Agent Day at Thrillerfest

The gates opened. The swarm of two hundred hungry authors began their footrace down the hall.

Sixty-five agents perched at tables fringing three rooms. Of the sixty-five, less than a dozen represent adult sci-fi/paranormal, which is what I was pitching.

How the hell would I find the agents on my list amidst the bobbing heads and haze of body odor? Was I in the right room? The lines doubled, tripled. My head spun.

Ah! Found an agent on my list. I shouldered my way through the sardines. Fourth in line. A deep breath.

My knees knocked. No, I’m not just throwing in a cliche. My damned knees were knocking. “Knock it off,” I told them. They knocked again.

“Nervous?” someone beside me asked. This time I knew the voice.

“No,” I said to Michael Palmer. I smiled and knew it too was twitching.

“Shit wasn’t like this when I started writing,” he said. “I had it easy. Didn’t have to kill myself standing in lines begging someone to ask for a page.” He sighed. “I’ll tell you a story.”

He did. Several stories. About his dead ninety-nine year old aunt, about his grandchildren, about his beloved brass rhino.

I knew what he was doing. And it worked. My breathing returned to normal. Sweat dried from my face. My smile was genuine.

“You’re up,” he said.

I gave my three minute pitch.

“Fascinating,” the agent said. “But I can’t sell adult paranormal right now. Oh, it’s still a hot market. You’ll find someone who will sell it. Good luck.”

Two point five hours later, it was over and I needed a cigarette in the worst way. I had pitched to eight agents.

Only eight.

There were hordes of sci-fi / paranomal writers. And not enough agents for this genre. With lines six to eight people deep, no time limits, why did I think I’d zip through dozens of agents? Some pitches before me were ten minutes long, especially those trying to set up a sci-fi world.

The response I received was consistent:

  1. Apocalypse, sci-fi, paranormal is big in YA. Change your novel to YA. Damn. I wouldn’t really need to tone down the gore, the rape, the sex. This shit sizzles in YA. But Young Adult novels are narrated by a…um…young adult. NOT a thirty something mother with ghost children.
  2. Publishers will NOT take novels over 100,000 words. Mine is 113,000. No problem. I can send it to my mentor, John Pfannkuchen and he’ll trim 50,000 and make it better at the same time.
  3. Change your story to a romance. Add more sex. First time novelists do well in this genre. LOL! The sex I can do. But romance? Ask my husband. I’m the WRONG girl for that

Good gawd, I sound negative. Of the eight agents I pitched to, five requested pages. Five agents WILL read my pages. Isn’t this why I went?

My CC buddy, the gorgeous, leggy, blonde dog-trainer Christine, picked up six requests for pages for her brilliant sadist serial murderer thriller. I met another CC guy there, the hunky pilot Dana (by the way, if you ever fly Continental Airlines, know that your pilot might be writing about a magical healer while cruising at 30,000 feet). He roped in a full manuscript request or two.

But the highlight of agent day was Janet Reid. I LOVE her and love is not a word I throw around. She represents crime thrillers. I knew this. But meeting her was worth the twenty minutes in her line. Hell, if I’d spent all two point five hours in her line, it would’ve been worth it.

I sat down. “Janet, I just wanted to tell you that I finished my MS a year ago. Then I researched how to query agents. That’s when I found queryshark.”

She leans back. “Oh shit.”

“Oh shit is right. I read your entire blog and spent the next year revising.”

“I’m not nice,” she said.

“You’re honest. I’ve gained much from your attitude and your expertise and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to thank you in person.”

She laughed. “Let’s hear your pitch.”

“I’m writing a paranormal–”

“Stop!”

I stared at the palm shoved in my face. Then it was my turn to laugh. “Janet, I told you. I’ve read your entire blog. I know you’re not interested in the supernatural shit. I just wanted to meet you.”

She nudged her assistant and said to me, “I’m going to send you to some agents who will listen to you.” Her assistant wrote them down. She gave me the logistics on how to contact them and, most importantly, to tell them I was referred by Janet Reid.

My chin lifted a little higher as I walked away from her table. Janet Reid was everything I hoped for and more.

*As with all my non-fiction stories posted here, events and dialogue are as accurate as I remember them.

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