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

Leap Off the Fence

By Steve Urszenyi

I attended my first ThrillerFest in July 2018 with a completed manuscript and high hopes. In fact, registering for this writer’s conference was the push I needed to finish the novel I had been working on for four years. Knowing I had just spent good money to attend, I wasn’t going to go to New York without a completed—and hopefully polished—manuscript!

ThrillerFest exceeded my expectations, and then some. I was blown away by the camaraderie and sincere friendship of everyone there. Not just hopefuls like me, but seasoned, successful, published writers wanted to talk, to share success stories, to listen to my practice pitches, to offer valuable advice, to boost my confidence, and to assure me that they, too, had once been in my shoes.

I had signed up for PitchFest and took advantage of the practice pitch sessions offered on the morning of. And I was able to hone my delivery, or at least not completely embarrass myself, by sharpening and otherwise refining what it was I wanted to say. The practice pitches were also immensely helpful for bringing down the level of anxiety I felt because, quite frankly, my worst efforts were delivered to willing victims—I mean, coaches (published writers)—before being delivered to real, live agents!

I pitched my manuscript to six agents. All but one asked for some pages or the full manuscript to read and consider. I also began to query maybe a dozen more when I got home. I was hopeful. Soon, that hopefulness waned, though, and I came to understand that, although my story was good, I had some significant revisions to make. I went back to work on recreating my main character’s backstory and changing some story elements. I did this with the enthusiastic support of some friends I had made in New York and a professional editor I had hired for an objective viewpoint. I can’t stress that last point enough: having friends and family read your manuscript is essential, but having a practiced eye point out the holes in the story, or just suggest ways to make it so much better is vital.

So, undaunted and reinvigorated with my newly refreshed manuscript, I attended ThrillerFest XIV in 2019. I even volunteered at the conference as both a way to give back and to meet other writers. Volunteering opens up great opportunities to network with your peers.

At ThrillerFest 2019, I decided to target only one agent. All my research and everything I had heard and seen suggested he would be the best agent to represent me and my work. So, I pitched him during PitchFest. He was excited by my pitch. I was excited that he was excited! He asked for a read of the whole manuscript, and four days after I sent it to him, he offered me representation! I am thrilled that I am now represented by John Talbot of The Talbot Fortune Agency.

Everybody’s path is unique. Some have success straight out of the gate. Others take a little more time. You will hear this repeated over and over by successful writers at ThrillerFest and anywhere else they gather. As has been said many times by smarter people, the only difference between an unpublished writer and a published writer is the latter never quit.

I am in the process of wrapping up final revisions my agent (so cool to be able to say that!) recommended. Then, we will begin the next leg of the journey, which is to hopefully find a publisher that is interested in taking my novel to the masses.

If you’re on the fence about ThrillerFest or PitchFest, I highly recommend you get down off it. In fact, leap wildly into the void, because ThrillerFest is the real deal and, whether you sign with an agent your first time out or not, you will meet so many writers and others like yourself, learn so much, and come away as a renewed and rejuvenated writer, ready to tackle your next WIP!

Good luck!