ThrillerFest XVII • May 31 – June 4, 2022 • Register Today!

Not an Overnight Success Story

By Beverly Graf (aka B.J. Graf)

An idea for a mystery novel bit me while working on my doctorate in Classics. I started writing it down, but it was a shapeless baggy thing, so I set it aside and took a job out west. I worked as a V.P. of Development in Hollywood for the better part of fifteen years before transitioning back to academia. During all that time I kept writing. But while I was confident in pitching other writers’ stories, I didn’t have the confidence to pitch my own. The people I worked with in Hollywood firmly believed writing talent was something you’re born with, not a skill or set of skills you can learn. And if you haven’t made it by thirty, forget it. Thirty was definitely in the rear-view mirror for me.

But I kept writing because when a story grabs me and won’t let go, I have to pay attention. GENESYS X was that kind of story. I joined a writing group which offered support for the writer and ruthless criticism of the writing. I started going to writers’ conference and got a few short stories published.

But Thrillerfest really helped me make the leap to the next level. Craftfest was very useful in teaching me some new skills that helped unwind some of the techniques necessary in academic writing, but deadly in fiction. Using what I learned, I completely rewrote my first mystery-sci-fi novel GENESYS X.

At Pitchfest I pitched my book to fifteen agents.  All but one, who confessed to a secret hatred of sci-fi, said yes to the pitch. But as the months went by after sending them the manuscript and agent after agent told me they liked the writing, but the darker than dark noir tone of my book would make it hard to sell, I figured GENESYS X would stay in the drawer. A little depressed, but determined, I was already one hundred pages into a very different book when I got the call from Sandy Lu, then a senior agent at the Perkins Agency. She wanted to know if my novel was still available. Sandy now represents me. GENESYS X was published November 2020 at Fairwood Press and we’re currently out to publishers with the new book as I work on the next in the series. I’m not an overnight success, but I’m a writer and I’m on my way. Thank-you, Thrillerfest and ITW! I’m so grateful for everything you do.

Writers Don’t Ever Cease Creating Stories.

By Aaron Philip Clark

Most published authors know that a career doesn’t form overnight. It takes years to build. Sometimes, it takes decades before receiving a publishing contract. It means patience and tenacity and playing the long game. If you’re one of the writers in the struggle who never considered giving up, then I suspect you’re in the minority. For many published and unpublished writers that I know, contemplating giving up is a rite of passage, but choosing to forge ahead can make all the difference. It can lead to life-changing opportunities, as it did for me.

In 2010, I was twenty-seven and had published my first novel, THE SCIENCE OF PAUL, with New Pulp Press—a small independent publisher based in Colorado. Back then, it was run by Jon Bassoff, a lover of pulp and crime fiction, and a superb noir and horror writer in his own right. Bassoff published an eclectic mix of authors, including Roger Smith, Les Edgerton, Dave Zeltserman, Jake Hinkson, Lynn Kostoff, and other seasoned and debut novelists. I was proud to be a New Pulp Press author, and considering THE SCIENCE OF PAUL didn’t garner much interest from agents or large publishing houses, I was grateful Bassoff recognized my budding talent and gave my novel a home. I followed up THE SCIENCE OF PAUL with A HEALTHY FEAR OF MAN, and then I stopped writing. I prefer to say I stopped, rather than quit because writers don’t ever cease creating stories, even if those stories only live in their heads. But like many millennials, I had student loans to pay and worked a minimum wage job.

In 2014, I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, and times were tough. I needed a career that would put food on the table and keep the bills paid. I turned to law enforcement, specifically the Los Angeles Police Department. Having family members in law enforcement, I was familiar with the job—the stress, the long hours, the sacrifices, and politics. And despite all of that, I still felt led to join the LAPD. I figured I’d return to writing when time permitted. Maybe after my first year, once I was out of my rookie boots and squared away. But an injury ended my time in the police academy, and I was sent packing. I was worst off than when I went in.

I took a position as an ESL instructor at a private college in Rancho Palos Verdes, and at night, I drove B-list celebrities around Hollywood. I was convinced my detour into law enforcement had derailed my fledgling writing career, but I returned to writing anyway because it was the only thing that kept me grounded and offered comfort, and I didn’t know what else to do. Three months out of the academy, I completed the first draft of my third novel, THE FURIOUS WAY. It would be a few years before I’d see the novel published with Shotgun Honey, an imprint of Down & Out Books. Shotgun Honey also obtained the rights to my first two novels and released them in 2018, a year before THE FURIOUS WAY was published. THE FURIOUS WAY was a pulpy stand-alone; it was a palate cleanser, a way to get the taste for writing back. But the novel I knew I needed to write—I was compelled to write—was THE COLOR OF AUTHORITY.

The novel forced me to reflect on my time in the police academy. I was the only Black male recruit in the July 2014 class. When I entered, cities across the country were experiencing protests over the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police. People were and still are demanding police accountability and reform. I revisited the reasons I joined. Despite it being an unpopular decision among friends and some family, I was convinced that having more Black police officers on the force could bring about change, and I wanted to be apart of that change. Writing THE COLOR OF AUTHORITY would prove to be a cathartic experience, and in late April 2020, I completed the final draft. A few weeks later, I began submitting the novel to agents. I received requests for the partial and full manuscript, but nothing materialized into an offer of representation. The publishing industry, like many industries, is built on relationships, and I knew conferences were a great opportunity to connect with fellow authors, meet fans, and engage with agents. Before the onslaught of COVID-19, I had no plans to attend ThrillerFest since I had recently become a father and needed to stay close to home. Since COVID-19 required conferences to be held virtually, it meant I could attend from my home office.

In June, I learned about the ITW Black Writer Scholarship Program sponsored by Polis/Agora books from the Crime Writers of Color group. I applied for the scholarship, and I was granted two consultations and three pitch sessions. The consultations and sessions were great—informative and enjoyable. I received positive feedback during my pitches, resulting in manuscript requests from editors and agents. One of those agents was Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary Services. A few weeks after sending Gina my manuscript, she emailed me, and later we had a phone conversation. Gina was passionate about the story and where the character could go; she was eager to get the manuscript in the hands of editors and had already put a sub-list together. I signed with Gina, and she began submitting the manuscript. After a month, we began to field multiple offers. The book went to auction, and I accepted a two-book deal from Liz Pearsons at Thomas & Mercer.

While my road to major publication wasn’t smooth, and there was a time I contemplated stopping, I can truly say that the struggles and rejections prepared me for success. I was lucky enough to receive thorough rejection letters that offered critiques and provided me with insights into improving the novel. I attended consultations with editors and agents through The Manuscript Academy. I did everything I could to get the novel to as many people as possible. And sure, some rejections were canned and others needlessly biting, but I didn’t let that deter me because I knew there was a place for my novel in the pantheon of publishing. I had faith because I knew the story was needed, especially during these tumultuous times. If I were to advise writers new to the profession and those who may be considering throwing in the towel, it would be to keep at it. If you believe in it—write it. There is a place for all voices in publishing, and under no circumstances should a writer ever make concessions for who they are and the stories they want to tell. If a writer does that, they only diminish their voice and deny readers an opportunity to read a story they may hunger for, which is far worse than quitting.


Aaron Philip Clark is an educator and crime fiction author of three novels and the forthcoming, THE COLOR OF AUTHORITY (Nov. 2021, Thomas & Mercer). To learn more about Clark and his writings, please visit his website.


Our Favorite Part Was Pitchfest

By Krista Wells and Nicole Moleti

We just wanted to let other new authors know that Thrillerfest is a great conference! We would not have gotten a book deal as easily without such an event. We went to learn from the experts, connect with other new writers, and meet up with our favorite authors.

Our favorite part was Pitchfest (where you speed pitch to agents), where we were also able to practice pitching our book with already published authors, get valuable feedback, and then pitch to real agents! We followed up with the agents and editors we met. Shortly after the event, we signed with our favorite agent, edited our book, and eventually sold it in a two-book deal with Lake Union publishing.

Much appreciation goes out to the professionals who took the time to create such an amazing event where you learn, connect, and grow as writers. Our forthcoming book is AN IMPERFECT PLAN and our pen name is Addison McKnight.

A Conversation With A Friend

By Wanda Morris

Nearly ten years ago, I finally decided to put pen to paper (or rather, fingertips to keyboard) and wrote what Stephen King so aptly calls a “shitty first draft” titled, “The Good Guys.” After reading it a few times, the “smell” was so bad that I decided to put away my dreams of writing for good. I went about my life and my “real job” trying to forget that book or my nagging desire to create stories.

Several years ago, I had a health scare. Suddenly, I saw my life from a different perspective. So, I did what any other self-respecting person does when they realize that they are mortal and the days ahead should be filled with purpose⸺I decided to follow my dream and I pulled out that manuscript, again. This time when I read it, I moved past the “smell” and tried to understand the real story I was trying to tell.  And that story and those characters took up residence in my head like cockroaches in a cheap motel. They came out at night in the dark when I tried to sleep, or when I sat in the ever-present stall of Atlanta traffic or an office meeting that ran on far too long. Anytime I had a spare corner in my brain, that story and those characters rambled around in my head. I started to tinker with the novel again.

And that’s where ITW comes in. I attended my first Thrillerfest conference in 2015 on the recommendation of a writer friend. The first time I walked into Thrillerfest, I was like a shy kid on the school playground. I met a few people, but I spent the majority of my time gawking and geeking out at the warmth and friendliness of writers whose work I’d always admired. I loved how they mingled and offered words of advice. And I told myself one day …

Before I attended that first conference, I challenged myself to do something I never thought I would do. I entered the Thrillerfest Conference’s Best First Sentence Contest. Baby steps folks – I wasn’t quite ready to let someone see the whole darn thing. On the day of the conference when the winners were announced, I sat up in my chair a little straighter, a little prouder because I had submitted what I believed to be a spectacular first sentence. They called out the winners and my name … was not among them! I was heartbroken.

But I didn’t stop writing. I kept working on my manuscript and I learned to listen to those characters in my head as they helped me figure out a plot to build around them. Also, I took writing classes and honed my writing skills. I joined writing communities. I devoured craft books. I learned about story structure and pacing and anything else having to do with creating engaging stories.

The next year rolled around. This time, I registered for the conference, signed up for Pitchfest and I entered the Best First Sentence contest again. This time when they called the winners of the contest, my name was among them!

I was riding a high at the 2016 conference too, because every agent I pitched to requested either my partial or full manuscript. My pitch was working, and my premise wowed the agents. I rode that high all the way back home to Atlanta and promptly emailed the manuscript requests to “waiting” agents. Almost immediately, my inbox started to swell with rejections. Some agents offered form rejections, some agents offered kind words about the great premise of my book, along with the dreaded words, “… I did not fall in love with this story as much as I had hoped.”

So, what to do now? Keep writing!



After a ton of revisions, I applied to the Yale Writers Workshop using an excerpt from my manuscript. Miracle upon miracles, I was accepted. I learned as much as I could from that experience. I entered Pitch Wars, an online mentoring contest where I worked with a wonderfully generous author, Wendy Heard, who taught me so much. I continued to expand my writing community by joining groups like Crime Writers of Color, Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Looking back now, I realize that my manuscript wasn’t ready in 2016. It didn’t dig deep enough. It wasn’t telling the story on paper that I’d conceived in my head.

Fast forward to 2019. With no deadly pandemic in sight, I traveled back to New York City to attend Thrillerfest XIV. I was armed with a thoroughly revised manuscript, including a new title, The Elephant Fighter, a bigger and better pitch along with an entry pass for Pitchfest.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that when you finally get it, you almost can’t remember how it all came about? That was me the afternoon of Pitchfest 2019. I’d pitched to a number of agents before I met a woman in that room who would help me make my dream of becoming a published author come true, but I can’t remember the specific details. I do recall I had narrowed down my dream agents to two. Lori Galvin of Aevitas Creative Management was one of them. Lori’s bio was one of the few that mentioned she was looking for women’s fiction and thrillers. I had both genres wrapped up in my manuscript. I decided to go to Lori’s table first. Her line was loooong. But it was either standing in her long line or standing in the long line of my other dream agent. I decided to stay put.

When I saw the woman in front of me start to gather her belongings and rise from the chair, I knew it was showtime! My stomach tumbled once before I stepped up to the table, introduced myself and shook her hand. She smiled and said, “So tell me about your book.”

For the next few minutes, I talked to Lori as if I were having a conversation with a girlfriend about some people we knew who did some really awful things. Only the people we talked about were the characters in my manuscript and the really awful things they did was the plot of my book. When I was done. She said, “WOW! That sounds really interesting. Send me the full manuscript.” She handed me her business card and I skipped away from her table so excited, I completely forgot to go stand in the line of the other dream agent! I waltzed out of Pitchfest on a cloud and headed straight to the hotel bar to celebrate my good news with friends.

A week later, I hit the send button on my queries and manuscript requests. I told myself, I would only check my email once a day, after 4 pm. But the very next day, I was sitting in the parking lot of my son’s day camp. It was 3:15. That was close enough to 4, right? I opened my email and there it was. An email from Lori Galvin:

Hi Wanda,

I am LOVING The Elephant Fighter. Could we set up a phone call tomorrow afternoon …

Tears welled up in my eyes before I could finish reading her email. While other agents showed the same level of interest in my manuscript, it was something about that first conversation with Lori and her vision for my book that made me know she was the agent that could best help me in the long game of my writing career.

And Lori has been the dream agent I had hoped for – patient, funny, blunt when needed, and a fierce believer in my book. Her keen editorial eye was exactly what my manuscript needed to take me to the next level. I am blessed that ITW and the wonderful folks at Thrillerfest brought us together. Thank you.

In August of this year, Lori moved my journey forward by taking my book to auction and securing a two-book deal with William Morrow publisher. I am now working with a phenomenally talented editor, Asante Simons, who believes in my book as much as Lori and I do.

And to think it all started with me having a “conversation with a friend.”



Wanda Morris is a corporate attorney and the author of the forthcoming thriller, The Elephant Fighter, slated for publication in Fall 2021. She won the ITW’s Thrillerfest Conference Best First Sentence Contest in 2016. She has studied at the Yale Writers Workshop and Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.


Not IF. But WHEN.

By Lynne Constantine

About six years ago I became serious about pursuing my dream of a writing career. I’d written a book with my sister years earlier and had coasted on that accomplishment for the next ten years—calling myself a writer, but doing very little writing. And then I saw an ad in Writer’s Digest for Thrillerfest. I was excited to meet other authors, sharpen my craft, and find a community of like-minded people. It was an exhilarating weekend and just what I needed to inspire me to get back to my true passion. I met authors who had written not just one, but five, ten, fifteen, or more books. I realized right then, that if I wanted to call myself a writer, I needed to, well, write.

I told myself—it’s not a matter of if I’ll get published, but when.

I got busy, dusted off my work-in-progress, and held myself accountable to a weekly writing schedule. In between shuttling my kids to activities, I’d bring my laptop wherever I had to be, plug in my earphones and write. I finally finished my thriller, THE VERITAS DECEPTION, and while submitting that to agents, began a new collaboration with my sister. We finished that one, titled BLACK-EYED SUSANS, and now there were two manuscripts to submit to agents.

Every week, emails arrived from literary agents

Some with encouragement, others merely a form letter, but all with the same message—not for me.

I told myself—it’s not a matter of if I’ll get published, but when.

In the meantime, every July I’d find myself among my tribe in New York at Thrillerfest, building my network, honing my craft, and commiserating with other writers about the daunting odds of getting published. I enrolled in a local writer’s workshop and took classes over the next two years and there found an amazing mentor. And through it all, I kept writing. “I can’t believe you haven’t given up,” a few friends would comment, after listening to me bemoan the latest string of rejections.

But giving up was not an option

I took the advice I’d heard over and over from bestselling authors to heart: Don’t get stuck on the book you’re pitching, write the next book. And I did. Putting BLACK-EYED SUSANS aside, my sister and I started on The Last Mrs. Parrish. We didn’t think about the rejection. We didn’t think about the odds. We lost ourselves in the story, and when we were finished we didn’t stop there. We had beta readers give us feedback. Then we hired a freelance editor to make sure it was as clean as it could be, because we wanted to give it every chance to succeed. Editors can see things that for the writer, so immersed in the detail, are difficult to discern. Our editor pointed out a flaw that greatly diminished the tension, and over a one-hour brainstorming session, we figured out how to restructure the book to fix it.

We told ourselves—it’s not a matter of if we’ll get published, but when.

Once again, it was time to show our work to the world.

We sent out our query letters and waited

Three weeks later, we received an offer from the agent we’d been hoping would sign us, and it happened, where else, but in the lobby of the Hyatt at Thrillerfest!

After the conference, she submitted our manuscript to publishers and six days later we had a preemptive offer from HarperCollins. To date, the novel has sold in nineteen foreign territories, has been a People magazine book pick and most recently a Reese Witherspoon book club selection.

I could have let all those rejections convince me that I wasn’t really a writer, but instead, I kept writing. And rather than listen to the voices of rejection, I listened to my own, knowing that no matter what, as long as I was writing, I had already succeeded.

When? Right now.


Lynne Constantine is a coffee-drinking, Twitter-addicted fiction author always working on her next book. She likes to run her plots by Tucker, her golden retriever, who never criticizes them.

Her newest book, THE LAST MRS. PARRISH (written with her sister Val)  is published by HarperCollins under the pen name Liv Constantine. Rights for THE LAST MRS. PARRISH have been sold in 19 other territories, including Spain, Brazil, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Korea, and the UK.

Lynne is the author of THE VERITAS DECEPTION and the co-author of CIRCLE DANCE, as well as several short stories. She has a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.

She is also a social media consultant and speaker, working with authors to build their brand platforms. Lynne teaches at various workshops and has spoken at the Thrillerfest conference in New York. She is a monthly contributor to Suspense Magazine and a contributing editor to The Big Thrill magazine.

Lynne is passionate about education, reading, health, and wellness. She enjoys traveling, spending time on the beach and taking walks with her family and their adorable golden retriever. She and her sister contracted with HarperCollins for their next novel, and are hard at work on the new “Liv Constantine” book.

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!



You have to pitch that book!

By Julie L. Brown

After completing the first draft of a manuscript, I pitched it at a writers conference on the West Coast. The first agent said it wasn’t ready. I asked, “How do you know? You haven’t read it yet.” He shook his head and again said, “It’s not ready.” I had a lot to learn.

Two years later—after two major revisions—I attended ThrillerFest for the first time. I pitched the same book at PitchFest, which can be an overwhelming experience if you are unfamiliar with the process. Although several agents were interested, and I received partial requests, subsequent rejections confirmed that the manuscript was still not ready. After another two years of revisions, I completed my manuscript. As a businessperson, self-publishing intrigued me. Over the next three years, I self-published two more political thrillers. Meanwhile, I continued to attend ThrillerFest, not to pitch but to meet other writers and to continue to learn.

While writing the third book in the series, I began working on a standalone historical thriller based on a short story I had written almost a decade earlier. I mulled whether to self-publish or take the traditional route. After talking it over with a writing colleague, I decided to find an agent for it. I could always self-publish it, if things didn’t work out.

I wasn’t planning to pitch at ThrillerFest ‘19. Having just finished the third draft of the historical thriller, I had planned to participate in Pitch Wars in September. And then, I kept running into PJ Bodnar, a first-time ThrillerFest attendee. He practiced his pitch to me and then asked what my book was about. I told him I wasn’t pitching. He wanted to hear it anyway. After I told him, he said, “You have to pitch that book!” “It’s not ready,” I said. “I don’t care,” he said. “You have to pitch that book!” So, I registered, drafted pitches, attended pitch practice, and refined my pitch based on the feedback I received from two authors. That night, I researched the agents, prioritizing them into three tiers. I knew from experience, even with the PowerHour, I might run out of time.

Despite fumbling through the first pitch, out of eleven agents, I received five full requests and five partials.

When I arrived home, I researched the agents further and then emailed seven of them asking for a little time. All the agents graciously agreed. Over the next three weeks, I completed a fourth draft on limited sleep and sent off the manuscript. Four days later, one agent who received a partial asked for the full. Five long excruciating weeks later, she emailed me stating she enjoyed the book and wanted to set up a call to talk about it further. The next day, we discussed my novel, and we had the same vision for it. She answered my questions and told me her plans for submitting it to publishers. She then asked where I was in the querying process. I responded that I had fulls out with other agents, who requested to be notified if I received an offer. She said, “Well, tell them you have an offer.” [Insert silent scream here.] After speaking with Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, I knew she was the agent for me. Three business days later, I accepted her offer.

Thank you ThrillerFest, PitchFest director, Sandra Brannan, Sharon, and, of course, PJ.

Seven years after pitching my first book, I have found a literary home. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.

Julie L. Brown

Under the pen name, J. L. Brown, Julie is the author of the Jade Harrington novels, Don’t Speak, Rule of Law, and The Divide, and the short story, Few Are Chosen. She lives with her family in Seattle, where she is working on her next novel. You can find her on Twitter @juliebrownwrite and on her website:

Against All Odds…

By Isabella Maldonado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I came back with a new book

By Colleen Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




I came to an agent and completely blanked.

By Sarah Cain

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

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

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

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