Back in December, when the world was all golden light here in Panama, when the bougainvillea were pouring over rooftops and spilling down hillsides, and the coffee plants were bursting with fat crimson cherries everywhere you turned, it seemed that nothing could go wrong. How could it when the next month brought rainbows — three, four, five every day — and when the skies were so clear the glinting Pacific beckoned in the distance?
Oh, be wary of decisions made when the world is wonderful!
In a moment of stupendously unfounded optimism, I made the decision to attend ThrillerFest in July. For those who don’t know (I was one of the uneducated for quite a while), ThrillerFest is the single largest convocation of thriller authors, agents, publishers, and folks from all the related activities that have to do with producing, promoting, selling, and enjoying thrillers and mysteries. Whew. In a phrase, it is the thriller community as a whole, all brought together in one location for one event at one time.
Participating writers range from the lofty — T. Jefferson Parker, David Baldacci, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, Linda Fairstein, and my personal favorite, John Sandford, plus so many more — to the mid-listers, the newly published, the self-published, and the want-to-be published. It’s enough to make you pant. And then there are the publishers (lots) and the agents (an obscenely intimidating number).
Writers as a group are open-hearted people. We try to help each other in conferences, blogs like this one, and websites. Lisa Gardner is known for her generosity but she’s far from the only one. It really is a case of the bigger you are the more giving you are.
The reason for my nervousness is not these terrific folks, although I do wonder what I’d say if John Camp a/k/a John Sandford and I were closeted in an elevator for a spell. No, it’s another piece of ThrillerFest that has me in its thrall one minute and gives me the heebie-jeebies the next. It’s called PitchFest. More about it momentarily.
It includes CraftFest, which features well-known authors (NYT best-sellers, many of them) teaching the craft of killing people convincingly, creating believable victims, villains, and heroes, and weaving stories that people won’t want to put down.
Last year, Steve Berry taught “The 6 C’s of Story Structure;” Michael Connolly hosted a session entitled: “The Series Character. How to Do It Right;” and the late Michael Palmer gave attendees “Crafting Your Thriller: A Step-By-Step Guide.” Michael Palmer will certainly be missed for the books he won’t write any more but he’ll also be missed for his well-known generosity to writers climbing the rungs beneath him, including our own Margo Carey.
This year, CraftFest has gotten even headier by introducing Master CraftFest, a one-day, intensive workshop where writers will work in small groups with Steve Berry, Steven James, John Lescroart, and David Morrell. Hard to beat that.
There’s a glittering reception, hosted last year by Random House, and a star-studded awards dinner.
And then there’s the tiger that occasionally leaves me in a cold sweat (not kidding) – PitchFest. Imagine, if you will, a scene with 60 people seated behind small tables in three large rooms. In front of each table is a line of nervous, muttering, hand-wringing individuals. Many will be talking to themselves. Others will be staring into space. Some will be wearing business attire and project a confident air. Others will slouch in jeans. Writers come in all shapes and colors and sartorial tastes.
This is PitchFest, an opportunity unlike any other. The people behind the tables are agents – and not just any agents. They’re hungry, looking to make a big score, looking for the next New York Times bestselling author. They want it to be YOU.
Not coincidentally, YOU want it to be YOU, as well, so you’re going to spill your guts about your new, wonderful, absolutely, positively next NYT #1 High Concept Bestseller in 3 minutes or less – to every agent you can possibly reach. It’s been called “Speed-dating with Agents,” not without reason.
If you click with one — you say your “I Do’s” 3 hours later, the movie rights come the next day — your life could change in an instant. That’s heady stuff. More likely, you’ll stand in lots of lines, collect a bunch of polite “no thanks you’s,” maybe have some requests for pages, and possibly even one for the entire manuscript. That’s realistically speaking.
It’s that last part that has me worried. I don’t have an entire manuscript and I’m not sure I will have one by July 10. A hand operation, other commitments, the dogs (2 new ones recently adopted, an old one with ailments that old ones have), the neighbor’s cats (hungry, need to add an item to the grocery list from now on), a leaky roof (believe me, in Panama, looking at the rainy season on the horizon, that’s a BIG deal),
and lots of those little things that nibble away at your time and leave you wondering where the hours have gone. So now, it’s just me and the computer and 87 days. That sounds like a lot. It’s really only 2 and 2/3 months. That’s not much at all, manuscript-wise.
I won’t abdicate, though. I’ll spin out 1,000 words a day (that’s not too much – Stephen King does 3,000 EVERY day), I‘ll write my spiel and practice it so often it will be the first thing that comes out of my mouth when I get up and the last thing I utter when I go to sleep. My husband will probably divorce me. Or at least take to wearing ear plugs.
I’ll get on the plane, put on my good duds, try to keep my makeup fresh, and be in there with all the rest, regurgitating my 3-minute pitch until my vocal cords give out or the last agent files from the room — and hoping at least one of them sprinkles a little pixie dust on me. One way or the other, I’ll let you know how the conference goes. Even if the fairy dust eludes me, there’ll be plenty of gold to be mined in CraftFest and I’ll try to share as much as possible. Just like the big guys do.
~~ Britt Vasarhelyi