Virtual Winter Thrills • January 11th – March 18th, 2021 • Now Online!

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:


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:


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

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!”


–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

.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.



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: