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

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.

You Can’t Run From Love

shannon-kirkBy Shannon Kirk

I’m a member of the 2015 ITW Debut class for my psychological thriller, Method 15/33 (Oceanview Publishing). But the truth is, my first novel was written and self-published in 1984, when I was in Fifth Grade. Only one copy of Sentimental Sweetooth was created, handwritten by me. Fortunately, my parents saved this one precious copy:

sweettooth

It’s been a long time since my first “work” in 1984. A lot has happened in-between. I became a wife, a lawyer, a mom. I’ve failed at being a painter, a violinist, and especially at being a singer. All along, I’ve written on the side, when on business trips, when woken from a deep slumber by some lunatic dream I just have to jot down (a male cat giving birth to kittens in a hotel room shared with a seagull holding a baby bunny, for example—who knows—it’s too complicated to interpret). I’ve left scraps of papers with dribs and drabs of story ideas, poems, and whole chapters in hotel rooms, in trash bins around the world, in the margins of other books, on the backs of napkins, on train and plane tickets. It wasn’t until 2008 when I stopped wasting these words, scattering them everywhere. Not until 2008 did I put some discipline around writing.

In 2008, I moved from Chicago to Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, having been offered a job at my current law firm. Manchester is incredibly beautiful; something about the salt air and orange-purple sunsets forced me, inspired me rather, to invest pretty much all of my free time to writing. After a couple of years of keeping my writing in one spot (on one computer) and collecting everything I wrote while traveling for work, and on nights and weekends, I set out to get an agent.

*Record scratch*

*Slam on brakes*

*Reality check*

I thought I could send out just ONE QUERY to the ONE agent I thought I wanted (having done about five minutes of research) and that’d be that. Boy was I W.R.O.N.G.

Getting that first rejection was a slap in the face. I’d grown accustomed to following the rules and basically getting what expected. But the publishing industry is different. It’s not just about working hard at writing something someone wants to read; it’s also a game in perseverance and intense industry research. Over the course of the next three years, I continued to write (three different manuscripts) and continued to receive rejection after rejection after rejection. I haven’t counted how many. Several were addressed to “Dear Author.” Some agents didn’t even respond. Many were very kind in their rejection. But no matter how kind, every single rejection cut. Deep. But as I started to appreciate, the amount of queries, competition, I was up against meant rejections should be expected. They truly are the norm. You learn from them. You move on. You must persevere.

I attended conferences. I sat with agents and editors over samples of my work. Most were incredibly helpful and kind and gave invaluable advice. Only a couple were, well, let’s just say, being as nice as I can, forgettable, or rather, I’d like to forget them. The rejections and these meetings were not easy. They were often painful and I kept thinking, What’s the point in this pain? I have a career. I shouldn’t put myself through this second career, one that’s paying me nothing, actually, costing me lots, financially and emotionally. But the simple answer is the same as with any deep love: you can’t run from love. You can’t. Love haunts you, creeps in on you, whispers in your dreams. And I love writing.

I started researching rejection stories of published authors, often reminding myself of how J.K. Rowling was rejected oh, so many criminal times—how scary to think that we might never have had Harry Potter in our world if J.K. had given up. But she didn’t, and J.K. and other stories like hers were incredibly inspiring to me—they pushed me to persevere. They still do.

So I entered some contests. I had to find a way to get some street cred in writing. Didn’t matter that I have some non-fiction writing out there. And I didn’t have the time or fortitude to get an actual degree in writing or even a certificate. The William Faulkner William Wisdom writing competition was a great opportunity. For three years in a row I was a finalist in either the novella or the very wonderful novel-in-progress category. The novel-in-progress category is an especially helpful category as it gives new writers a chance to get some street cred to put in query letters while finishing a manuscript.

One day, a couple of weeks before heading down to New Orleans to go to the Faulkner event because I had placed as a finalist in the novella category for what was then 15/33 (now a full-length novel, Method 15/33, my debut), I got a life-changing email from my now agent Kimberley Cameron.

I called her. I hung up.

I started screaming from my office.

My husband and son thought someone had died.

After three solid years of rejections, Kimberley offered me representation. And what was more, she said my manuscript touched her, made her cry. It was NOT the manuscript for Method 15/33. She signed me for a wholly different novel (a literary fiction piece called Heavens, to be released next year). After I calmed down, I called her back and told her about 15/33. She said to send her that too.

She happened to sell 15/33 first. To Oceanview Publishing. And when I got that call, while on vacation in St. John, I screamed again, creating an unholy spectacle, something akin to an Andrew Pyper scene.

There’s been a lot of screaming since then. When I got the blurbs from Hank Philippi Ryan, F. Paul Wilson, Lisa Gardner, and Len Rosen (icons who I can’t THANK enough). When I got the two starred reviews, one from Booklist, one from Publisher’s Weekly. When my uncle hooked me up with a Fox News of Rochester interview. I screamed too when I got the 2015 National Indie Excellence Award for Best Suspense.

I met Lisa Gardner at the 2014 Thrillerfest after-party (the one after the awards dinner, exemplifying just how important of a networking event Thrillerfest is). I was so nervous walking up to her, but was shocked at how gracious and welcoming she and other famous authors were that night and the year to follow. Being in the network of ITW, I was able to meet the gracious Hank Philippi Ryan and email with F. Paul Wilson and Len Rosen. All of whom have encouraged encouraged encouraged me to go on. I am often taken aback at how welcome everyone, from new authors to famous authors to members running ITW, including Thrillerfest’s Executive Director, Kimberley Howe, make me feel. No one has to do this; I am a total unknown.

I am often struck by the camaraderie of ITW members. How included established authors make new and aspiring authors feel. I haven’t met one person who has forgotten how it is to start. When Steve Berry introduced me at the Debut Author breakfast this year, I wanted to cry. He did it with a tone of honor, as if he truly was welcoming me (and my fellow debuts) into the fold, our graduation day, and this too encourages me to keep going. I hear his words today, pushing me to finish my next thriller.

And yet, before publication day on May 5, 2015, there was more screaming. The loudest scream came when Mary Alice Kier and Anna Cottle of the Cine/Lit Representation agency emailed with this re: line: “Method 15/33 FILM RIGHTS OFFER.” I read it about a thousand times and pinched my arm to bruising, forcing myself to reenter reality and believe it. And now we’ve finalized a film option deal with Mary Jane Skalski and Damon Lane of Next Wednesday, a New York production company.

Currently producing WILSON for Fox Searchlight, Skalski’s credits include the award-winning THE STATION AGENT (she won both the John Cassavetes and Independent Spirit Producer Award), the Oscar nominated THE VISITOR, WIN WIN and MYSTERIOUS SKIN.  Lane, who has been a manager at Zero Gravity Management, as well as head of Development and Acquisitions at Capitol Films, has worked in film sales, finance and production for over 15 years.  He has produced LOCKED IN and ANOMALY with Noel Clarke.  He is currently packaging CHURCHILL with Studio Canal and Sierra/Affinity.

There’s been more screaming too. Whitney Lee of the Fielding Agency has sent several emails announcing several foreign rights offers.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have fallen in with Kimberley Cameron, who literally plucked me from the maelstrom of the dreaded slush pile and sent the lifeline to extricate me from drowning in Rejection Sea. She’s set up a great network of agents, introduced me to Oceanview, and built a great team.

It’s been a long time since Sentimental Sweetooth, but I’m wholly still sentimental about writing. I am blessed to share this journey in the company of ITW.

Book Reviews: What Is The New Normal And How To Make It Work For You by Jon Land

By Jon Land

When it comes to book reviews, we’re looking at the classic good news/bad news scenario. First, the bad: less traditional print media are reviewing books, and the ones that do (albeit less titles) remain as difficult to crack as a bank safe. Now, the good: more review outlets than ever before have sprung up online, many offering more incisive and better written coverage for authors with the initiative to crack this vault instead. If you haven’t already, check out sites like Bookreporter, the New York Journal of Books, and FreshFiction to see what I’m talking about.

So where does that leave a writer in search of building or expanding his or her brand? How can you critically survive, even thrive, in an age of disappearing or shrinking print book pages in outlets as esteemed as the New York Times and USA Today? Let’s explore some ways.

RELATIONSHIPS: Online journals are not limited by space and often have a stable of reviewers specific to the genre who similarly aren’t constrained by word count. They are much more open to submissions from new or independently published authors and enjoy forming the kind of relationships with authors that traditional media ordinarily shirks. Yes, it’s all about relationships, even in this world, and in some cases you may want to get your foot in the door by offering to review. Become part of the family and you know you’ll be taken care of, so long as the outlet covers their own reviewers’ books. Some have a policy against that but most don’t. Reviewing becomes a way of getting your foot in the door and, perhaps, opening that door to other relationships with those who see your reviews and authors who appreciate your coverage. It’s kind of like a blog, only exposed to a much broader and wider-ranging audience.

BLOGS: Speaking of blogs, I think one of the best way to get reviews right around the day and date of your book’s release is to look into booking a Blog Tour. These are exceptionally cost effective in that many blog tour Hosts will assure you of a minimum number of bookings, normally around 15-20, for a flat fee that could be around $500 or even lower. ITW, I think, still offers a member’s discount to Partners in Crime and I’ve enjoyed a great experience with them through a whole bunch of my Caitlin Strong books. For my latest title, BLACK SCORPION: The Tyrant Returns, my publisher Forge retained PR By the Book and I’ve had a great experience with them as well. Not all of these posts are reviews, though; some are interview-based and others ask you to submit your own post. Some prefer to run an excerpt and many love to promote a contest where they give away a signed book. Whatever the case, it’s coverage, the kind that didn’t used to be available on a far-reaching scale but is now. Check out The Noir Journal, The Qwillery, or Literary Inklings and you’ll get an idea of the quality and presentation I’m talking about.

PEER REVIEWS: However you view the relative deceit quotient of these, we can’t deny that a number of both traditional and independent authors have furthered their careers by campaigning to amass huge numbers of reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. By campaigning, especially as far as Amazon goes, I speak of getting a hundred of your closest, and maybe not so closest friends, to post brief reviews of your book timed as close to publication time as possible. I’ve never actively pursued this myself, but I get it. The process is about building your brand, by getting additional numbers to recognize you and pay attention because so many already have. A lot easier, in other words, to get people to jump on the bandwagon you’ve built for yourself. I’ve heard Amazon frowns on this process now, but have seen no evidence to that effect. And I know a number of authors for whom this became a crucial building block of their ultimate success.

QUANTITY AND QUALITY: The point is to make up for in quantity of reviews what some used to get with a single big hit, the kind that has become elusive to the point of being near impossible. If you have the foresight and ambition to be reading this, there’s no reason why you can’t snare at least a dozen solidly and professionally written reviews for your next title. So you may not have a New York Times pull quote to use, but you may well have a dozen of them which isn’t so bad either. And here’s the thing to remember: The process builds upon itself. Each book adds more volume to that which you’ve already established. You’re building your brand, remember.

THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE: The big media brands are difficult to crack, no doubt about it. So are the Sunday papers that still run original reviews. There’s nothing wrong with approaching them, as long as you keep your expectations realistic. I’ve published 37 books and have been reviewed by the New York Times once—and I consider myself fortunate for that. But I feel I have a much better shot at landing the Times, along with the other literary brass rings, precisely because of the coverage I’ve amassed by following the steps covered above. It’s a matter of laying the groundwork for bigger things ahead, and there are plenty of traditional, well-respected outlets you can start with like RT Reviews, Suspense Magazine, CrimeSpree, and Mystery Scene. You could even look into some very prestigious sites that offer paid reviews—what better investment to make, after all, than in yourself and your brand?

Look, if there was a magic review bullet, I would’ve fired it myself a long time ago. But the simple fact is there isn’t. It takes work, hard work, carried out with the attitude that no site or blog is too small to pursue. If a hundred people see the review of your book, that’s a hundred people who’ve now been exposed to and will hopefully remember you. Who knows, they might even buy your book. And if they don’t buy this one, there’s always the next.

*****

jon_landJon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor. Jon often bases his novels and scripts on extensive travel and research as well as a twenty-five year career in martial arts.

He is an associate member of the US Special Forces and frequently volunteers in schools to help young people learn to enjoy the process of writing. Jon is the Vice-President of marketing of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and is often asked to speak on topics regarding writing and research. In addition to writing suspense/thrillers John is also a screenwriter with his first film credit coming in 2005.

Jon works with many industry professionals and has garnered the respect and friendship of many author-colleagues.  He loves storytelling in all its forms. John currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and loves hearing from his readers and aspiring writers.

To learn more about Jon, please visit his website.

 

Thrillers Are a Rare Species

Leonardo_smallBy Leonardo Wild

I found ITW while doing research on the thriller genre, and joined two years before my first ThrillerFest. I live in Ecuador, where thrillers are a rare species, so I was surprised to find out that there was actually an organization dedicated to writers in the genre. I’m probably the only thriller-writer in Ecuador with 10 books—not all thrillers—under my belt. It’d always been my dream to publish in English—as I do some of my writing in this language—but circumstances had it that I ended up publishing in Germany and Ecuador. So one day back in 2011 I said to myself that it was time to make a serious effort to get myself commercially published in English.

In 2012, as I had enough miles to get to NY and back, I decided to make that first step. With only three chapters and a sense of “it’s now or never,” I singed up for ThrillerFest 2012, asked a friend to put me up in Queens, and went for it.

The concept of pitching to agents in a “speed-dating on steroids” scenario sounded off the rocker, still I prepared myself knowing full well that having only three chapters wouldn’t cut it. Nevertheless, as the business of writing for publication is an ultra-marathon—long time, long distance kind of affair—it wouldn’t hurt to scout it out.

Around ten out of fifteen agents asked for my sample chapters, but as I’d already suspected, nothing would come out of it on the first round. No finished novel, no deal.

On the other hand, being able to meet some many writers and enthusiasts, just becoming part of the milieu, was worth the trip. In fact, after so many years of working away from the publishing highway, it all felt like a breath of fresh air. With new wind in my sails, I decided right away to prepare for ThrillerFest 2013.

A year later I returned feeling slightly annoyed at the fact that, due to personal reasons—I was trying to get my own company on its feet—had left me with less time than I’d anticipated to finish and properly polish my manuscript. In any case, I had re-invented my pitch—adjusting it to the feedback I’d received from agents that had decided not to represent me but were kind enough to hint at what they thought would make it a better story.

As in the previous year, I had a list of around 20 agents that I’d divided in three groups—(AAA, AA, A), (BBB, BB, B) and (C)—having decided to concentrate on New York-based agents only. But it so happens that in the morning before AgentFest (now PitchFest) I crossed paths with Lisa Cerasoli, who was here with Ken Atchity—co-founder of Atchity Entertainment International—an Intellectual Property Management agency based in Hollywood.

I recognized Lisa Cerasoli because one of my Ecuadorian publishers had told they’d met her at a book fair, and considered her to be a good agent. Lisa and I exchanged words, then cards, and we parted with smiles and in the afternoon—during the pitch session—I saw Ken Atchity sitting alone for a moment and decided to approach him after all.

I pitched and Ken said to send him the first 50 pages. Yet, as AEI was on my C list (not working out of New York, and focusing mainly on the film production side of his business), I didn’t follow up on it. Besides, on their website it said that: “Currently AEI takes on only new representation clients with long-range strategic potential.”

Could I be seen as having “long range potential”? I’ve been writing for the past thirty years, yet was doubtful that someone with over 30 films under his belt, and a whole list of represented bestsellers, would be open to an unknown number from, of all places, Ecuador.

Then, on February 6, 2014, and out of the blue, I received an email from Lisa Cerasoli saying they were open for submission and that she would love to see something from me. We exchanged some emails and I finally sent her a full.

On the 9th of March, I received another email from Lisa:

Hi Leonardo,

I’m really enjoying your manuscript. It’s very well-written. The opening is intense and detailed. Your writing has a certain hip elegance to it, which is very cool. I’m going to have one of our evaluators read the whole thing.

Then nothing. Silence. Not a word. A month passed. April went and we were in May. Then, suddenly, just when I was giving up on it, I received this on May the 4th:

Leo,

Hi! How are you?

We have your manuscript in the hands of a second team of evaluators. If you wouldn’t mind sitting tight for just a bit more, that’d be great. We really appreciate your patience.

Patience indeed!

One of the definite traits novelists should have if they want to remain sane!

Yet another month went by and I began to wonder why they needed a second team of evaluators.

On June 11, Ken himself wrote an email that immediately got my heart pumping double-time:

Time to talk. I’m loving your book and want to be involved in whatever your goal for it is. I’m not quite done with the read, but enough to know that much! Will finish up by Monday—then shall we speak?

But then, my heart almost stopped beating when Ken sent me another email on June 15 with the subject: “Homework” and a note saying:

“Leonardo—If you get a sec to read this before we speak. Otherwise afterwards. Look forward.”

It wasn’t this what gave me the chills. It was the attachment with the reader’s report, stating that the reader recommended a Pass.

Not just a pass, but a definite bloody NO!

Still, Ken wanted to Skype. I wondered why.

When we finally connected—he at sea level in LA, me sitting high up in the Andes—Ken asked me what I thought of the report.

I asked back why, after such a report, he was still interested in speaking to me.

Ken explained that he’d read the first fifty pages and that he’d liked them, and was so surprised at the strong negative response from his reader, that he decided to read the rest. He still had fifty pages to go—so he wasn’t going to make a decision just yet—but he felt that, if I managed to end the novel in a satisfying way, we should speak the following Tuesday to see what his decision would be.

That same Sunday night, though, he sent me another email saying:

“Finished it at the pool. Great tie-up at the end, including Miriam. Still some development should be done with the items noted […] . But all in all, good job!”

Tuesday came and, long story short, we agreed to sign a contract for THE GALAPAGOS AGENDA.

I could hardly believe it!

Ken then sent a series of pages for me to revise—”Just some tweaks”—and I delivered the changes within two weeks, just in time before leaving for ThrillerFest 2014.

ThrillerFest 2014 was a whole different experience, as I now had an agent. Some of the friends I’d made over the past years agreed to read my manuscript and write a blurb. Quite a few did (thank you very much!), writers I would’ve never met and even befriended had I not decided to join ITW.

Let me tell you: It has made a world of difference, going to ThrillerFest. Now a publisher is interested in THE GALAPAGOS AGENDA and I’m working on the next novel with great prospects to see my work being published in English soon, thanks to the support of so many great friends who I wouldn’t have met had I not decided to participate in the full ThrillerFest experience.

UPDATE from Leonardo Wild:

On February 22 of 2015, I signed a contract with Suspense Publishing for an eBook edition of THE GALAPAGOS AGENDA, and Story Merchant Books decided to do the print version to come out almost simultaneously, planned for October 2015, using the same cover. If all goes to plan, there may be Advanced Reader’s copies available for ThrillerFest 2015. I am amazed at the number blurbs praising THE GALAPAGOS AGENDA, more than I have fingers on my hand, each one different and unique (crazy, the number of takes readers can have of a single novel), yet all in the vein of Douglas Preston’s review:

“THE GALAPAGOS AGENDA is my kind of thriller – a brilliant and original premise spun out into a globe-spanning cat-and-mouse game that moves with a break-neck pace through a world of international intrigue, extreme wealth, political assassination, and ancient rivalries—and populated with some of the most wickedly drawn villains in recent memory. Leonardo Wild writes with the self-assured style of a veteran. This is a tremendously good novel.”

—Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling co-creator of the famed Pendergast series of thrillers.

UPDATE from Leonardo Wild:

I sat down with Suspense Publishing during ThrillerFest 2015 to finalize publication details for The Galapagos Agenda. It was a very interesting conversation, where I explained my idea for the series and my plan to create a new sub-genre within the thriller genre. I was thrilled at their excitement and my vision for the future of the series.

In short, The Galapagos Agenda is the first book in a series of Paradigm Shift Thrillers that will touch upon subjects of similar social impact. The victims, in all of them, can be many. Hell, you might even be one of them!

The Galapagos Agenda’s launch date is November 17, 2015, but the pre-sale started at the end of October.

If you are interested, you can acquire it here.

Never Surrender

Kevin HurleyBy Kevin Hurley

Thanks to Thrillerfest and some very extraordinary agents and authors who attended, my novel Cut and Cover will be available from Skyhorse Publishing through major retailers for the Fall 2015 season. I will be pitching the sequel to agents at ThrillerFest X.

When I walked into the Grand Hyatt in NYC, I sensed this event was on a professional scale I previously had not imagined. Here were the best of the best just walking around like ordinary people and willing to talk to me.

I was petrified, though it seemed those around me couldn’t tell. At the time, I had been writing fiction for twenty years. A couple of my short stories were published in literary journals. I had completed several novels and had sent them to hundreds of agents with very little success. I even fell for the scam of paying an agent to read one of them (never do this).

Then I met Donald Maass, Jon Land and Steve Berry. Something happened in those moments with these gentlemen. My entire perspective and philosophy on writing changed.

Do you want to get published or, at the very least, turn your novel into a professional level piece? It’s very simple but involves hard work.

First, I suggest you speak with Jon Land and learn how to condense your 300 or so pages into one 20 word sentence. He is the master of this pitching style. If you do this, you will find that you probably don’t know what your novel is about, or do but can’t put it into words. I couldn’t. Once you understand this, then you can talk to agents without mumbling and stumbling.

Next, attend as many CraftFest classes as you can and especially listen to what Steve Berry says about using the word “He” instead of the protagonist’s name. You will want to learn what Steve says about writing and rewriting. If you are not willing to do this, then I would have some coffee, enjoy lunch, buy a couple books, and go home.

Lastly, and for me the most important, was buying Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. It is the single most important reason my novel was purchased by a NYC publishing house. It is now my bible. I have read and reread it and scribbled notes all over the thing. When I began writing the sequel to Cut and Cover, I reread Mr. Maass’ book and it set my goals for tension on every page, stakes, and plot. If you are fortunate enough to attend his class, don’t forget to ask Donald what he means by making the “next worst thing happen”.

Now go get ‘em!

 

Kevin Hurley lives in the Catskill Mountains in New York and can be reached at www.silkreel.com