Last week, I did a pitch to an agent during a writers’ conference. I’d sweated over preparing my first query letter and honed my first page to what I thought was not cringe-inducing.
All bright and eager, I sat myself down in front of the cool, pale agent. On the sign-up page, the conference organizers said she was seeking, “relatable themes that will resonate with books clubs and reading groups”. I thought that’s what I had to offer.
Her first words to me were, “What do you want to talk about?”
I admit, I gaped as my thoughts raced. I’d expected her to tell me to launch into my synopsis. Instead, she fussed in her pile of papers and took out my two pages. I can’t be sure, but I think her lip curled.
Then she told me how I should rearrange the paragraphs in the query letter for good effect, how I didn’t have to tell her the theme and that while she liked my introduction: Imagine Stephanie Plum, now middle-aged and starting over, my comp (comparison) was too lofty and I’d over-reached.
I’d said that my hero was embarking on her own “Eat, Pray, Love.” journey. Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, however, this heroine can’t afford to go far. It’s a story of personal growth: from dependence to maturity, from sacrifice to satisfaction, from “going along to get along” and “good enough”, to great.
All right, I could accept that I should have selected a contemporary novel that was recognizable but not as famous as Gilbert’s, but it’s the way she said it that gave me pause.
She said nothing about my first page or if she liked the story line or if the book might be marketable. It was like being in grade 12 English composition class again, where the content meant nothing if the form wasn’t correct.
Her demeanor was forbidding. That didn’t faze me – I’ve dealt with tougher characters, in uniform, wearing firearms. I didn’t expect to walk away with a contract, but at least she could have given me some substantive comments. Agent-y observations.Instead… nada.
There was nothing more to say. I’d sucked up ten minutes of her time. It was a relief when the bell rang, signalling time was up. When I got up to leave, her smile looked forced. Geez, but I was glad to get away.
Despite having paid for the pitch session, I got nothing out of it, except to realize I would have done just as well to speak to my car dashboard. Not that I felt bad. I felt…nothing. The interaction carried less emotion than bumping into a stranger at the entrance to the mall. Oh well….Lessons learned.
So, with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert for being so presumptuous as to compare my hobby writing to her famous novel, I present her TED talk on the writing craft and fear (seaweed?) that’s peculiar to writing.
Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.
Unlike Gilbert, I’m not afraid of ending up a failure, an alcoholic manic depressive, weeping on a pile of ash from my torched writing. I’ll keep scratching this writing itch, but I’m no Norman Mailer and I won’t be suffering.
Somewhere, there will be readers!