ThrillerFest XIII • July 10 – 14, 2018 • Grand Hyatt • New York City

I Got the Agent (and Editor) I Wanted

Walt Gragg_mainBy Walt Gragg

Wow! Did that just happen? Exactly two weeks from the day I attended Pitchfest, I hang up the phone after being offered representation. Liza Fleissig is going to be my agent. And the best news is not only did I get an agent, I got the agent I really wanted. Liza was my first choice going into PitchFest. And, she was my first choice after I finished my pitches. Things couldn’t have gone better.

Before I talk about how that happened I know many of you would like to hear about Thrillerfest. 2014 was my first time at this incredible conference and it didn’t disappoint. It was easily the best writers’ conference I had ever attended. There was no doubt tremendous time, thought and effort had been put into making it into the incredible experience it is. The classes and panels were great, as were all the other activities. I volunteered and was thrilled I did. My wife and I met many well-known writers. Every time we turned around, another one was standing there. They were all so down-to-earth and supportive. It was clear they wanted to see all of us succeed. Writers Jon Land and Kathleen Antrim taught a class on making pitches the day before PitchFest. Unbelievably, when the class was over, both spent the next six hours working one-on-one to polish our presentations.

One of the best things at Thrillerfest is the friends you make with other aspiring writers (make sure you bring a stack of business cards to exchange). I email frequently with many of them.

You learn many things. For example, at a panel of agents and editors the unanimous opinion was they preferred you don’t hire a professional editor before submitting to them. One of the best things I learned is that agents and editors really are just people. They are no different than any of the rest of us. Despite rumors to the contrary, not one had horns, fangs, or fire shooting from their blood-red eyes.

If this is your first year at Thrillerfest you probably want to know about PitchFest. It is as described on the website. You get in line, wait your turn and make your pitch. Some didn’t take the full three minutes, some lasted longer. Make sure you read Shane Gericke’s FAQs and Jon Land and Kathleen Antrim’s advice in the PitchFest section of the website before coming to the conference. Prepare a Single-Page Summary with your picture using the format Shane has at the end of his FAQs (some agents will want it, some won’t).

If you are serious about seeing your novel in print the key to success at Pitchfest is to start preparing before you get to New York. First, and I cannot stress this enough, you must have a finished, well-polished manuscript. If you have one nearly completed, you might still want to pitch as long as too much time does not pass before you submit to the agents. An agent can only sell a finished novel and will rarely, if ever, look at partials.

During your pitch you will likely be doing most of the talking, so you should prepare supporting statements about your work. If your bio is relevant make sure you tell them early. If you’ve placed in writing contests or have other accolades, get that in. Tell them what your story is about, who the main characters are, and why they should want to read it. Make sure you spend significant time researching the agents. Create a list of agents to speak with and prioritize it before you get to New York.

On to PitchFest: Thursday, July 10, 2014, 1:50 p.m. – I’m standing in line with all the others waiting to enter the rooms. Strangely enough, I’m not nervous. I attribute that to feeling well prepared. As a writer of military thrillers, I know I won’t get a yes from all of them. I just hope to get some. The first pitch goes fine – the agent asks for 100 pages. I move to another agent on my list and wait my turn. That basically describes the entire afternoon. Move, wait your turn, pitch, move, wait your turn, pitch. At 5:30 I drag myself out of the last room with mixed emotions. I didn’t get to everyone I wanted to speak with, more left at 4:30 than I had expected and two of my favorites are gone before I get to talk to them. As it is I end up getting seven out of nine wanting materials. Not too bad, especially when three of the seven ask for full manuscripts. But the best news is that two of the three wanting the entire thing are my top two choices.

I email out the requested materials the next day (don’t bother bringing printed copies of your novel or sample chapters to the conference, everyone will want it emailed).

The day after PitchFest an extremely well-respected editor from a major publishing house I met at a conference years earlier was on one of the panels. I’d taken 2nd place in the conference’s writing contest and he’d asked to see the manuscript. Three months later he called. He loved my novel and wanted to acquire it. His comments were unbelievably complimentary (I definitely mentioned that during my pitches). Ten days later, he called to tell me his publisher had turned it down (I tried not to mention that). Anyway, after the panel ends, I go up and reintroduce myself. The next morning we have breakfast together. I thought he still had the same publisher so I didn’t ask him to look at it again. We had an enjoyable breakfast and that was the end of it. After I return home I discover he now works for a different publisher. So I get up the nerve and email asking if he would consider a second look. Ten minutes later the answer comes – yes.

I let Liza Fleissig know. I understand, however, that just because he wants to look at it won’t be enough for an agent to sign me. But it does move me to the top of Liza’s list to be read. She uses former editors and agents as her readers. She then does something extremely smart – she gives my military thriller to two women who hate military thrillers. When both come back with positive comments, my phone rings and I have an agent.

It takes Liza about five weeks to get to my novel and edit the manuscript. Thankfully the edits aren’t too significant and it only takes me four days to get it back to her. With my rewrites complete, she offers the editor an exclusive.

Now for the great news! In late October 2014, just 15 weeks after PitchFest, my phone rings. It’s Liza and she’s making the phone call all agents love to make. She’s sold my book to the editor. Penguin Random House wants to be my publisher. She tells me my novel, THE FINAL ACE, is scheduled to be released in paperback but if they like the rewrites they are seriously considering a hardcover release. No word on a release date yet, but it probably won’t hit the bookstores until at least Spring 2016.

How wonderful is that? Not only did I get the agent I wanted, I also got the editor I wanted. I am absolutely thrilled to be working with both. And it would not have happened without the wonderful people at Thrillerfest.

If you want the same opportunity, you need to come to next year’s Thrillerfest, prepared and ready. Say hello when you do, and we can definitely exchange business cards.

Walt Gragg

 

Thrill Ride

GlenErikHamilton_medBy Glen Erik Hamilton

A roller coaster starts off slow, gathering potential energy, as it ratchets almost lazily up the long upward track.

A writer may work for months or years on their first thriller, driven to tell that story, sweating every bit of dialogue and twist of plot.  Building suspense.

Then comes the tipping point.  The coaster comes to the apex, tilts forward.  The writer sends their first query to prospective agents.  Or perhaps, visits PitchFest.

I first learned of ITW and ThrillerFest through my weekly writing group.  With my novel PAST CRIMES rapidly nearing the point where query letters would become unavoidable, I decided to gamble – read: procrastinate – a little longer, and fly across the country for some expert advice and a bit of practice in pitching my story.

On the big day I downed extra coffee and donned comfortable shoes.   I spoke with nine agents during the afternoon, including the extra Power Hour. Invariably, they were polite, focused, and friendly.   And all nine requested to see part or all of the manuscript.  Even better than I had hoped.

The rest of the weekend was just as extraordinary.  Between writing lessons from some of the world’s top authors, entertaining panels and interviews, and making new friends, my first ThrillerFest was high on value and low on sleep.

Within a month, I had spoken to some of the agents directly about representation, including the remarkable Lisa Erbach Vance of the Aaron Priest Literary Agency.   Lisa patiently answered every tiny question I had about her agency, the submission process to publishers, and the best route to take with my sort of novel.

After the summer, when much of the publishing world returned to the city,  Lisa began a full-court press of the houses, and within a matter of weeks, we had a two-book deal with William Morrow in the US and Faber and Faber in the UK.   Elapsed time since PitchFest: less than four months.

It can happen that fast.  A bigger rush than any roller coaster.

So… get yourself and your manuscript and your sales pitch ready.  Climb aboard.   And hang on.

–        G.E.H.

PAST CRIMES will be published by William Morrow in the U.S. and Faber and Faber in the U.K. in Spring 2015.

I went to PitchFest, and it changed my life forever

By Boyd Morrison

PitchFest Changed My Life By Boyd MorrisonAttending PitchFest can change your life. I know that sounds like some corny advertising promo, but it was literally true in my case.

At the first PitchFest in 2007, agents met authors during the lunch session, with one agent at each table. Who you were sitting with was totally random. I was talking with author Jon Land at the time, and we were late to the lunch, so we sat at the very last table in the room, which was about six miles from the front.

At that table was Irene Goodman, a very well-respected agent who has been in the business for 30 years. She had been representing primarily romance and non-fiction and was looking for thrillers to add to her portfolio.

When we were all seated, she went around the table and asked each writer to pitch their novels to her. I knew that having a 30-second summary of your novel is key when pitching agents, so I had one ready to go. Here’s the exact pitch I gave her for THE ARK:

“A relic from Noah’s Ark gives a religious fanatic and his followers a weapon that will let them recreate the effects of the biblical flood, and former combat engineer Tyler Locke has seven days to find the Ark and the secret hidden inside before it’s used to wipe out civilization again.”

As soon as I said “Noah’s Ark”, she asked to see the first three chapters. I mailed them on a Thursday. On the following Monday, she called me. CALLED ME! She was the first and only agent ever to call me, which made quite the impression.

She told me she loved the opening, and would I be willing to FedEx the entire manuscript to her? Uh, let me think . . . Yeah! I would have driven it there on a unicycle if she wanted me to.

Irene received THE ARK on Tuesday. I got a call from her on Thursday offering me representation, which was about the most amazing phone call I’ve ever gotten. I chewed it over for a day (I’d sent it to other agents who weren’t quite as quick to respond). On Friday, I accepted.

Again, this was 2007. After I revised the novel with Irene’s input, we sent THE ARK to 25 publishers. It received what I call “rave rejections.” Publishers praised the story, characters, and action, but they just couldn’t see how the novel would fit into a crowded thriller market. All 25 turned it down.

So in 2009–and with Irene’s support–I posted THE ARK and two other unpublished novels to the Kindle store. Through word of mouth and excellent reviews, I sold more than 7,500 copies in three months, proving that there was a market for my books.

Publishers took notice. Simon and Schuster signed me to a four-book deal in the U.S., and THE ARK will debut in May, 2010 in hardcover, audio, large print, and e-book versions. In addition, on the strength of my U.S. deal, foreign rights to THE ARK were sold in 15 countries.

I still have a hard time believing what one meal could lead to. I may have been late to that PitchFest lunch, but the important thing was that I went, and my life has never been the same.

It Could Happen to You … at PitchFest!

Graham Brown

By Graham Brown and Jamie Freveletti

Ironically, Graham Brown almost missed the Thrillerfest 2007 Agent luncheon. Thanks to a flight delay–on the red-eye, no less–he arrived late at JFK and made it to the Hyatt just as the event was about to begin. “I was completely wiped out at that point, and decided to skip the lunch. All I wanted was to check into my room and get some sleep.” Graham confessed. “But another attendee got in the elevator with me, and by the time the doors opened on the ballroom level he’d convinced me to go. So I sat at the very last table and met Barbara, who was not only listening to pitches but helping authors make them better. My first thought was, ‘This person had WAY too much coffee today.’ I proceeded to come up with the worst pitch of all time, which she politely listened to.”

By the end of lunch, Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman agency had invited Graham to submit his manuscript. “He was able to mark it with the coveted words ‘Requested Submission,’ insuring that his query would avoid the quagmire that can befall unsolicited manuscripts.” Barbara said. “I read it within days of Thrillerfest, and didn’t even make it to the bottom of page one before picking up the phone to request the full.”

jamieGraham wasn’t the only one lucky enough to land an agent thanks to the luncheon. Jamie Freveletti, who recently signed a two book deal with Harper Collins, also had a seat at Barbara’s table that day. Despite the fact that Barbara had initially passed on her manuscript, based on her comments Jamie felt that an in-person meeting might help. “From the moment she started talking, I was struck by her enthusiasm and spot-on analysis,” Jamie said. “When I got back home, I decided she was right. I retooled the story, then sent the rewrite to Barbara. She loved it, and took me on.”

All in all, both writers felt that Thrillerfest provided the opportunity to meet with agents they otherwise would have had no face time with. Jamie said, “It was a pleasure to be able to ask them what they were selling, what direction they thought the industry was headed in, and what their toughest challenge was.” Graham credits Thrillerfest with not only providing a unique chance to meet agents, but also writers. “Zoe Sharp was kind enough to read a section of my manuscript, giving me some character feedback that was profoundly helpful. It was fun talking motorcycles with her, too!”

When asked if meeting Jamie and Graham in person impacted her decision to represent them, Barbara said, “Absolutely, unequivocally yes.” And she had some recommendations for Agentfest attendees: “Ideally you give me one line that captures the essence of your work, such as, ‘A genetically engineered crocodile terrorizes a small Gulf Coast town.’ If I like the idea, I’ll ask to hear more, so have a five or six line summary prepared for follow-up questions. Something like: ‘A young paleontologist returns to her hometown for the funeral of her father, the Sheriff, who supposedly died in a boating accident. Upon her arrival, she realizes that something doesn’t ring true–not only about her father’s death, but the behaviors of her family, friends, and former neighbors. With the help of the Sheriff’s deputy, she uncovers the truth; the town has been shielding a billionaire’s independent research company, and there are scientific perversions running amok in the waters of this sleepy bayou town.’ Wait, I totally want to read that. Somebody get crackin’ and pitch me at Thrillerfest!”

Update:

–Jamie Freveletti’s debut RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL was part of a two-book deal with Harper Collins. Jamie’s debut won the coveted “Best First Novel” award from ITW, but her success didn’t stop there. She’s since published two more novels, RUNNING DARK and THE NINTH DAY, and was asked by the Estate Of Robert Ludlum to write the next in their Covert One series, which is currently scheduled for Fall, 2012. Her fourth novel featuring Emma Caldridge will launch in Fall 2012 as well.

Update (from Graham Brown):

After meeting Barbara at ThrillerFest 2007 and signing with her agency(Irene Goodman Literary Agency) I went back to work on the manuscript for BLACK RAIN. After several months of improving it – including a last minute suggestion of Barbara’s that I didn’t want to do but loved once I’d finished writing it, we went out to several publishing houses. We got two offers and Random House (Bantam) signed us in a pre-empt 2 book deal.

Then the economy hit a rough patch and the launch date for BLACK RAIN got pushed back. It came out in January of 2010 and was followed up by BLACK SUN in August of 2010. At which time we signed a deal for the third book in the Hawker Laidlaw series titled THE EDEN PROPHECY – which comes out in January of 2012 and seems to be generating a good amount of buzz.

In the meantime – completely out of the blue – I got an email from my editor asking if it was okay to give out my phone number and e-mail address to Clive Cussler and his agent, Peter Lampack. Of course the answer was yes, but no information was given to me as to why. As it turned out, Clive had picked up BLACK RAIN in the airport and read it while on a trip to Africa – which is so cool and kind of surreal since I have been picking his books up in the airport and reading them on vacations for years. Apparently he liked it quite a bit and unknown to me was on a search for a new co-author for the NUMA FILES series. He and Peter asked if I would be interested – which is a bit like asking someone if they’d like to drive your Ferrari – of course the answer is yes! – just don’t crash it!

Working with Clive has been a blast – a bit like learning how to hit a baseball from Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron. The first book of this collaboration – DEVIL’S GATE – hits the bookstores on November 14. I think it came out great. I think fans of the NUMA series, both the Dirk Pitt novels and the Kurt Austin novels are going to love it. And we’re already at work on a follow up for summer of 2012. I’d tell you about it but it’s top secret.

Ron and Richard Goulding – Success!

Two brothers—one a lawyer, one a doctor—combined forces in the 90s and decided to try their hand at writing novels. They jokingly call themselves cavemen, as they started out using typewriters and long hand to record their imaginings, sending their work to each other via snail mail. Then came the fax, which dramatically increased their speed of communication. Word processing helped, but their computers wouldn’t sync with each other. Still, nothing could stop their drive to create. Ron wrote the legal aspects of the story, Rick wrote the medical sections. This dynamic duo cross-checked everything to create a seamless novel and their efforts paid off. Rick is here to share their success story of landing a dream agent! You can learn more about the two brothers at www.gouldingbrothers.com

.By Richard Goulding

Ron and Richard GouldingWe began writing our story about the time that Washington was crossing the Delaware. At least it seems that way.

It was a long, slow process, but my brother and I had finished our novel.

Done.

Finally.

Ready to be published.

Or so we thought.

But the process of obtaining an agent was more arduous and frustrating than writing the book in the first place.

We were encouraged along the way—enough to keep us going. People read our work and told us how much they liked it. But they were friends, family, and some unbiased strangers. Not agents.

We did our research, checked the lists of literary agents, sent queries by email and snail mail, and said our prayers at night.

Still nothing.

We’d labored forever, collaborated, argued, edited, revised and rewritten. And now it seemed it had all been a colossal waste of time.

We were ready to give up.

Until I met Elizabeth Berry. She explained that she ran something called, “Thrillerfest,” a New York City event.

“Why?” I asked.

She told me that it was a chance to meet face to face with important people in the business and a speed dating session for agents and authors. I had been through the slow dating process and that hadn’t worked out. And I wasn’t getting any younger, so the speed thing sounded interesting.

“But there’s more,” she said, “lots of craft.”

I gave her a look. “What’s craft?” I asked, not afraid to sound stupid. (I have a talent for that according to my wife.)

“It’s what you need to know to write and sell a book, what makes it a thriller.”

And that was my moment, my epiphany, when I suddenly realized that maybe I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Could that be? After all these years?

But I wasn’t alone.

Elizabeth read some of our stuff…not all of it. She told me we had talent, but could use some help.

So I went to New York City during a heat wave and spent some money on very good food…and an incredible education, and I realized where I’d gone wrong.

And I had gone wrong.

I met world-famous authors, newly published authors and would-be authors. I socialized with them, drank with them, ate with them. I made new friends, got different viewpoints. Met a lot of interesting characters—some great, some scary. It was hot, busy, confusing at times and jam-packed with information that I couldn’t assimilate all at once. The more I learned, the more I realized where we’d screwed up, and the more I wanted to get back and fix things.

Then came the dilemma: I had to pitch work that wasn’t ready. For once, I’d done too good a job with the pitch and had 22 agents requesting the first few chapters.

These were top agents, too. The best of the best. I’d selected them ahead of time, making sure they were appropriate for my genre before I approached them.

So my brother and I struggled for two weeks, managing to work and rework our first chapters to comply with what I learned would sell. This didn’t come easy. The whole framework of the book had to be changed, points of view scrubbed, characters restructured. There was simply no time. But if we didn’t at least try, then once more, I felt like I would have failed. That wasn’t going to happen.

So we wrote and rewrote and two weeks went by. Two weeks since the material had been requested. We felt that to take any more time would dampen any enthusiasm the agents had mustered, so we sent out the first three chapters and prayed that no one would respond….because the rest of the book wasn’t ready!

And then the nightmare came true. Within 48 hrs, the top agent on our list, Bob Diforio responded favorably. He’d already sent our first thirty pages to his associate, who also loved what she’d read and wanted more!

We were a month away from completion…and I asked him for a little time…ten days tops. We were enthused by all we’d learned and lied that the book was ready, and that we just wanted it in top condition.

He was disappointed that he had to wait!

And so we worked day and night, and crafted the book almost the way it was supposed to be crafted, packed with information gleaned from the conference that changed our writers’ skills forever. And we sent it in.

He loved it and sent us a contract.

We’ve since written back to the other agents, explaining that we had signed and thanking them for their interest.

We’re not published yet, but we are just starting in this process. We’re hopeful. More hopeful than before, and so is Bob.

But we’d never have landed an agent, let alone our top pick without Thrillerfest.

It’s difficult to explain the transformation of our work, the ultimate understanding of all that we had previously thought we knew, the change in our appreciation of what’s out there.

And even if we never publish, I’ll have treasured my experience in New York, the famous authors I’d met, the words of wisdom that I can never forget, and the delight of getting that big agent onboard.

Ready, Ames, Fire…

At PitchFest, anything can happen. Lives can change in less than three minutes. When Daniel Ames met Scott Miller from Trident during PitchFest, he was staring at his dream agent. Little did Dan know that shortly after ThrillerFest ended, he would sign with Scott. Although things happened fast when Dan met Scott, it’s the preparation that Dan did beforehand that made his pitch sizzle. Dan’s story is an excellent example of how honing your pitch can help you land the big fish!

By Daniel Ames

I have been a writer and a creative director at various advertising agencies for more years than I would care to admit. Over the course of my career, I have presented to just about every type of audience you could imagine; drunk, indifferent, hostile, arrogant, bored, sleepy, over caffeinated and just plain rude. In fact, early in my career, I worked for a creative director whose favorite move was to grab a proposed script for a television commercial and pretend to wipe his ass with it.

The products I was developing advertising for weren’t always glamorous. There have been tires, banks, toilet seats, fast food, pressure washers, even female incontinence products. (In fact, I wrote their holiday card: “Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.”)

As I moved up the ranks, I found myself on the other side of the table more and more frequently. Young creatives presented their campaign ideas to me. Believe me, having people present to you, instead of the other way around, is a great learning experience. One truth became readily apparent: the more elaborate and flashy the presentation, the more often an original idea was lacking. The people who are enthusiastic but straightforward, who let the work speak most loudly, are usually the ones with the best ideas.

So when I signed up for PitchFest, the event held during ThrillerFest in New York where aspiring writers can pitch big-time agents face-to-face, I felt fairly confident in my ability to pitch my book. In fact, when my teenage daughter saw the schedule for ThrillerFest and noted that I had circled the session run by Jon Land and Kathleen Antrim about how to pitch agents, she looked at me.

“You don’t need to go to that one,” she said. “Don’t you sort of do that for a living?”

Like taxes and the arrival of a rejection letter after a rough day at work, the hubris of the teenage years is something you can always count on.

“Well, this is kind of different,” I said. “Besides, maybe I’ll learn something. You never know.” She shrugged her shoulders. I could read her expression. Boy, he really doesn’t get it.

Of course, the class was fantastic. Jon Land was hilarious. Kathleen Antrim brilliantly rewrote several volunteers’ pitches on the spot.

And I realized that in an effort to keep my pitch simple, I had probably oversimplified. I knew I had a little more room to expand exactly what was at stake for my protagonist, a key point that Jon and Kathleen hammered home in their class. So before and after my CraftFest classes, I worked on my pitch. I took a break to have drinks with a friend, the talented author Hilary Davidson, before going to a ThrillerFest cocktail party, hosted by Grand Central Publishing. After the cocktail party, I went back to my room and worked. I had several variations of the pitch and after an hour or so of reading them out loud in my hotel room, I settled on one.

The next morning was a blur of coffee, more classes, and the feeling that the real ThrillerFest, the one I had come to New York for, was about to begin.

A bit later I was standing in line outside the hallway to the rooms where the agents were getting settled. It felt a little like the scene in Mad Max where the rebels storm the fortress.

The doors opened and we surged forward like a rogue Weight Watcher’s group hitting a Chinese buffet. I got in line for an agent who turned out to be my toughest pitch of the day. She was nice, but the poker face was on. She asked me a couple of pointed questions about the length of the manuscript, the main character’s arc and then requested the first three chapters.

I pitched a few more agents and they were, without exception, positive, friendly and supportive. Every agent I pitched asked to see at least the first few chapters.

By now, I was relaxed, in the groove and ready to swing for the fence.

It was time pitch the agent whose name on the PitchFest list really prompted my whole trip to ThrillerFest in the first place.

One of my favorite authors, Mark Greaney, wrote a fantastic thriller called THE GRAY MAN. Another writer, Stephen Jay Schwartz, wrote a great crime novel called BOULEVARD. And one of my all-time favorite writers, Robert Gregory Browne, had just unleashed his amazing book DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN. Along with other great writers like J.T. Ellison, Marcus Sakey, Patricia Smiley, Alexandra Sokoloff and many, many others, they share one thing in common.

They have the same agent.

Scott Miller of Trident Media Group was the agent at the top of my list. For a long time, it seemed like every book I read that blew me away had a big thank you in the acknowledgements to Scott Miller.

Although I made a half-hearted attempt not to listen to the people pitching before me, I did overhear a few words from Mr. Miller. I heard “No thanks,” several times. I heard “Not for me.” And I believe I even heard “Boy, that’s cliché.”

I immediately liked the guy, just from those responses. No bullshit. No long-winded speeches. No overly sympathetic hand-holding. Not mean, just honest.

Needless to say, the line moved quickly.

I sat down and told him that every good book I had read recently seemed to be written by one of his clients. I don’t know – maybe a lot of people said that. I didn’t care. It was the truth.

Then I pitched him. I was relaxed. I was confident. And I was even able to step back for just a brief moment and savor the situation. I was face-to-face with a great agent.

“I love it,” he said.

Now, I’ve been known to have a wee affection for sarcasm. The downside, of course, is that I’ll occasionally see sarcasm in others where none was intended.

Scott must have seen the look on my face.

“I’m serious, it’s a great idea,” he said. “Send it to me.”

I mumbled a thank you and I believe we talked a bit more although what we discussed is still a bit hazy. The buzzer rang, signaling the end of the three-minute pitch session, and it seemed to match the odd humming going on in my brain.

I pitched a couple more agents, but the adrenaline was wearing off. When PitchFest was over, I went back to my room, cracked a beer (okay, maybe two) and sent my book off.

A few weeks later, I officially became a client of Scott Miller and the Trident Media Group.

I don’t know if my book will sell to a publisher or not.

But one thing I know for certain.

I am a big fan of ThrillerFest, and PitchFest in particular.

~~~~

Daniel Ames is an author living in Michigan. His award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Orchard Press Mysteries, HandHeldCrime and The Drowning Machine. He occasionally blogs over at his website: amestokill.com.

Finding Success at PitchFest Means Never Having to Query Again

AJ ColucciBy A.J. Colucci

I’m a writer, not a salesperson. I’d rather work on my novel every day for a year than spend one hour writing query letters.

As it turns out, that’s about the ratio I set while writing my novel, THE COLONY. After working on the book for five years, I sent out a meager 26 letters and received seven flat-out rejections, 14 requests for manuscripts, five requests for rewrites . . . and not one sale.

So two years ago, when a friend told me about PitchFest–it’s like speed dating with 40 top agents!–of course I signed up.

ThrillerFest 2009 was exhilarating. CraftFest was fabulous. I also made some nice writer-friends and met some of my favorite authors. But when it was time for PitchFest, my mind turned to soup. I sounded like a babbling idiot, at least for the first 10 pitches.

At the top of my list was Peter Miller of PMA, since he represents both books and film and I have a number of novels and screenplays. Thankfully, his line was so long I waited until the end of the day to pitch him. By then I had untied my tongue. I left PitchFest with nine requests for partials in my pocket, including PMA. I mailed out my chapters–and one by one watched the rejections come in. By January, only PMA asked to see the full manuscript. It was my first choice, so maybe it was fate. Then in June, with ThrillerFest 2010 fast approaching, I called PMA and was told the book was getting positive feedback and they would let me know soon. I decided to attend ThrillerFest 2010 and ambush Peter about my manuscript. Thanks to PitchFest 2009, I was now a pro at pitching THE COLONY.

Again, Peter had the longest line at PitchFest and I found myself avoiding him. After all, he was my best shot and what if he passed? So I practiced some more pitching, which by now was kind of fun. In a few hours I had a dozen interested agents and Peter was the only one left to approach. He was sitting with his associate, Adrienne Rosado, while listening to pitches and at the same time making deals on the phone and jotting down appointments. He reminded me of the super-agent you see in movies talking on three telephones.

When I finally got to his table, Peter listened to me intently with the friendliest smile. I felt like I had a winning lottery ticket. Then Peter looked confused and said, “The Colony? No I never read it.” I wanted to curl up into a ball. But then Adrienne was beaming at me–“Oh, you wrote The Colony? That was great! The whole office is talking about it.” Peter gave her a look like, Why didn’t anyone show this to me? In a flash, he called his office and talked to someone for three minutes, before announcing to me: “This is Adrienne Rosado–she’s going to be your manager.”

Amazing!

Adrienne sent the manuscript to a dozen publishers, and right away there was good buzz and interest from three of them. A contract from St. Martin’s Press arrived within a couple months. THE COLONY will be coming out in March, 2012 . . . and I’ll never have to query again.

I recommend PitchFest to all aspiring authors who, like me, dread marketing themselves. It might hurt for a second, walking into that room full of top-drawer agents, but think of it as ripping off a Band-Aid fast, as opposed to a slow peel.

______

A.J. Colucci lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children. Her first novel, a science thriller entitled The Colony, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in spring 2012.

Something Did Happen

By August McLaughlin

Something Did Happen By August McLaughlin“So you’re going to fly across the country to one of the most expensive cities to attend a pricy conference? What if nothing happens?” a friend asked after I registered for PitchFest.

“I’m going. Something already is happening,” I replied, sensing that his skepticism was geared more toward his stay-in-Los Angeles plans than mine to attend.

I’d been to three other conferences since completing my novel, IN HER SHADOW. And although I benefited from every one, I’d met a grand total of twelve agents, several of whom did not represent thrillers. PitchFest provided an opportunity to “speed date” with rooms full of agents in my genre. (Can we say ‘heaven’???) Considering the stockpile of queries agents routinely receive, I figured any chance to stand out, demonstrate my commitment as an author and bypass the risks of accidental email deletions was worthwhile. Plus, what other opportunity do we have for immediate feedback?

It was costly, so I asked myself this: If you end up landing an agent at this conference, would the airfare, hotel and conference fees be worth it? Absolutely.

Lucky for me, that happened.

Before the two-and-a-half-hour pitch session, I stood in a long line of anxious writers, my heart pounding and palms sweating as though it really was an important first date. Thanks to a suggestion from the ThrillerFest website, I had my one-line, “What if . . .” statement prepared and an armful of information sheets with a synopsis of my novel and my name, photo and contact information.

I pitched to twelve agents and two editors. (Thankfully, my knees stopped shaking after my first.) Thirteen requested materials. About a month later, I received two emails requesting phone calls to discuss representation—one from John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. I knew as soon as I read John’s that I wanted to sign with him; he was my top choice of the twelve. We chatted by phone and I signed a contract the following day.

Even if I hadn’t gained representation, I would not have regretted attending. As writers, we often lead solitary lives. There’s little better than submersing ourselves in a community of others who “get” us—share similar passions and relate to the world through words and stories. You also get a gift bag of books and the opportunity to hear fantastic speakers. In this way, PitchFest beats most every conventional date I’ve been on.

I feel extremely blessed, both to have had the opportunity to attend PitchFest and to be working with agent John Rudolph.

As for my skeptical pal, he’s already signed up for next year.

–August McLaughlin

To learn more about August, please visit her website.

Success From Down Under

By Mark Dapin

As a journalist and author, I am quite well known in the eastern states of Australia. This is a bit like being a household name in your own house. A couple of years ago, I wrote a thriller, King of the Cross, about the rise and (of course) fall of a Jewish gangster in Sydney. It won the Crime Writers of Australia’s Ned Kelly Award for First Fiction, I optioned the movie rights to a local producer, and assumed I’d quickly become internationally famous. But all that happened was I grew slightly better known in Western Australia.

Agents in the US showed no interest in my work, and didn’t even acknowledge my emails. I was complaining about this to Peter James, whom I met at a writers’ festival in Melbourne, and who had somehow become lost in a city built around one of the most logical gridding systems in the southern hemisphere.

He told me about Thrillerfest, the International Thriller Writers (ITW) conference in New York. I was mildly surprised to learn thriller writers had a conference of their own – although I’d recently shared a ferry ride with a global gathering of proctologists (honestly) so I guess every trade and profession likes to get together once a year and share industry gossip and ass jokes.

Peter described to me an afternoon called “PitchFest”, in which authors without US agents attempt to acquire representation through a process he described as “speed-dating”. (It’s distressing to imagine what the equivalent might be at the proctologists’ conference.)

I persuaded my friend Mark Abernethy, also an Australian thriller-writer, to come with me to New York, which had the predictable consequence of persuading most people we met that all Australian thriller writers were called Mark.

I was mildly surprised to find “speed-dating” wasn’t a metaphor, but a literal description of the event. There were about sixty agents and several hundred un-agented authors, and the writers had to form queues in front of the agent’s desk. On each desk is a digital timer and a bag of lollies. Suitors have exactly three minutes to impress agents with their proposal, after which an alarm sounds and the next hopeful steps up.

I’d imagined only desperate, unattractive, acned, embittered, left-on-the-shelf agents might be into speed-dating, but some of the biggest agents in the US were represented, and we were advised to impress them by wearing a jacket and smart pants. The dress code had to be instituted to prevent authors from arriving dressed as their character, which had apparently happened in previous years, when a writer of westerns – who shouldn’t have been there anyway – turned up in a cowboy outfit.

The other would-be writers had been to workshops earlier in the day to refine their pitches, and been told to reduce them to a single sentence, which should also be a question. The only one I heard was: “What if Dexter was a professor of philosophy who only killed sex offenders?”

I didn’t have a sentence (“What if the Sopranos was a black comedy about Jewish mobsters in post-war Sydney?”) but I had my book, my award and my un-placeable accent. I spoke with eight agents, all of whom asked to see my writing. We were told not to bring our books, but four of the agents requested copies of King of the Cross. Astonishingly, they all read it within days, and each one arranged a meeting with me.

I met with an obviously brilliant agent from Trident Media in a Madison Avenue building. I had to have a security pass made – with my photograph printed on it – just to access the elevator. (By contrast, my much-loved Australian agent doesn’t even have an office). But in the end I chose Yishai Seidman of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner, because he seemed so fantastically enthusiastic about my work and promised to “never, ever give up” trying to sell my books.

I am now signed to the same agency as Patti Smith, Marilyn Manson and Tommy Lee, and even a few people who are known for writing books.

The next night, I went for a celebratory drink with The Other Mark. Now, I’m not as young as I once was – terrifyingly, I’m not even as young as the current first lady – and an evening of mildly irresponsible drinking scraped the skin off my heart and sent darts into my brain.

So I was not particularly receptive when I woke up in my hotel room – how the hell did I get here? – to a phone call from Mark inviting me downstairs for a conference breakfast. But he appealed to my torn and bleeding conscience, so I gathered what remained of my faculties (i.e. nothing) and lumbered towards the lift.

Breakfast, on the other hand, was noisy and packed, and held in honour of a group of first-time authors who had joined ITW. I wanted to go straight back to bed. The waiter brought around coffee. I asked for tea.

Everyone knows Americans can’t make a proper cuppa, so I wasn’t surprised when the tea the waiter poured was pale yellow, or that he didn’t bring me any milk. I asked for milk, with a condescending smile, and the waiter brought over a little jug, because the customer is always right. But when I tipped it into my tea, it instantly congealed into foul little cheesy balls, because that’s what happens when you add milk to camomile tea. I glanced at it, gagged, and ran out of the room. The bloke sitting opposite me, another hungover journalist, made the same mistake and had the same reaction.

After a couple of hours and two pints of Earl Grey tea I was on the mend, which was just as well, since I was supposed to take part in a panel discussion in the afternoon. I was asked to write a short biography for my introduction. After the moderator read out my modest self-description – “…although quite famous in Australia, he is unknown to anyone but his family in the US…” – he moved right along to Karin Slaughter, introducing her with the words, “And now for someone people have heard of…”

Four months later, Yishai hasn’t yet sold my book, and I’m still not famous in the US, although I am rather well known to the good people who run the ITW and who have been enormously supportive of my efforts take over the world.

I’d recommend PitchFest to any thriller writer looking for a US agent. Unless, of course, they’ve actually written a western.

You Won’t Be Sorry

By Martha Pound Miller

Martha Pound Miller was born and raised on the Arizona desert. She married an architect, had three children and went on to become the Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects Society in Arizona for 20 years. Writing was always of primary interest but with a family and job, there was never time. Much later came retirement and a decision to move to the cool, wet Pacific Northwest where you could turn over almost any mossy rock and find a writer. Possibly a web-footed one. It does rain a lot in Portland where she lives, but rainy days are great for hunkering down by the fire and writing thrillers, so that’s what she did, running her stories through three critique groups and polishing them to the best of her ability. Each manuscript she wrote got a little stronger and she began to get more courageous about pitching them to agents.

Last year, a friend suggested they go to New York for Thriller/Agent Fest, so they began to make plans. Martha went online and studied the bios and pictures of attending agents, astonished at how many there were. She printed all the Agent Fest information and began the interesting task of reading and rereading the bios to find the best fits for pitching her novel. One face in the crowd of agent photos stood out. It seemed almost to say, “I’m the One”, so Martha put a double checkmark beside that picture/bio and on Agent Fest day made her way to the table of Marian Young of The Young Agency. Marian asked for a partial, then the whole manuscript, and after a few revisions, invited Martha to be her client.

In addition to college classes in creative writing, after Martha moved to Portland she studied extensively with and was mentored by James N. Frey of “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” and several other writing craft books. She worked with him for many years, and credits him with teaching her the basics of good commercial fiction. “But if I hadn’t attended Agent Fest, this story would have a very different ending,” she says. “With that many agents in attendance, all looking for thrillers, it was the best thing I could have done for my career. Anyone who is undecided about attending next year, take my advice and go. You won’t be sorry.”