These are grasses growing on Cape Cod, MA. They're growing, I'm growing, it's a whole symbolism thing. Photo credit to me 2019.
I attended the 11th annual Hampton Roads Writers Conference a few weeks ago. It offered pitch sessions with agents, breakout sessions focusing on different aspects of craft, and tables for local authors to sell their books. Not to mention the social aspects! It was a great time, and I thought I’d share what I learned.
1. Specificity is King
Whether it’s in the first ten lines, the query, or the pitch, agents want specificity. Details make a book stand out in a crowded market.
For example, take this non-specific logline pitch:
A teenage girl must overthrow the corrupt society ruling her in order to be with the guy she loves.
Is that Hunger Games? Divergent? Matched? Delirium? Any of the other dozens of YA dystopias from the Obama years? You can’t tell because it lacks specific details to make the character, location, or plot stand out.
Now try this one:
Teenage Katniss volunteers to replace her sister in a deadly tournament run by the government of Panem. Once inside the game, she realizes she can’t kill the baker boy from her District, who she might have feelings for. She must find a way for her and Peeta to survive against all odds.
Okay it’s not exactly the same angle, and it glosses over SO MUCH, but it’s a lot more specific and you know it’s The Hunger Games. The agents at this conference talked about specificity at every opportunity. Make sure your first page/pitch/query come across as a fresh story, or a fresh take on an old one. And the way to do that is including specific details.
2. Sensitivity Readers aka Authenticity Readers
I hadn’t heard the term authenticity reader until this conference and I appreciate that term. It clarifies why you should hire such a person to read your manuscript. Hire them whenever you’re writing outside your experience to make sure the portrayal is accurate and not harmful or (even unconsciously) biased.
Even more eye opening, consider hiring an authenticity reader while you’re developing your plot. An authenticity reader can give you notes about how the plot is harmful before you spend time writing a book the world will not tolerate on the market. An authenticity reader can only do so much if reading the manuscript after it’s complete. Consider hiring an authenticity reader early and throughout your process.
Remember these readers can look for authenticity in your representation of ethnicity, race, sexuality, class, mental/physical health, disability, nationality, and more.
3. Sign up for Pitch Sessions
I signed up for pitches based on the descriptions I found on the agents’ websites. I didn’t think one agent and one editor would be interested in my genre and didn’t sign up to chat with them. What a mistake! Turns out the agent actually was interested after he overheard me practice pitch in a session. I might have missed the opportunity to chat with him had I not been in that particular class. So even if an agent’s website doesn’t explicitly ask for your genre, sign up to pitch anyway. (The exception being if they list your genre as a Do Not Want.)
Worst case scenario, they say they don’t rep your genre, and you still have time to chat about the industry. Maybe pull out your query for their opinion on how you’ve phrased things, or your first page to ask if it’s written clearly. Either way, at the end of the pitch time you’ll walk away with more knowledge or an unexpected invite to query. Win-win!
Have you been to a writing conference? Did you pick up any helpful tips and tricks you’d like to share? Let’s chat about it in the comments!