A writer attends an Agents and Editors Conference and finds an agent who is very interested in reading his manuscript. Could it be the break he’s been hoping for?
It was June 2008, and I was in Austin at the Agents and Editors Conference for the second year. I had just walked out of what felt like a perfect pitch session with a literary agent, and he had said those magic words, “I’d like to read your manuscript.”
I walked into the foyer on the second floor of the hotel, turbulent with nervous writers waiting to present their ideas to agents, event staff checking them off lists and leading them into small rooms filled with literary agents at cocktail tables, all wanting to find that marketable manuscript. Things looked different than they had 15 minutes previously. My life had just changed. I ambled in an absent-minded way to the elevator, stunned at what had just happened.
I got off the elevator in the hotel lobby and wandered around for a while, too keyed up to go into a workshop. Later I saw Terri, a writer I’d visited with the previous day. “Have you met with your agent yet?” she asked.
I smiled broadly. “I think I just had the perfect pitch session. It all went brilliantly and he wants to see a copy of my manuscript.” I was amazed just hearing the words.
“Dan, that is excellent! Congratulations. Wow, you’ve had a wonderful weekend. Who was the agent?”
I told her the agent’s name, and the agency he worked for. Terri’s eyes got really big. “Dan, that is one of the most prestigious literary agencies in New York, and he is one of their most active agents. This is a BIG deal!”
I heard her words, but the news was so stupendous that I had trouble absorbing it. I felt my eyes glaze over – it was all too much to take in. How had this all come about?
The previous day I had checked in to the hotel, got settled, and went down for a pre-conference workshop offered by a literary agent on “Pitching Your Manuscript.” There were about 50 people in the workshop, and the agent started by giving a brief lecture on doing verbal pitches. Then she asked if anyone wanted to do their pitch and practice it in front of the group. Tentatively someone got up and delivered their pitch, but then people started jumping in, and it was an awesome session. The agent was trying to get people to start with a very short pitch, and gauge the response. I knew I had to do mine.
I raised my hand, walked up, and gave my brief pitch. “My book is entitled Freedom’s Just Another Word. It’s about a time when my life was spinning out of control, and then my Dad died.” She immediately began telling the group about British “misery” literature and I knew I hadn’t portrayed my book correctly. She did respond strongly to the title, even though other people has responded positively to it over the weekend.
After the workshop, I waited around and asked the agent how I could separate my book from “victim literature,” which it was not. She said she thought I might need to start with a positive perspective, and work from there. I thanked her and decided I needed to completely rework my pitch, because what I had been doing so far hadn’t been working. I went back to my hotel room after dinner and began to rework my pitch. I came up with something I thought I was willing to try.
The next morning I went up to the second floor foyer for my first pitch session. I knew that this agent had attended the University of Texas School of Journalism here in Austin. A staff person led me in to a room with about six cocktail tables, occupied by agents in muted conversations with other writers.
I sat down, shook his hand and asked “So how is it being back in Texas?”
He smiled and said, “It’s really nice to be here. My dad is coming in from Corpus Christi, and I have a sister who lives in South Austin.”
I said, “I bet that will be great. I also have a sister in south Austin. This is just a fun town to visit.” He then moved to business, asked me what my book was about, and I began to speak.
“I have written a memoir entitled Freedom’s Just Another Word. It is about a spiritual journey of healing, hope and forgiveness. It is set in Houston, Texas, in 1987. At that time, my life was spinning out of control. It was as if some mysterious force was at work, skewing my world. I was trying to remember something, to put together pieces from my past. I felt like the man in The Bourne Identity, trying to remember something from his past, but seeing only fragments. I was out of work, broke, frozen and unable to look for a new job, almost suicidal, and mystified as to why it was all happening. Then I got the phone call – come home, your father is dying.
I delivered the eulogy at my Dad’s funeral. He was an alcoholic, but he had been sober and in recovery for 20 years. A number of people told me the week he died how much he had positively impacted their lives. He and I had also had a lot of healing over the past several years, so I spoke from a warm and loving place.
But over the next several weeks, as I struggled with his passing, I started finding an ugly, deep anger toward him. It felt disloyal to be feeling that way. I uncovered an old wound that helped me to make sense of my feelings and allowed me to really forgive my father.”
As I was talking, the agent was totally focused, seemed very interested and nodded several times. I stopped speaking and waited anxiously.
He got the title immediately, making a reference to the Janis Joplin song it came from, and said how much he loved it. Then he asked, “So what was the old wound.” I described the violent incident where my Dad had threatened to kill me. He was intrigued. I couldn’t pin it down at the time, but he was so intent on what I was saying, I had the feeling he had found something he’d been looking for, and was very interested.
Our time was almost up, and I mentioned that I was moving forward toward self-publication this summer. He immediately pulled out his card, asked me to send him the manuscript now – he would like to see it before I self-published. He said he could read it very quickly. I agreed to email him a digital copy, we finished, and I left.
There was a lot more that happened that weekend, but it all paled in comparison to that pitch session. I had two more sessions, with one agent being very interested but finally passing, and another referring me to a colleague of his who he thought would be interested. By the positive responses, I knew I was on the right track. At that point, I suspected I might have some feelings to deal with. After all, my manuscript was about to be in the hands of a reputable literary agent — at his request.
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