ThrillerFest 14 Part Two– A Neophyte’s Do’s and Don’ts

I went to ThrillerFest this past July and posted about my experience last month. As I said then, it was the first conference I’ve attended and, predictably, I racked up plenty of boo-boos. There were some good things as well so I’ve distilled both ends of the experience into a short list of takeaways that, hopefully, will help other neophyte conference attendees.

#1       Know your purpose and goal in attending the event. I knew that my purpose was to assess whether I wanted to engage an agent for my second book, having self-published the first. I wanted to see what agents could do for me.

My goal was to intrigue as many agents as possible and come away with requests for pages or even a Full. Then, through the actual submission process, I could further evaluate what they would bring to the table.

Unfortunately, instead of my evaluating the agents, the shoe was mostly on the other foot. I didn’t find out enough about them — their approaches to representation, how they might integrate a book such as mine into their lists, what kinds of sales efforts their agencies would mount, and so forth. I realize it would have been unrealistic to learn all this in three minutes, the allotted time per agent interview, while also describing my end of things; nonetheless, I didn’t achieve the balance I was seeking. So I didn’t realize my purpose.

As to my goal, I wound up with four agents out of five I approached who asked for something — two requests for Fulls and two for Pages. So, happily, my goal was achieved.

#2       Know the agents you want to see very thoroughly. It just makes it so much easier when you’re crunched in with lots of other people and trying to decide how to best allocate your time. It’s very easy to get confused and veer off your intended course.

The conference provides excellent bios of each agent so you can make a first pass using those. After that, I strongly recommend that you visit any site on the web associated with your chosen agents. This includes their website(s), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and personal blogs. I wasted almost an hour in line for an agent who clearly wasn’t interested in me (although she asked for pages) and I found I didn’t like her kind of representation to boot. Maybe more research could have avoided this and my time could have been better spent on other opportunities.

#3       Don’t expect to see 30 agents in two hours. ThrillerFest had around 400 author attendees. Unknown how many attended PitchFest but I could swear every one of them was there! In any event, it was a huge crowd and long lines were common. Since you’re going to be spending a lot of time standing around, make sure you’re ticking off the clock in the lines of agents at the top of your list, not the bottom. (See Point #2) As far as the 3 minute time limit, be aware that some agents let the clock run way beyond it.

I saw five agents in two hours. I believe I could have seen another three or four if I hadn’t spent so much time in one popular agent’s very long line and in another line for an agent who chatted with an author ahead of me for 20 (!) minutes. (At least one author went home that day on cloud nine.)

But these things happen. Certain agents have more appeal than others and, naturally, their lines are longer. And there are time glitches. So, be realistic.

#4       (Reader Beware. What follows is my opinion and my opinion only. There are many other highly reputable people who disagree strongly with what I’m about to say next.)

My biggest mistake was believing that I had to have a fabulous 3 minute pitch and 15 second elevator blurb memorized backwards and forwards and that I should regurgitate them immediately after exchanging greetings with an agent.

It just wasn’t true. All but one agent I spoke with wanted to to ask questions right off the bat. Only one, actually two, a team of agents, let me speak for a minute before interjecting — in their case saying “Send it, send it now!” Yippee. (I had abandoned the rigid pitch by then. See below.)

Truthfully, I don’t know where the memorized pitch concept originated as my experience showed it to be completely unrealistic. In the future, I plan to write out a summary of the high spots of my manuscript, my background, and other items important to the “package” I’ll be offering. I won’t worry about length and I’ll study it enough so that I feel thoroughly comfortable speaking about these things. Then I believe I’ll be able to present myself and my work more convincingly and more enthusiastically.

My background is PR so I know how to be enthusiastic about a turnip. But genuine enthusiasm, which I adopted after I dumped the canned pitch, felt so much better than my initial three minute rote job.

#5       DO NOT sacrifice time and skip meaningful events like CraftFest, and the social occasions to polish your presentation. Do not, do not, do not. Try to attend Master CraftFest and ThrillerFest Friday and Saturday activities if you can.

#6       Take the time to understand all the opportunities the conference offers. I saw promotional literature on tables in the reception area, giveaway books, plus huge and no doubt very expensive posters for major authors. You might not want to pony up for big posters or free books but I suggest leaving business cards and promotional literature. People, including me, were picking it up right and left. If only I had known.

#7       And, finally, it may sound obvious but DO chat with as many people as you can. Had I attended the luncheon, cocktail party, CraftFest, and other events, I would have had many chances to talk to people. I’m so sorry that I missed those opportunities. But, as much as possible, I did talk to my fellow authors when I was standing in line waiting to see agents. Interestingly, I noticed that my efforts at conversation were not the norm.

Too bad. Through these chats, I learned more about the agent in whose line I was standing. I heard about other WIPs that were being presented. And I had a unique opportunity to peek through a window into other authors’ goals. I saw that I really wasn’t so different from many of the people in those rooms. Not everyone had a finished manuscript.  (One of my major boo-boos.)  Not everyone was a font of information on the agents. Not everyone had taken advantage of all the opportunities the event afforded them. And not everyone had memorized a 3-minute pitch.

Will I go to another conference? Maybe. If I do, I’ll certainly be better prepared, less apprehensive, and committed to attending every craft session offered and every social occasion possible. Will I give in to the pressure to produce a 3-minute pitch at the last minute?

God, I hope not.

But since I have one handy – would you like to hear about my exciting new work in progress? It’s called ESCAPE TO PANAMA and –

~~Britt Vasarhelyi

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