Friday, March 20, 2015

New York Pitch Conference: The First Day

Was it only yesterday that I wrote that the prospect of the New York Pitch Conference seemed both exhausting and exhilarating? I’ve survived the first day I can tell you: it is definitely exhausting!

We started the day with what was billed as a “Pep-Scare Talk” by the Director, Michael Neff, who told us, in no uncertain terms, that not a single Conference participant has a manuscript ready to send anywhere. Even if an agent or editor asked for our manuscript, he said, we should not send it because “it is not ready.” I don’t dispute his expertise – after all, he’s been directing these conferences for ten years. I am, however, a little puzzled by such a categorical pronouncement since no one connected to the conference has read any of the manuscripts. Is it not possible that at least one of the participants has a polished gem? Apparently not.

In any event, we were then assigned to workshop groups but not on the basis of genre as I had thought. It’s unclear how they decided who would
be assigned to which group. There are fifteen writers in mine. Their genres include crime fiction, historical fiction, fantasy and one autobiography.

Our workshop leader is Paula Munier. She’s a Senior Literary Agent and Content Strategist at Talcott Notch Literary Services in Milford, CT. She started her career as a journalist and has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books. Before becoming a literary agent three years ago, she spent many years as an Acquisition Editor.

She is very involved with the mystery community, she says, having served four terms as president of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

And, here’s a scary thought: she receives a thousand queries a month and now has 9000 unread ones.

In our two sessions today (each three and a half hours long), every participant read a pitch “one-sheet” which Ms. Munier then critiqued. Our task is to make suggested changes tonight and then e-mail them to her for review.

My own novel, MAYBE, IT’S MURDER, is a 70,000 word thriller/police procedural set in a fictional county in Western North Carolina. Here are the first two paragraphs of my pitch sheet:

Sure, he kidnaps, tortures and murders women – nine so far and counting – but he’s also a churchgoing family man, a pillar of his small Appalachian town, the very last person anyone would ever suspect.

Howard County Sheriff Mable Lee Barnes, tough, profane and determined, one of only two female sheriffs in all of North Carolina, is closing in on him with the help of her CIU commander, Zebulon McAfee. Against a backdrop of political backstabbing, budget cuts, upcoming elections and community unrest, they doggedly follow every lead, dead end after dead end, while the killer carefully plans his next murder. Time, as the lawyers say, is of the essence.

The Good News: According to Ms. Munier, “Southern” books sell and female cops sell. Publishers are looking for them, she says, especially if the cop has a love interest.

The Bad News: She hates the title. She wants one that hints at the setting. Carolina Murders? Murder in the Carolinas? Carolina Corpses? Don’t like any of them but I’ll keep thinking.

Tomorrow promises to be even more nerve-wracking than today. From 9-10 a.m., there is a session billed as “Rumors, Coffee & Jitters.” Could we be more nervous and jittery than we already are?

Then, at 10 a.m., our entire group of fifteen meets in one room with Silissa Kenney, an editor at St. Martin’s Press. She is said to be “vigorously seeking” mysteries, thrillers and psychological suspense novels as well as other genres. This will not be a one-on-one pitch opportunity. Each participant will read his pitch statement in the presence of the group and the workshop leader. Not a relaxing prospect.

In the afternoon, we return to our workshop for a critique of our morning performances.

I begin to see why the conference is billed as “not for the thin-skinned.”

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