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Well … What Do They Say About Two Out of Three?

Okay … I know that more than a few days have passed since I promised this post. But I’m here now with my heart in my hands and my thoughts well organized (I hope). During the last ten months (just counted them and absolutely cannot believe it’s been that long), I’ve had to defer or cancel a lot of plans and commitments that were important to me. And I’ve always found myself apologizing, which seemed to make me feel even worse. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I love my blog and those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, as well as those of you who’ve stumbled upon the site and subsequently found some level of interest in what’s going on around here as time unfolded. And I think it’s enough for you to know that not a day goes by without my thinking about all of you and this blog. Hopefully, the writing will begin flowing again with some regularity. There won’t be any schedule that I’m holding myself to, though–at least not for awhile. I’m just grateful to be here in this moment, focusing on this post.

So, you ask, what the heck has been going on? Well, the cancer is what’s been going … and on, and on, and on … like a bug you keep squashing but, when you lift your shoe, the damn thing is still moving. And one more annoyance that’s been taking up space is a rather intense case of the blues–something that’s very uncharacteristic for me.

In a few earlier posts, I’ve explained that I worked very hard for the first two years of this blog to keep everything on this site closely tied to the original mission: tracking the “journey from publishing obscurity to somewhere else.” Whatever was going on in my life outside of the writing and publishing elements was not germaine. Yet, at some point last year, the lines between the blog’s mission and the rest of my life had become so blurred–and “the rest of my life” had so impacted my writing and publishing plans–that I finally caved in and began sharing some of the details. Now I believe that a more thorough update is in order, first because of my extended silence, and second because a key component of this blog’s mission has always been to offer information that would be helpful to others. Hopefully, the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and that are now emerging in this post will hold at least a small amount of value for someone reached in the Web-o-sphere after I press “Publish.”

This new post–“Mortality, Cancer, and the Inevitability of a Writer’s Words”–encompasses three vast subjects that have been consuming an inordinate amount of my thinking. All three are now inextricably entwined for me–a writer who’s been a long-time purveyor of odd thoughts, fun fiction, characters, and conundrums. And after more than fifty years of putting words together, no obstacle or impossible set of odds has ever been able to make me stop my writing. Not until recently. Not until the very real possibility began encircling me that, within a relatively short span, I might not be here anymore to capture and massage the imagery and plots coming out of my head. Frankly, I think the fear I was generating for myself began to paralyze me.

This cancer problem actually began twenty-five years ago when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That “issue” was found super early and, although the progression did get a little dicey in the late 1990’s, great health care and a new drug managed to put the beast back in the box. Now (and I’m knocking on wood all over the place), the lymphoma has been in remission and not making a pest of itself for more than ten years. This current situation, however, began very recently, in the spring of 2010. We started with breast cancer (immediately labeled as my second primary cancer since there was no connection to the lymphoma). Again, the little demon was found very early in a routine mammogram. I proceeded with an extremely proactive plan of action that included a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. While the process was painful, scary, and unbelievably inconvenient as I was trying to bring my second novel into the world, I felt very fortunate. Then, over the next year, things became wildly bizarre in short order. In another routine checkup in late fall of 2010, before my breast reconstruction was even finished, a third primary cancer was found in yet a different part of me. (The statement, “You have to be kidding me!” is the most vanilla printable version of what I said to that particular doctor.) Cancer number three was also an early discovery, which we ended up treating with radiation. And then, in a follow-up exam for the third cancer about six months later … yup, you guessed it … a fourth primary was found. (If I can’t print what I said upon hearing of the third one, imagine the degradation of my words upon hearing of the fourth!) I had become a walking, talking petri dish. And that fourth cancer was the first one to be aggressive. We’ve been dealing with the bad boy ever since.

After a gigantic six-hour surgery in September 2011, I began eighteen weeks of chemo in October (the day before my birthday). In December, mid-way through the treatment, a CT scan was done and showed a new lymph node that was bigger than it was supposed to be. But we kept on going with the treatment anyway, and I completed the six three-week rounds of chemo in early February. The requisite end-of-treatment CT scan was performed shortly thereafter, and the “new lymph node” was a little bigger than in December. So they did a biopsy, which showed that the node was actually the cancer I’d just undergone four and a half months of chemo to eradicate. Seriously? I felt as if the cancer growing during chemo was tantamount to flipping me the finger. Ugh! And now what, by the way?

My team of doctors took my case to the “tumor board” (at Sloan-Kettering in New York where I’m being “handled”), and the fabulous surgeon who did such a phenomenal job with my September surgery said he wanted to operate to take out the lymph node. After an appointment with a great radiation oncologist, they agreed that they also wanted to do interoperative radiation, where they would actually give me radiation in the operating room. (Amazing stuff!) I thought their plan sounded like a terrific idea! But first … my surgeon wanted to do an MRI to get a clear picture of where the node was in relation to blood vessels, etc. Okay. And then … uh oh. The MRI showed two more lymph nodes. Excuse me??

That news came on a Wednesday. The surgery/radiation combo immediately came off the table, and I was back in chemo, with a different drug, the following Monday. The protocol this time has been three full chemo days in a row followed by a fourth trip into the city on Thursday of chemo week for a shot (called Neulasta) that keeps my white blood cells from bottoming out. After a total of three weeks, the cycle repeats. Unfortunately, the combination of all the drugs plus the shot was totally flattening me with lots of pain and a low grade fever that would not let up. That dismal situation went on for the first three rounds–a total of nine weeks. And that was the period of time when a deep-seated case of the blues took over with gusto.

Fighting cancer has been part of my life for twenty-five years. But, with the exception of intermittent surgeries and/or treatments, I’ve always been able to continue living my life while I was fighting. Bringing out my second novel, for example, was a top priority that was methodically woven into all the breast cancer surgeries. This time, however, I was unable to do anything. And when the body isn’t able to do anything, the mind goes into overdrive, especially when a tough cancer is part of the mix. Then suddenly the critical ability to fight begins to feel compromised. And that’s when things can really get scary. So I was determined to find a way to get up and moving again.

At the start of the fourth round (three weeks ago), I had a long conversation with my oncologist and a doctor who works with her about all of the difficulties I’d been having. To make a long story short (too late for this post, I know … 🙂 …), they came up with a plan that involved my taking something as simple as ibuprofen (a drug I’d been told not to take previously) beginning the morning of day four, following the three days of chemo but prior to receiving the big shot. The ibuprofen was supposed to continue every 5-6 hours through day eight. Well, I’m here to tell you that, after adhering to those instructions, I’ve had only a couple of small problems that were easily remedied. I’ve been up and around since that first weekend, slowly regaining my strength. And now, three weeks later, I’m almost back to normal in terms of my schedule. I still get tired by early evening, which is normal with chemo. But otherwise, my life is getting back on track.

Additionally, the CT scan performed four weeks ago showed that the cancer is stabilizing. Nothing new showed up this time, thank God! And now the plan is to do another CT after round six (in August). If that still shows the situation to be stable, they will put the surgery/radiation combo back on the table. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be feeling more like my old self. And imagine my (and my family’s) surprise that such a huge difference could be made by something as ordinary as ibuprofen. (Apparently, there are recent studies that show the benefits of administering the Neulasta shot in conjunction with ibuprofen. Wish I’d known about that before I spent the better part of nine weeks being such a mess!) One other piece of good news is that I will have an extra week of reprieve this round. Normally, I would have started round five on Monday, July 2. But since this treatment involves three consecutive days and a fourth for the shot, I would have been hooked up all day on July 4. Consequently, round five will begin on July 9–seven extra days to feel wonderful!

This blog post has been forming in my mind for a long time, and hopefully I’ll be able to start posting more frequently again now that the flood gate has opened. I’m also ready to resume work on my third novel, which will be a sequel to my second (Separation of Faith). Since I’m always the happiest and most content when a new story is coming together, I’m anxious to see/feel those words pouring out of me.

And that brings me to the lesson learned from all of this. Cancer is certainly a big meanie and shoves mortality flat in your face. Yet mortality is something we all have to deal–some of us just sooner and more graphically than others. Meanwhile, we all have life to live and joy to discover. Much of that life and joy, for me, comes through my wonderful family and amazing friends. But, again for me, writing is what helps keep the blood flowing through my body. And giving birth to a novel comes from a deep passion that is almost impossible to explain. So, it’s true–one day I won’t be here anymore. Hopefully, that day will be far off in the future. If I let this cancer (or any other obstacle) silence me, though, my words will be history way ahead of schedule for the rest of me. That train of thought means there wouldn’t be a third novel–and that means some of my readers would thus want to kill me. 🙂

Therefore, I hereby resolve that, even if no one ever reads a single thing I write, my words are going to keep flowing despite the challenges. And if the blues show up again, I’ll simply write straight through them! Some things that are inevitable are good. Let’s celebrate those!

My best to all of you! “See” you soon!

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Hi! First let me apologize for being away so long! I’m working on a post that will bring you up to date on where I’ve been and where I think I might be headed. Hopefully, that new post will be published within the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, I wanted to get word out about this interview. Last year, when I was dealing with the breast cancer (the second of my now four primary cancers), I began writing a book geared toward women who have been newly diagnosed with the illness. Dr. Mehrara was my breast reconstruction surgeon, and he kindly, graciously gave me an hour of his valuable time to answer my questions. The plan at that point was to include the interview as part of my book.

But then two additional primary cancers intervened, one right after the other (I know! Whoever heard of such a thing?), and all of my plans (for just about everything) came off the tracks, including the breast cancer book. Yet this interview with Dr. Mehrara is too important to hold. The information and perspective he provides through his answers needs to be in the hands of women who are facing a breast cancer diagnosis and the many decisions that must be made in a short period of time. So, since he gave me permission to use the interview in any way I choose, you will now find the entire conversation on Scribd: http://tinyurl.com/cbkkzx5, where the access is easy and free.

Please let me hear from you if you choose to check this out. And please help spread the word by forwarding the interview’s link to any woman you know who’s been newly diagnosed with breast cancer and/or anyone close to that woman who will be supporting her.

In closing, I promise you that I’ll be back within a couple of days with that update posting. Take care. Hope you’re all having a good week!

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Unfortunately, after YouTube gave me the new video’s link and then shared the posting automatically on Twitter and Facebook, they told me I have to cut a little length. Will get that done tomorrow. Please stay tuned.

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Self-Pub Success Story!

This Wall Street Journal article (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204770404577082303350815824.html) opens by saying that author Darcie Chan’s debut novel, The Mill River Recluse, has sold 400,000 copies and has placed her on the best-seller list “next to writers like Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and Kathryn Stockett.” Then the next paragraph goes on to say, “It’s been a success by any measure, save one. Ms. Chan still hasn’t found a publisher.”

Needless to say, a statement like that grabbed my attention (something of an understatement, to tell the truth). And Ms. Chan’s story turned out to be inspirational, as well as instructional–one more light on the horizon for those of us who’ve decided to try a DIY (do-it-yourself) angle or two on our publishing journeys.

If you haven’t read this story yet, I promise that you’ll learn at least one thing you don’t know already about the worlds of self-publishing and e-books. Furthermore, if you’re trying to decide which way to go with your next book, I suspect that you’ll be a little closer to that decision by the time you finish this article. Enjoy!

The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously

Sometimes we writers have to pull our hands away from our ears and force ourselves to listen to tough words. At least, that’s what we need to do if we’re serious about growing in our craft and eventually finding a wide readership for our work. This article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/indie-authors-struggle_n_1242935.html?ref=books) puts some of those tough words right in our faces!

Still assimilating the wealth of information from the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference two weeks ago, I was drawn to this article for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the subject of editing. Not only were there dozens of references at the conference to this critical element of the publishing process, especially if you’re opting for a DIY avenue. But there are dozens more such references in the first year or so of this blog, as I was bringing my second novel, Separation of Faith, into life. Having learned the hard way what happens if you don’t invest in a book’s editing, I was determined to produce a novel comparable, or even superior, in editorial quality to anything coming out of the traditional world.

Separation of Faith has now placed in more than a dozen competitions. First Place continues to be elusive. But the novel has earned Runner Up to the grand prize winner several times, in addition to multiple Bronze prizes and a list of highly ranked Honorable Mentions. And most recently, even though there wasn’t an associated placement, the 2012 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards produced the following feedback from one of the judges:

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent,” please evaluate the following:

  • Plot: 4
  • Grammar: 4.5
  • Character Development: 5
  • Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Judge’s Commentary:

What did you like best about this book?

Congratulations on writing and publishing your novel! The cover design and packaging is very professional. The back cover copy does a good job of maketing the book to potential readers. You have clearly done a great deal of research, which shows in the historical details and description that bring the scenes alive for the reader. You have created some interesting characters and brought them to life with strong dialogue and characterization. Good job balancing action, dialoge and narration. Good job with grammar, proofreading and formatting of the interior of the book.

How can the author improve this book? (Cheri’s Note: I decided to include this part as well, because I learned something, and I thought some of you might as well. And, we do need to strengthen our nerves so we can hear the improvements along with the accolades!)

Watch out for the overuse of italics, as this can be difficult to read, dilutes the emphasis, and makes the pages look a llittle disorganized. (Cheri’s Note: This comment addressed letters and journals written as part of flashbacks, several of which I formatted in italics.) Also, the book’s price seems a little high. These are minor concerns for a book that is quite strong overall.

The winners’ list for this contest will be announced by the end of this month, and I’m anxious to see who beat me. But the main thing I want to point out here is how important formatting and interior quality are with any book, but especially with self-published books! And even though Separation of Faith didn’t win a slot in this particular competition, the novel, as I said earlier, has placed in more than a dozen others. And there’s no doubt in my mind that a primary reason for that success is the quality of editing. (That’s also a main reason why I truly believe this entire endeavor will eventually take off! 🙂 )

Enjoy this important article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/indie-authors-struggle_n_1242935.html?ref=books) — and have a wonderful Super Bowl weekend!

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This Was One of My Session Choices on Sunday, January 22.

The First 50 Pages (and Why Getting Them Right Is the Key to Your Success)–Jeff Gerke, Founder & Publisher of Marcher Lord

The focus of this section was fiction.

Gerke asked: What do your first 50 pages have to accomplish?

  • Fiction is about someone wanting something they can’t get.
  • Agents and acquisition editors make their decisions based on the first 50 pages.
  • JOB #1 of those 50 pages: Engage the reader!
  • Introduce hero & main characters.
  • Establish context for your story. That means establishing the “normal” before you violate that normal with your inciting incident and subsequent plotline. Establish what the main characters’ lives are like before everything changes.
  • Reveal genre. Include backdrop, era, story world.
  • Set the tone/voice.
  • Introduce a theme (underlying message), villain, stakes.
  • Start time bomb, which helps generate suspense.
  • Start hero’s inner journey.
  • Set up Act II.
  • Establish “circularity” (something that’s set up at the story’s beginning, which is then referred to again at the story’s end).

Normally, editors are sheltered from the slush pile. Agents are those who deal with slush. They are looking for something they like and something they can sell. They see so many submissions that aren’t ready. If they choose you, that’s really an accomplishment!

Acquisition editors receive the best manuscripts, already screened by the agents. Then they have to sell those manuscripts up the food chains of their publishing organizations. There isn’t time for them to really cull through the piles they receive. That’s why proposals and the first 50 pages are so important. Concentrate on writing a great synopsis.

Editors are focused on their companies making money and on keeping their jobs, in addition to the quality of the writing and storylines their receiving.

In publishing houses, chances are good that only one person in the firm will actually read the entire manuscript before a contract is signed with the author. (I found this to be one of the most revelational things I heard at the conference!)

Four Different Ways to Begin a Novel (the first two listed are the most commonly seen and recommended):

  1. Prologue. This method has become unnecessarily controversial, in Gerke’s opinion. He believes that prologues are fine and a legitimate way to begin a novel. Those who disagree say that prologues are too full of backstory and information dump. Gerke says that prologues are good because they can effectively introduce the villain, the stakes, and the ticking time bomb, all with the benefit of not needing the hero to be on stage. Gerke’s recommendation for avoiding any bias against prologues in first-50-pages submissions is to simply change the title of “Prologue” to “Chapter One,” and leave the rest of writing unchanged.
  2. Hero Action. In this method of beginning a novel, the hero is on stage from page one, doing something interesting.  (Ex. cited: Indiana Jones, the Lost Arc.) Reveal the hero’s personality, his heroism, his “normal.” Do not make an unlikeable hero. Unlikeable heroes are disengaging to the reader.
  3. In Media Res (“into the middle of things“). This method starts in the middle of the story and then flashes back to catch up. Not recommended for a first novel. (For additional clarity, I copied the first two lines of definition from Wikopedia:  “In medias res or medias in res (into the middle of things) is a Latin phrase denoting the literary and artistic narrative technique wherein the relation of a story begins either at the mid-point or at the conclusion, rather than at the beginning (cf. ab ovo, ab initio), establishing setting, character, and conflict via flashback or expository conversations relating the pertinent past.” Here’s the link to the rest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_medias_res. I sort of like this method personally.)
  4. Frame Device. A modern story where the main characters are old at the start. The rest of the story takes place when they were young and is told through a combination of flashbacks and modern-day plot points. (As a personal note, this method requires extensive research to ensure that the flashback settings fully capture the settings and what was going on in the flashback era(s) This would also be true with the In Media Res method.)

The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors, and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up for Success, by Jeff Gerke, is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/First-50-Pages-Editors-Readers/dp/1599632837.

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Sunday, January 22–Panel Members:

  • Phil Sexton–Moderator of Panel; Publisher, Writer’s Digest
  • Karen Cooper–Publisher, Adams Media
  • Michelle Howry–Senior Editor, Touchstone (an impring of Simon & Schuster)
  • Donya Dickerson–Senior Editor, McGraw Hill

A. What is the most common mistake writers make in nonfiction proposals?

  • Too much emphasis on the manuscript.
  • Not enough evidence of need. Why does this book need to be in the marketplace?
  • Not enough emphasis on the author platform.
  • Not enough competitive analysis. Need to do research: a) Where will this book go on the shelf in Barnes & Noble? b) How does this book contrast with competitive titles? c) What does this book provide that no other book does? Check publicity volume of competition and occupied shelf space in bookstores. Also check Book of the Month Club offerings and other visible signs of a book’s sales/popularity.
  • Writer is not realistic about competition for books by a “new author.” In proposal/query, presents him/herself as “the next ___________ (fill in the blank with a famous author’s name).” This approach brands the writer as inexperienced and unrealistic. Instead, the writer should answer: a) Here’s how my book fits into the market, and b) Here’s how my book differs …”

The approximate length of a nonfiction book proposal should be thirty pages, not including any sample chapters.

Include suggestions about where book could be sold outside of the trade (ex., Walmart, Costco …) Research should include publishers and where they sell.

———————————————————

B. How important is the author’s writing in nonfiction?

  • Depends on the imprint, the book idea, and how hungry the editor is for an acquisition.
  • Authors should not have someone else write the proposal. Both the manuscript and the proposal need to have the same style. Editors can tell if they’ve been written by different people.
  • Editors/publishers vary regarding how important the writing is. If the concept is great, the quality of writing is not as important. Writing can always be beefed up through input from agents, editorial staff, or even ghost writers contracted through publishers.
  • The author’s platform plays a role in how important the writing is. The more the author already has in place to help sell the book, the less important the actual writing becomes.
  • Editors differ with respect to the weight applied to a) good writing, b) promotion, and c) platform.

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C. How has the view of self-publishing changed?

  • All three editors said they would enthusiastically look at proposals that included self-published books.
  • Writers should keep in mind that, if an author is doing well with self-published book saes, then there is a strong case to be made for not going with a traditional publisher.
  • However, publishers can offer access to additional distribution channels, unique book promotions, etc.

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D. What is the most compelling proposal you ever received, and why?

  • Wreck This Journal. Original proposal was a mock-up that was intended to be torn apart (as is the final product). Sometimes editors have to do a hard-sell job with odd ideas like this one, when channels like Barnes & Noble and Amazon have decided to passed on a project.
  • The Starbuck’s Experience. Author had gained full access to Starbuck’s operations. (The publisher was instrumental in changing the title from the original.)
  • The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Author had secured permission from J.K. Rowling to use the Harry Potter name.
  • Retail Hell. The proposal came in as a self-help book. The publisher reworked it into a memoir.

Editors and publishers want authors who are cooperative and willing to listen, who respond positively to input, and who want to work in a partnership to produce the best quality book possible.

–Cheri’s Note: I’m now studying up on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I will keep you posted on what I’m learning and how the process unfolds once I actually begin writing the document.–

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What the heck is the pitch slam anyway? Well, depending on the person answering that question, the pitch slam can either be comparable to walking the proverbial plank, or the experience can be a writer’s nirvana. Technically, the setup involves a whole bunch of agents sitting at little individual tables arranged around the edges of two huge hotel conference rooms. And those agents are waiting for hundreds of aspiring writers to line up in front of the little tables, in order to pitch, one-on-one, their books du jour.

Expectations tend to run pretty high with writers who’ve never been to a writer’s conference before, and I spoke with lots of young men and women who were truthfully anticipating the signing of a book deal by the end of Saturday. In reality, this is an exercise of practice–practicing the pitch, testing out the story idea, gaining a little feedback from several “someones” in the business, and maybe–at best–getting a request to submit a proposal or a chapter or two. We were specifically instructed not to hand any of the agents any materials at all–not even a business card. And yet I watched as dozens of writers tried to force flash drives or varying sizes of manuscripts into the agents’ hands. Needless to say, by the end of the three hours, there were hundreds of folks who’d come face-to-face with a major expectation/reality adjustment.

This three-hour session is the only reason lots of writers attend this particular conference. In fact, the conference attendance pretty much doubled on Saturday (same thing happened last year), because there’s a Saturday-only registration option. Such an approach seems to me a bit like jumping into the middle of the open sea after foregoing your swimming lessons. But what do I know? And I have enough to worry about, with respect to my own plans and expectations, without worrying about my conference-mates!

Actually, as those of you who’ve been following this blog know, I wasn’t planning to participate in the Pitch Slam at all this year, believing that on Day 13 of my fifth chemo round I wouldn’t be able to project my strongest, most energetic, and promotable self and book story. Plus, since my first book-length priority for 2012 is my nonfiction project (although I’m being driven nuts by the next novel clamoring to get out of my head), I didn’t feel confident that I was far enough along with the manuscript to confidently pitch the work. However … I was so totally energized from the conference sessions by Saturday morning that I decided I didn’t haven’t anything to lose by pitching, and I figured I’d be totally stupid to bypass such a gaggle of agents who were only there to listen to book pitches. (None of the agents who participated in the Pitch Slam received any compensation for being there, which is pretty amazing all by itself!)

Directions in the Friday evening session designed to prepare everyone for pitching Saturday afternoon cautioned against developing pitches that are too long, for a variety of reasons. First, this is the way the three hours were organized: Approximately 60 agents (eight or nine were last-minute cancellations due to the Saturday snow storm, but three or four local area agents were added in) were seated at their little tables around the two huge conference rooms. In the conference directory, the agents were listed alphabetically with the specified genres of books they were looking for, and each attendee selected a group of agents that appeared to be a match. As soon as the doors opened at 2:00 Saturday afternoon, we all filed in and formed lines in front of the first agent we wanted to pitch to. Generally, there were about 6-10 people in each line, and each pitch session was three minutes in total.

Here’s another reason why our pitches were supposed to be ultra short: The first person in line sat down in front of the agent when “start” was signaled, and a 60-90-second pitch was designed to leave another 60-90 seconds for the agent to comment and/or to (hopefully) request some sort of submission to follow. Once the “time is up” signal sounded, the next person in line was supposed to sit down in front of the agent. (Can you imagine how cross-eyed those agents must have been after engaging in three-minute pitch sessions, one after another, for three consecutive non-stop hours? They deserve a lot of credit and admiration for such duty!) At any rate, as you might imagine would happen, most of the attendees had never pitched a book before, and the majority were failing miserably with the 60-90 second pitch objective. Instead, they talked continuously for the full three minutes, leaving the agent only a few seconds to say anything at all (and usually after the “time is up” signal had sounded). So, the next person in line started their own pitch late and, in order to be fair, would take the full three minutes even though the “time is up” signal sounded a long time ago. Consequently, all the lines were growing restless with the timing that was becoming increasingly out of whack. Eventually, the conference staff began to enforce the schedule, walking around and making sure that pitch sessions were ending at the signal. By hour number two of the three, the lines were finally moving at the planned pace. When someone finished a pitch, they would then go to the end of the line in front of the next agent they wanted to pitch to, and depending on how many people were already in that line, most attendees were able to pitch to six or eight agents during the three hours.

Typically, after each pitch session, I could tell that most people were spending their time revising their pitches while they were waiting in the next line–and I was doing the same thing. I’m not used to pitching nonfiction, not to mention that I’d only started to prepare that morning. So, I had afforded myself minimal practice time prior to sitting down in front of the first agent. Still, I had pretty good luck. The lines I was standing in were especially long, because there were fewer agents looking for various categories of nonfiction–and there were even fewer of those looking for the “health” category. And because I started feeling tired after two hours, I only pitched to four agents, whereas if I’d been feeling more on my mark, I could have easily squeezed in another two or three in the final hour. (Apparently, there were a lot of complaints last year about too few agents (I think there were 40-something) and not a big enough Pitch Slam time slot (only two hours instead of the three hours this year). The conference organizers really responded to that input, and I didn’t see or hear about anyone who felt that there wasn’t enough time to see all of the agents they wanted to meet.

The four agents who listened to me (and I was pretty good about keeping the pitch close to 60 seconds) had plenty of time for comments and input. Two of them enthusiastically requested a proposal and a sample chapter. One requested the same information but with noticeably less enthusiasm. And the fourth agent waited until I’d finished the entire pitch before telling me that she didn’t represent the health category of nonfiction (even though “health” was clearly listed under her name in the program). But since I hadn’t even planned to pitch at all when I arrived on Friday, I felt good about the experience and the end result. I learned a lot and had fun, and that’s where expectations should realistically be set for this type of exercise at a conference with close to 1000 other writers chasing the same dream.

Now I have to write a proposal 🙂 (and fortunately I attended a nonfiction session that included a few things about how to do that, plus I bought an e-book on the subject–The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters by Marilyn Allen & Coleen O’Shea, partners in the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency). Some agents were more interested in seeing the book and the writing. Others told me to stop writing the book and focus on writing the proposal (which is supposed to end up somewhere around 30 pages in length). One agent in particular made a couple of significant points, especially for me, who’s really a fiction girl but who’s writing this nonfiction book because I believe it needs to be written. She said that a completed nonfiction book can be a disadvantage because, once the concept is contracted with an agent, an editor will enter the scene who will have major input about the book’s structure. A huge percentage of editors will not want to take on the structural rearrangement of a book that’s already entirely finished. The agent also told me that going through the process of writing the proposal will prove invaluable to me once I finish the proposal and then refocus on the book, especially if I do, in fact, decide to publish this one on my own as an e-book first. She told me as well that following that DIY path will not eliminate the traditional publishing path for that book in the future!

So, my new direction is to write the proposal, which I will then submit to the three agents who requested information, along with a sample chapter (which is not supposed to be the first chapter but one that’s in the middle of the book). Following those submissions, I will give the agents a reasonable amount of time to respond. Then, unless some miracle happens and my submissions turn into something other than rejections, I will refocus my attention on finishing the book, which I will proceed to publish as an e-book, with a separate print option. The goal is to get this one, as quickly as possible, into the hands of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, so I’m not going to wait very long for someone in the traditional publishing world to say “yes.” I’ll get the book “out there,” and then continue to approach agents the old-fashioned way while I start working on my next novel. If someone eventually wants to acquire the nonfiction project, that will be terrific. In the meantime, I will have met my objective of making the information available to my breast cancer target audience.

Although there will be additional posts forthcoming on the Day 3 (Sunday) conference sessions that I attended, along with the incredible, outstanding Closing Address by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, I want to say here how valuable I found this year’s Writer’s Digest Conference to be! And even though my expectations for the Pitch Slam were really low, I walked away from that afternoon feeling invigorated and inspired. If you’re looking for a writer’s conference that will actually send you home with practical information and experiences you can really use on your literary journey, I strongly recommend that you give this conference a try. Apparently, there will be a west coast version later this year (in September, I think), and then the east coast version will happen again in January 2013. Not sure if that one will be in New York again or in some other east coast city. But you can bet that I’ll be there, if I have to drag myself on my hands and knees!

Stay tuned for the final “chapters” of WDC 2012! And have a terrific weekend!

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