ThrillerFest XV • July 7 – 11, 2020 • Grand Hyatt • New York City

Against All Odds…

By Isabella Maldonado

I attended my first ThrillerFest in 2017 as a member of the debut author program. In my case, the cart was about a mile in front of the horse. I had already signed a three-book deal without an agent. Shortly after my first book hit the shelves in March of 2017, I realized I desperately needed representation. Off to ThrillerFest I went.

When I arrived in New York, I hardly knew anyone in the industry. Having spent the previous 22 years in law enforcement, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (see previous comment about signing without an agent). My total ignorance was both a blessing and a curse. I struggled to find my footing, listening to lots of conflicting advice. A major benefit of attending such a prestigious conference was having the chance to speak to real pros, who offered their hard-won wisdom.

I recall telling someone that I was going to PitchFest. That person assured me no agent would be interested because I already had a multiple book deal. He shrugged. “What’s in it for them?”

I remember thinking that if one agent couldn’t see any value in me as a writer, I would try another. Wash, rinse, repeat, until I found someone who saw potential.

The day of PitchFest came, and I attended the pre-Pitch session, which I highly recommend. Seasoned authors listened to my pitch in advance and offered invaluable advice that helped me reframe my situation in a more positive light. Better prepared, I stood in line with hundreds of other authors waiting for the doors to open.

That’s when an author behind me complained to everyone within earshot. “I think all of these so-called pitching opportunities are a scam. I’ll bet nobody ever actually gets signed with an agent at these things.” She put a hand on her hip. “Do any of you know anyone who’s gotten an agent at this conference?” Her audience exchanged glances, lines of doubt forming on their faces.

Not one who normally interrupts, I couldn’t let that slide. Couldn’t let one person dash everyone’s hopes at the exact moment when they needed to be positive and confident. I turned around and addressed the group. “I’ve read the accounts of authors who found agents at PitchFest. They’re real people. These agents are here because they want clients.” Then I took a leap of faith. “I’m going to find an agent today.” Several people smiled. One gave me a thumbs up. The naysayer muttered something under her breath and scowled.

The doors opened and the crowd surged in. Using the information packet supplied by ITW, I zeroed in on the agents who were looking for books in my genre. I was able to pitch to eight agents. A couple of them did scratch their heads and ask why I was pitching when I already had a contract, but several others expressed interest.

One of those interested agents, Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency, purchased my recently-published debut novel at the ITW conference bookstore. I was stunned when she came to my debut author signing spot and asked me to autograph the book! After I flew back to Phoenix, I found myself in the wonderful position of having a decision to make. After mulling it over, I felt that Liza and I clicked, and her enthusiasm for my unusual back story and my work told me she would represent me well.

If I could find the group that had been standing outside the doors with me waiting for their turn—who perhaps still harbor doubts because of one vocal skeptic—I would tell them that PitchFest works. Instead, I’m writing this account to reach anyone else who wonders if they should give it a try.

I’m so blessed to have found an agent to work with who truly “gets” me and believes in me. Having someone in your corner is critical in an industry currently undergoing massive changes. I’m returning to ThrillerFest this year and will meet with my agent again. Two years and three books in, we’re still going strong…all because of PitchFest. Yeah, it’s real.

 

I came back with a new book

By Colleen Winter

I am where I am today as an author because of Thrillerfest.

I first attended Thrillerfest in 2015. I remember landing at La Guardia airport and being absolutely terrified to be in New York city alone and headed to a conference with some of the most successful authors in the world.

I needn’t have worried. As soon as I arrived at the conference, I was amazed (astounded) at the open, supportive, and friendly atmosphere. I remember speaking with David Morrell before the Debut authors breakfast and being completely star-struck and charmed by him. He later introduced me to Nelson DeMille and I was shocked to be meeting such renowned authors.

I pitched to eleven agents that year and eight said yes to the manuscript. None of them ended up saying yes after I submitted and I distinctly remember one of the agents who said no, saying that the story was too ‘small.’ I was hurt and devastated but after going home and licking my wounds I understood what she was saying.

I also had gone home with an understanding of what it meant to be an A-list author after having observed the ones I had seen at Thrillerfest.  I knew I needed to up my game if I wanted to be a published author.

Two years later I came back with a new book. I pitched to eight agents and one editor. All of them said yes, and within one week of sending the first 50 pages to Tara Gavin at Kensington Books, I got a detailed email about changes she would need to reconsider the manuscript. Within a month I had made those changes and sent it back.

Six weeks later I sent a follow-up email. When I still hadn’t heard the following June, I registered for Pitchfest again. A week before I was to attend the conference, I received an email from Tara saying she was interested in the book and wanted to meet while I was in New York. Wow. Meeting with my New York publisher. That was something that only happened to other people.

That week at Thrillerfest was one of the most incredible of my life. It started with being selected as one of the winners of the The Best First Sentence Contest. That honour was nothing in comparison to the email I received the next day with Kensington Books offering me a three e-book deal.  It still felt like this was something that happened to other people.

After a quick re-adjustment on my strategy, I spent Pitchfest looking for an agent. It was an unexpected position to be in and it felt strange to all of a sudden be in the driver’s seat. It  helped that my feet had yet to touch back to the ground after the offer. I spent the rest of the conference speaking with agents and experienced authors to figure out my best course of action. It was the perfect place to be when having to make a decision on first whether I needed an agent and second which one it would be.

With the cards from many agents in my hand, I returned home and spent the next few weeks making my decision. Without exception all of the agents were kind, helpful and didn’t put any pressure on me to choose them. It was a relief to finally make a decision and I will be forever grateful to Tara Gavin at Kensington Books for having faith in the series and to Gail Fortune of Talbot Fortune Agency for helping me navigate the world of publishing.

My first book, The Gatherer is to be published in September 2019.

 

 

 

I came to an agent and completely blanked.

By Sarah Cain

I was a professional writer of speeches and direct mail and press releases—none of which are things people clamor to read.  I had written fiction for years, mostly short stories and flash fiction. Then there was my novel. I had worked on it for about eight years. I had even sent out queries, all of which had been rejected.

I started going to writers’ conferences to pick up tips and learn more about the industry. When I heard about Thrillerfest, I wasn’t sure I was ready to pitch to agents in person. I thought I’d just go for the workshops. Then I thought, I’ve worked on this novel for so long, and I’ve polished and polished it. I do it now, or go on to something else. So I came to New York, and I practiced my pitch. Believe me when I say I was shaking when I started my first pitch, but it got a lot easier when the agent asked me to send her pages. Then the next agent asked me to send a full manuscript. My whole session was rolling along with agents asking for full manuscripts and partials.

Then it happened. I came to an agent and completely blanked. I forgot my pitch halfway through, but she was extremely nice. She waited for me to get my act together and go through my pitch, and she asked for a full manuscript. I sent it to her and figured I’d never hear from her again. I was wrong. She was Renee Fountain, and she became my agent.  She took on my noir thriller, The Eighth Circle, and sold it to Crooked Lane Books in a two-book deal.

So many writers toil away at their craft and never get any recognition. I am, and always will be, so grateful to Renee and Crooked Lane Books for taking me on. I will always appreciate Thrillerfest for giving me the opportunity to get my novel, The Eighth Circle, out in front of the agent it needed. I do love to give people those deep, dark thrills.

She said no

By Don Bentley

She said no.

I’d attended PitchFest for the first time, found the agent I wanted, and pitched my newly completed manuscript. We’d hit it off during our five minute face-to-face and she’d agreed to read the entire novel. I sent it and waited on pins and needles only to get the dreaded rejection letter. To be fair, it was the most constructive rejection letter I’d ever received, but it was still a no all the same.

That was five years ago. In the ensuing time, I went back to ThrillerFest each year, bettered my craft, and wrote another book. And I sulked. A lot. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t stop talking to my dream agent. Each ThrillerFest, we chatted, getting to know each other better. A year ago, we sat at the bar for several hours talking about life, writers we both admired, great novels, and my work in progress.

She told me to finish my book.

I did.

Two weeks ago, I sent her Fallen Comrade. This time, she said yes.

Thank you ThrillerFest and thank you Barbara Poelle.

Don Bentley

I wasn’t really a writer

By D.A. Bartley

I wasn’t really a writer. A reader? Absolutely. The first grown-up book I remember getting my hands on was an Agatha Christie. I’ve worked as a lawyer and an academic, so I read professionally. I guess I wrote, too, if you count legal briefs and academic papers well suited for curing insomnia, but I didn’t think of myself as a writer.

That was before I saw the house in Pleasant View, Utah: the enormous 16, 000-square-foot house with its spectacular views of the Wasatch Mountains in front and the shimmering mirage of the Great Salt Lake in the back. It had been empty for years. What could happen in a house like that?

That’s how it started for me. It starts differently for every writer I know. Some have written stories their entire lives. Others write here and there, off and on, until eventually they have something ready to share. For me, it started with that house. The house I couldn’t leave until I wrote about what could happen inside its walls; the house that became my home until I finished writing Blood Atonement.

Not really being a writer, I had no idea about the world of writing, no idea about the universe in which manuscripts turn into books. I had to learn about query letters, agents, editors and publishers. So I researched, which is something I did know how to do. The result of that research was quite clear: if you’re interested in thrillers or mysteries, ThrillerFest is the place to be.

In 2015, I signed up for pretty much everything ThrillerFest had to offer, including Master CraftFest. The Master Class turned out to be one of the most transformative days of my life as a new writer. My instructor was David Corbett, who not only has a gift for writing, but also has a gift for teaching others how to find their best writing.  On top of that, the fellow writers I met are some of the most talented, generous and supportive people I know.  I left David’s class inspired, excited, and absolutely certain that what I had written so far was unequivocally terrible. There was a good idea for a book somewhere in that manuscript, but it was buried beneath layers of novice mistakes and unnecessary words. I had signed up for PitchFest that year, but deep down I knew wasn’t ready.

Between ThrillerFest 2015 and ThrillerFest 2016, I prepared: I edited, revised and rewrote. I cut a total 40, 000 words, moved chapters around, wrote a new 40, 000 words and changed POV more times than I care to count. I was committed to having a pitch-able manuscript this time around. I researched agents, read every Writer’s Digest interview I could find and created an extensive, color-coded table to keep me on-target at PitchFest.

This was the PitchFest where I met Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Services. I knew she was my top choice the moment I read she loved Terry Tempest Williams (one of my favorites, too). After waiting in the very long line to speak with her, it was finally my turn. Paula was as smart and charming as I had expected her to be. My heart skipped a beat when she asked to see the entire manuscript. Months later, through a series of improbable events, Editorial Director Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books contacted me to discuss publishing Blood Atonement. I knew I was out of my depth when our conversation turned to the business side of publishing. I needed an agent.

My fellow writers from Master Class suggested I contact my favorite agents from PitchFest who’d asked to see the manuscript, but hadn’t gotten back to me yet. Within minutes of sending a few emails, my phone rang. It was Paula. Today, not only am I represented by the fabulous Paula Munier, but I am thrilled to be working with the creative and dynamic Matt Martz and Sarah Poppe of Crooked Lane.

ThrillerFest is many things to many people. It’s a place to meet your favorite authors, it’s a place to hone your craft, it’s a place to learn about the business of books and it’s a place where everyone can feel at home…especially if you like your home to be a crime scene.

 

Signed with four agents

By Lissa Price

I will always be a big fan of of ITW and Thrillerfest because I owe my career to this conference.  It was here that I met and signed with four agents–one film, one foreign, two lit–and also found my writer’s group.

When I went to the very first Thrillerfest in Arizona, I looked up at the debut author’s panel, just a handful of authors back then, and promised myself I’d sit up there someday. I’d had some hard knocks, but was reinventing myself and I wanted to be published more than anything in the world. I continued to return like a holy pilgrimage, listening to authors like Lee Child, R.L. Stine, Jim Rollins and more, and I absorbed every word. Lee told us there was no magic to getting signed; getting an agent was procedural.  I’d never heard it that way before, and it made so much sense.

The next time I went, I signed up for Pitchfest. An author I’d become friends with at the first conference heard I was going to pitch his big agent, so he offered to put in a recommendation. Pitchfest was an amazing opportunity, a chance to meet so many agents in one room – and they all want to hear your pitch!

That agent signed me, but didn’t sell my first manuscript. I was devastated – for a day. Then, when I next wrote a YA manuscript, he felt he couldn’t sell a YA in that market, and nicely released me from my contract. Within hours, I had several agents who wanted the full manuscript. In 24 hours, I had offers of representation and they kept coming. The one I ended up choosing was someone I had met at Thrillerfest when a different author friend introduced us. This agent went on to sell my debut in a preemptive bid by Random House the night before the auction. STARTERS was a lead title that sold for seven figures, becoming an international bestseller published in over thirty countries, several that I toured.  They made a live-action trailer that played in front of The Hunger Games movie in ten cities and abroad. It was more than I ever imagined.

Many exciting moments followed, but the one that meant the most to me, because of the secret pact I’d made with myself at that first conference in Arizona, was getting to sit on that debut author’s panel.

Thank you, ITW, for creating this place for us.

_____

Lissa is a diverse author and supports diversity. To learn more about her, please visit her website.

Crossroads

Sheena_medSheena Kamal

About two years ago, I was working as a TV researcher for a crime drama series when an idea began to form for a project of my own. A dark, psychological suspense novel. I’d never written a novel before, but the idea wouldn’t let go and I found myself at a crossroads. In a moment of righteous conviction, I took the least logical path available. I quit my job and moved across the country to Vancouver, because this is where my story would be set. I had no employment prospects on the West Coast, no money, no friends, nothing but the drive to write.

For the next year, I took day work in the film and television industry to make ends meet, ate out of cans, pocketed food from set. One week I had nowhere else to go so I lived in a tent. I’m told some people do this for fun. I am not one of them.

It wasn’t easy, but I wrote every day. Almost a year later I had a complete draft of my manuscript. I called Robert Rotenberg, a wonderful writer that I’d known for years, for advice on the next steps. He told me great, Pitchfest is just around the corner. Go to New York and meet some agents. I couldn’t afford the trip, but I made it anyway. Because I’m committed to my insanity.

At Pitchfest, all nine agents I spoke with requested material.

Most of the day was a blur, but I remember my initial meeting quite clearly. I was the first person waiting for Miriam Kriss from Irene Goodman. She was a few minutes late, but I didn’t move on. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt strongly about her before I even met her so I sat at her table and waited for her to arrive. She came in like a tempest, with her hands full and her beautiful hair in disarray. Something clicked between us during our conversation, and Pitchfest was over for me then. I could have dropped the mic and walked away.

I sent Miriam my opening chapters the next morning and within an hour she asked for the complete manuscript. Six months later, I had multi-book deals with Harper Collins, Bonier Zaffre, JC Lattes and Ullstein. My debut novel, the first in a trilogy, will be released in 2017.

Before I found myself at that fateful junction two years ago, debating whether or not to take a risk, writing was a gift that I gave to myself in stolen moments. Those moments are not stolen anymore. Largely due to the support of Robert, Miriam, and the ITW, writing is what I do now. Minus the tent, thankfully.

 

I decided to get serious and give PitchFest a try.

beatty_squareBy Robert Beatty

I had been writing novels and attending writer’s conferences for many years, but it wasn’t until I attended ThrillerFest / PitchFest that I found a real agent and received a publishing contract with a major New York publisher. Here’s how it happened:

In the past, I had been to a variety of writer’s conferences throughout the country, attending all sorts of workshops and pitching my manuscripts to various types of agents. I was working on a new novel called “Serafina and the Black Cloak” about a strange and unusual twelve year old girl who lived secretly in the basement of Biltmore Estate, a vast Vanderbilt mansion in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. After completing the manuscript, I decided to get serious with it and give PitchFest a try. I flew up to New York, studied the list of agents, and picked the ones I thought would be most receptive to a spooky, historical, mystery-thriller for young readers.

One of the things I loved about PitchFest is how intense, time-efficient, and concentrated it was. Someone had told me, “I know pitching your story to an agent is intimidating, but try to pitch to at least two or three agents to increase your chances.” Hoping to increase my chances even further, I ended up pitching my story to ten agents in one day. Amazingly, all ten were excited about my story and asked to read the manuscript! I picked the person who appeared to be the best, most effective of those ten agents (Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman) and sent him the manuscript. He read it over the weekend and called me on Monday morning to tell me he wanted to represent me. A few months later, we landed a contract with Disney Hyperion.

Two years later, when “Serafina and the Black Cloak” launched, it became a New York Times Bestseller in the first week and remained there for 20 weeks. It’s been a major success. I now have publishing contracts with Scholastic (school paperback), Random House (Audiobook), and translations/publications all over the world. And most excitingly, Disney Hyperion has acquired two more books for the Serafina series! After struggling as an aspiring writer for many, many years, it has all been a dream come true. And there is no doubt in my mind that ThrillerFest/PitchFest was instrumental in making it happen.

A place where authors help fellow authors.

wilsonBy Jeff Wilson

To me Pitchfest embodies what ITW and Thrillerfest really are, at their hearts: a place where authors help fellow authors.

I joined ITW in late 2011 and attended my first Thrillerfest in the summer of 2012. I had a debut novel from 2011 and a new novel just out and was thrilled to be a part of everything. I made some great friends, many of whom were authors I had read for years, and had a great time. Two years later, after my third novel with a small, genre press was out, these new friends encouraged me to participate in Pitchfest so I could get my work to a larger house and reach more readers. I took their advice, and it was the best thing I ever did for my career.

I pitched a new book to about twelve agents that I had researched in advance. Ten of them asked for the manuscript but my phone call with Gina Panettieri from Talcott Notch led to an instant connection and I knew she was the agent for me and my work. We signed a few months later.

As a result of that connection, I have two thriller series which I write with Brian Andrews—the NICK FOLEY series with Crooked Lane Books and the TIER ONE series with Thomas and Mercer, both multi-book deals. I am also waiting to hear on two other stand-alone novels that Gina has in submission.

Maybe my career would have launched without the friends I made at ITW and without Pitchfest, but I doubt it. ITW is more than an organization and Thrillerfest is more than an event—together they are a community of writers supporting each other, raising one another up, and helping one another succeed.

Never give up. Never say die.

©PENGART.COMBy Richard Goodfellow

“Richard! You’ve finished the manuscript for Collector of Secrets, so why aren’t you trying to find an Agent?” Those were the questioning words spoken over lunch by my friend Keren Deere (www.writegirl.org) back in 2008. I regretted vaguely replying that it all seemed too daunting, as that prompted a blistering lecture along the lines of ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day).

Keren and I have laughed about that moment since, but it was the catalyst for finding the 2008 Thrillerfest event (along with the second year of Agentfest).

So, once registered, the next question to be answered was how to stand out from the crowd when competing against a room full of talented writers with just three ticking minutes on the clock? My answer came in the form of Clayton Goodfellow (talented documentary film maker – www.GeorgiaStreetMedia.com) who has mastered this particular black art.

Clayton not only assisted in developing a graphical postcard (with attached flash drive), but helped create a killer ‘hook’ and intriguing ‘pitch’. Who needed three long minutes? With his guidance less than sixty seconds was needed for delivery, and over a dozen requests came quickly for the full manuscript.

Soon, I was signed with the amazing Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar agency, who stuck with me (when even I’d lost faith) as she diligently and patiently worked for 5 years to find Collector of Secrets a good home.

My eventual oasis came in the form of Jason Pinter, owner of Polis Books, who published the hardback and e-book in August 2015, and who has proven not only to be incredibly generous with his enthusiasm but also with his time.

So, if you are reading this because you’re trying to work up the courage to go to Thrillerfest and pitch your book, then I say just DO IT. What do you have to lose? Surround yourself with people that will support you, guide you and when needed kick you in the butt. And never give up. Never say die.