ThrillerFest XII • July 11 - 15, 2017 • Grand Hyatt • New York City

PitchFest Was Brilliant!

By Vaughn Ripley

My 89,000 word cyberthriller was complete and I was ready to run to the highest mountain, or at least a hilltop, and scream, “I did it!” I have no illusions about books and publishing… You see, a few years ago, I self-published my memoir, “Survivor: One Man’s Battle with HIV, Hemophilia, and Hepatitis C.” My original plan with SURVIVOR was to type it up and then everything else would fall into place… Right? Wrong! I couldn’t have been further from the truth. In all honesty, I think that writing the book was the easiest part of the whole crazy process. I’m totally serious! After some harrowing months (nearly a year) of writing agents, editors, publishing houses, and so on I finally broke down and self-published.

With my fictional book, I was determined to get a traditional publisher. Self-publishing may have worked for my autobiography, but I was convinced that my fictional cyberthriller, DECRYPTED, would have a much better chance for success going the traditional route. So, I started investigating my options. I quickly determined that an agent would be the best bet for success. On top of that, it would also help me through this serious maze of the publishing world. Now that I knew my direction I needed an avenue to find and partner with the appropriate agent. Reading and research revealed writer conferences as a perfect venue for me to meet face to face with potential agents. I’m a people person and passionate and I knew immediately that this would be a practical way for me to sell myself and my story.

As I searched for conferences, you can imagine my shock when I found ThrillerFest; which was the precise genre that I was pitching! Then I saw that they do agent speed dating during the PitchFest part… Holy crap!!! It was like the conference was designed specifically for me. I knew right then and there that I would go. I also knew in my heart that I was going to win over an agent!

Deciding to go with my pitch in my head, I carefully crafted the short and sweet single sentence… This is the pitch I created and memorized for DECRYPTED:

“A female hacker stumbles on a plot to assassinate the Vice President, only to discover a deeper plan to attack several major cities with nuclear weapons.”

Perfect… Right? Hmmm… Did I mention that sometimes nerves get in the way? HA! Okay, so I had the pitch memorized, but when I sat down with the first agent, I stumbled and fumbled for the right words. It’s all a bit of a blur… As a matter of fact, I’m not positive I even mentioned that I’d written a book. HA! This leads to my first piece of advice: If there is any chance of you being uncomfortable with the first and/or second speed date interview then choose the first agent with this in mind. Make it someone that you don’t mind stuttering in front of. In short, save the best for the middle. Middle? Yep… You don’t want to leave them for last, because you might not get to them before the day ends (that was piece of advice 1a).

My incredible PitchFest experience had me sitting down and chatting with ten people (eight agents and two editors). I figure the time allotted (about three hours) would allow any normal author a chance to meet eight to twelve agents (give or take one). So, that puts the middle around four or five. The fourth person was right around where I started to hit my pitching groove. Guess what… The fourth person was Francine Edelman of the Schiavone Literary Agency. She was the agent I most wanted to sign with because of her amazing marketing background. When I sat down and introduced myself, Francine said, “Oh, I remember you… You emailed me to say you were coming to this… How are you?”

Ah hah! I forgot to mention that prior to the conference I did what many of the others did and investigated each agent carefully. But, I took it one step further and wrote each of them a brief email introducing myself and simply saying that I would see them at the conference. No pitch. No hidden agenda. Just a brief “hello” and “see you soon.” This put my name in the back of their mind, and provided a smile for me when I said my name. My second piece of advice is to investigate each agent, pick your dozen (or so) carefully, and email them to say “hi” a week or so before the conference.

Francine–along with nine out of the ten people I met with–asked me to send her a copy of my manuscript. I sent it to her, and she wrote me the next morning to tell me, “I read the whole thing last night, enjoyed it, and would like to work with you.” I was elated! Francine was the number one agent on my list of twelve. And, not only did she want to work with me, but she loved my story to boot. WOW!

PitchFest was officially a success! And, it was brilliant!!!

Let’s discuss my third piece of advice… Your manuscript. Before you sign up for agent speed dating at any conference, make sure that your manuscript is done and edited. And, have a short pitch memorized. It also really helps to have a two-page and four-page synopsis completed (most of the agents will request this).

It is important for you to be responsive with the agents and editors that request copies of your work. If you don’t have your ducks in a row for this easy part of the timeline, how can an agent, editor, or publisher trust that you’ll be ready at other stages? You are a professional… Act like one!

My last piece of advice may be the most important. I was a volunteer for the event and this really helped me, because I met some of the more famous authors, a few editors, and some agent. And, it allowed me access to the central nervous system of the conference. I can’t tell you how awesome of an opportunity it was to volunteer and work side by side with some amazing people in the coolest business in the world – writing!

ThrillerFest was a fantastic venue and I can’t recommend CraftFest and PitchFest too much. These are awesome and a terrific way for you to shine as an author. If you’re a fictional author and working on getting an agent or publisher, you MUST sign up for ThrillerFest, CraftFest, and PitchFest!!!

To learn more about Vaughn, please visit his website: