so nerves got the better of me when it was my turn to read. I went way too fast, and I stumbled a little bit, but everyone was very kind and gave some great advice.

Then came lunch, catered by Wolfgang Puck. Two tables stood outside the lobby, piled with boxed lunches. I had no idea which one I had originally signed up for, but I was pretty sure it was the turkey option, so that’s what I grabbed. Lunch was… cute. It comprised a sandwich, a sliver of dill pickle, a chocolate-chip-esque cookie, and a bag of potato chips. Well, it was free, and it was food, and the flavors were on point, so I can honestly say I had no complaints about lunch.

Some of the ladies from the workshop invited me to sit outside with them, which was pretty intimidating, because I’m not very used to being invited to have lunch with other people. But, DFWcon is about networking as much as it’s about learning the craft and grabbing an agent, and how will I ever build up the courage to attend the receptions if I can’t even hang out with other writers? So, I put on my brave face, joined them, and we all ate and talked about our writing and inspirations. After that, we all exchanged cards and Twitter information.

I felt good, had some food in my belly and some caffeine in my blood stream—I felt pretty excited about my next workshop. Well, I guess it was just time for a brain fart. I ended up in the wrong room and sat through10 minutes of a class about writing creative nonfiction before I realized my error. So, I snuck out and tiptoed over to the “Query Letter Workshop,” but it was already going in full swing. I didn’t want to interrupt. So, I headed back downstairs to relax for a little while.

That was when I saw that Tex Thompson was giving a presentation called “Comma Sutra.” Now, if you have never had the opportunity to attend one of Tex’s classes, you absolutely must! She is brilliant and funny! I never don’t learn something from her. I attended, and I have to say I am happy I got mixed up previously, because I learned a ton! And, I laughed a lot too, which is what I really needed.

After this, I attended the class, “What to Expect when Publishing,” presented by Kendel Lynn. This was another eye-opening experience. *Big sigh* I tell you, this changes every year, it seems. I was just getting used to being responsible to organize signings and press releases and all that, but now there’s a huge focus on social media and… Blog tours?! I’d never heard that term before Saturday!

Well, as I sat in the class, trying to cram of this new information into my tomato aspic brain, I found myself wondering what I would write next—now that Saundra was finished. Our instructors said—and this was definitely not the first time I’d heard this—that once we get published, we are done with freedom. Our job is marketing and writing what our agent and publishers ask for. So, we are advised to write anything and everything we can before then—find what we really love.

I got to thinking about this after the class ended. I’ve written fantasy, both high and urban. I’ve tried my hand at sci-fi. While I thought about writing other things, I realized that I am finally done with Saundra’s story. There will be tweaks along the way, and I am sure that an editor some day will ask for edits, but the novel is finished, and I am finally ready to move on to something new. At that point, I had reached maximum brain capacity and was ready to shut down.

There was time for one more class before the dinnertime break, and the keynote and agents’ reception followed that. I was exhausted though, and while I felt bad for skipping the speech, I just did not have the fortitude to attend (or even run away from) the reception. So I called Chris to come get me, and we joined our friends for dinner at El Corazón de Tejas, where we shared the Sizzling Beef Parrillas, and I got a little tipsy with a Madria Rita. Fantastic dinner!

After all that, we headed back to our friends’ place, played a little WiiU, and then I crashed early with the hope of getting enough sleep before day 2.

DFWcon2015: Day 0.5

Chris and I rolled out of bed at about 6:00 am Friday morning. We’d packed most of what we needed the night before, so all I had to do was to make some last minute edits to my query letter and print out all the paperwork I’d need for the convention. We loaded up the car, grabbed snacks and breakfast on the way out of town, and hit the highway.

I can’t say much for the drive, mainly because I slept most of the way. Chris was so kind; he let me snooze as long as I needed, because he knew I was pretty anxious about the convention.

Dallas is a bit more humid than Midland, so I was pretty miserable outside in the 90+ degree weather. The Sheraton was, more or less, air-conditioned, but the skywalk—which I took to grab some Tex-Mex across the street—was not. By the time I descended into the Plaza of the Americas, I felt like I’d just jumped out of a sauna.

I ordered the Julio’s chicken flautas, beans, rice, and beef fajita tacos at J Pepe’s. It was pretty good—quick service and a good amount of food for under twenty bucks. Afterward, I mozied back to the Seminar Theatre where critically acclaimed author Steven James presented “Story Trumps Structure : How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules”

I was a little bit intimidated by the title of this presentation, because I feared it would be a 4-hour grammar and punctuation lesson. It was actually a great presentation about free-style writing. He described a set of creative tools for writers who are happiest writing without outlines, to help create punching, active, accessible fiction. Fantastic stuff! I haven’t taken this many notes since college. (Look below for links to his website and book)

The DFWcon pre-con mixer took place after the seminar, and I originally intended to be there, but nerves got the better of me. I called for evac minutes before the event kicked off, and Chris arrived with our hosts to whisk me away. Yeah, I chickened out, and I fear Friday evening would not be the last time that my nerves got the better of me that weekend. But that’s a story for another blog entry.

We began our evening with cocktails at VH. I tried the Flying Mule, the Cinco Pico, the Peach Julep, and the “El Chefo.” Man, that’s a lot of cocktails, and they were all fantastic! My favorites were the “El Chefo,” and the Flying Mule, as I’m a sucker for Campari and ginger.

After tying on a little bit of a buzz, we then headed into the Bishop Arts District for dinner at Hattie’s. We visited the bar while we waited for our table, and I enjoyed a Key Lime martini, which—oh my god—was pretty much key lime pie in a glass. With booze. It was really loud inside the restaurant, but that just made it easier to pay attention to my Low-country shrimp and grits. Fantastic.

We wandered around the art district for a little bit after eating, but the evening was just a bit too warm to enjoy, so we piled into the car and headed back to our friends’ place. I’d like to say something about the Dallas city lights at night, but I was pretty much asleep before the engine turned over. I’d also like to say that I slept like the dead, but with the convention—and my one-on-one pitch session—looming on the horizon, I barely slept at all.

COMING SOON: Day 1


Here are the places where I ate on Friday,

And, here are links to Steven James’s website, and his book: Story Trumps Structure.