Saturday, May 7th, about 3pm. The Last Day of Storymakers 2016.
It wasn’t hard to adjust my pitch with Marisa Corvisiero when I was asked. By giving up my slot, it would keep other nervous authors and the agents on time. Besides, I hadn’t plan on having one to begin with so what did I have to lose by going last? Some of the authors waiting to pitch were doing it for their first time. They’d been sweating over this ten minute moment for months. They’d researched and read all about the agent they were headed in to meet. But this last minute change didn’t worry me.
I wasn’t. To be truthful, I wasn’t even sure what story I was going to pitch. Not my recommendation to anyone who’s going to pitch to an agent. But I have my reasons.
Back it up a bit. Friday, May 6th, roughly 1 am, and things are getting fuzzy.
Classes start in a matter of hours, yet I’m awake as is most of the conference staff. Michelle Wilson, Agent Coordinator, posts on the conference FB page that they’ve had a few pitch sessions open up, and if anyone wants one, to PM her right away. The competition for these slots is certainly impacted by the late hour, but it’s still a race to get one. I see the post, and figure, “Why the h*** not?”
This was supposed to be the year I laid low at conference. Half of the agents attending had already REJECTED ME. Jenny Bent, Marisa Corvisiero, and Marlene Stringer. After a full Revise and Resubmit the year previously, which resulted in alas, a rejection, I was burned out. My faith in myself had been whittled down to a sliver, and while I was and am still a huge advocate for agents and traditionally publishing, I was just DONE.
I’d go to classes and just hope the instructors lessons would seep into my brain.
I just said yes to Michelle, which meant I had a pitch. I paid for it, even. And because I’m a little crazy and my roommate Rachel and I are wide awake and scrambling at the late hour to land these pitches, I end up with two pitch sessions. Because, why the h***not? I’m not a quitter, or one to pass up an opportunity. Last minute changes are fine.
Friday Morning, 8 am.
I haven’t slept. My brain wouldn’t let me. It played out every good and bad scenario of pitching all night. My eyelids are glued to my eye balls, and I have so little energy or will to lift my head off my pillow, and brain cells are still yelling: GO! I need to print my query letter, since one of the agents wants to look at it as part of the pitch. Plus, CLASS!
I print 2 query letters, because again, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. WHO AM I PITCHING TO AGAIN? I haven’t had time to do any research. I only know Writer’s House is a big name in the industry, and that Marisa has rejected me—but she’s on my agent wish list because something in her bio said, “Yes, query her,” a year and a half ago.
I’m sitting in Jennifer Nielsen’s class, taking notes, but tears smear my black and pink ink.
I kept alternating pens to satisfy my creative need, but she’s got me bawling with her inspirational message. I think she wrote it just for me. Gina, you have two choices. Quit, or Make it. Get published, work harder, don’t give up. I know you’ve had it rough. That you’ve come this far, you’ve done the work, you’re 99% of the way there. You even wrote that one story that made you so happy you forgot all the hard stuff.
How did Jennifer know I’d done that? Wrote LEVEL WITH ME without a care in the world?
How did she know I’d shelved FOR THE LOVE because I couldn’t seem to breathe life into it anymore? That there is no foreseeable future for that story, and that I’m up against a concrete wall, that has no door?
How does she know all of this?
I did just what she said was necessary. Put that first story away, took ten big breaths, and wrote something else. That something else is a light-hearted Romeo and Juliet retelling with extra kissing. And then I called it good. I DID NOT CARE what a soul thought about it and had no intentions of doing squat with it. I just wrote it for me.
That pitch is coming.
Calm, collected, and still unsure, time slows down for me. I sat down with Brianne Johnson who’s hair is shiny and her smile is reserved. She’s with Writer’s House, after all, so it makes sense that this feels big. Last minute I decided to share LEVEL WITH ME with her instead of FOR THE LOVE. I know it’s not high concept YA like she’s looking for, and that FOR THE LOVE is more up her alley, but I’m done caring. We talk, she smiles when she pieces together that Abby June is also A.J. and how that complicates things. I ask her, “Have you sold anything like this?” There’s this long pause, wherein my head voice says, “She’s sold a dozen romances like this.” She actually says, “No,” like she’s surprised at herself. “But I know some editors who want some YA with more romance.” She requests fifty pages, and I leave, feeling neither deflated or high. Maybe I should’ve felt high, but I can tell she’s not sure, and I know that it’s super hard to say NO to any author’s face.
A little later, I’m in class again. The last class before dinner.
I’m a bit of a mouth in Marisa Corvisiero’s class, asking questions, speaking from my experience on querying. At one point she calls a query letter a critique letter. I lean over to Serene, my other roommate and super spectacular friend, and whisper, “She meant Query letter, not critique letter, I think.” Marisa stops talking, pins me in my seat as she stares at me, then laughs lightly, admitting the slip up. She calls me loud or honest, I’m not sure, but it’s in a teasing way and then she picks up where she left off. She’s human, no one faults her for that slip up. And since I’m not the kind to die on the inside for that sort of thing, I just laugh to myself. She’s got mom ears, because I SERIOUSLY WHISPERED THAT. Some time later, we’re twenty minutes over. Serene has already slipped out—she won a dinner appointment with an agent like I did last year and didn’t want to be late. The class as a whole is still listening though. And I want to learn, and I want to be good at this, but when Marisa asks about the time, I voice my unfiltered thoughts. “We’re 20 over, but we like you. But we are hungry.”
After dinner, I find her and I issue an apology, and Marisa laughs, asking if she looks like the type to be offended. Later she comments how if that had happened in NY, people would’ve walked out on her, and how kind we all are for not doing that.
I think she kinda fell in love with Storymakers because of that.
Friday, late. After the Mix and Mingle.
We talk the night away. I can’t express how much of a late crowd we are. We are the late night crowd. If you’re looking to not sleep, join my crowd.
Saturday Morning, 9 am.
It’s harder to move my arms today than it should be. But I’m in class on time—this time in Jenny Bent’s class, and we laugh and learn. And somehow my entire Tupperware of Dove chocolate, Cinnamon Bears, and York Minis disappears. This is a big deal, people. Without my supply, I’m going to crash and burn, but I don’t realize it’s gone until around lunch time, and all efforts to relocate it prove to be in VAIN. (Writers are also chocolate thieves, apparently. Still, I love them.)
I volunteered months ago to welcome instructors and kick off their class, so that makes me late to mine, but oh well. Then I serve as a time keeper, which is exactly that. Keep the agents and authors on time. When I arrive, we’re falling behind, and with Kaylee and Michelle, we work to get people back on track.
3:40pm My Original Pitch Time. (Also, I love that my name is in that word. Always took it as a sign.)
Someone else goes in to pitch their story, instead of me. It’s fine. Really. I gave my slot up. While I wait, Rachel talks me out of pitching all these bad ideas I have. I think it’s nerves, but my hands aren’t clammy. I’m now scheduled for 4pm, and I’ll be Marisa’s very last pitch.
When I go in, I find myself telling Marisa the time keepers are off to prep for the book signing, and I need to keep my own time. (Can I just say right here I have 5 books I brought for the books signing, and I’m looking forward it?) Marisa indicates she’s free until seven—and I die a little. A three hour pitch seems like a bad idea.
We find a comfortable spot to visit so they can set up the book signing, and we just TALK.
She’s a blast and it’s comfortable and enjoyable and we bounce around all these random subjects from the 10 year-old girl who pitched a story to her, to living in Idaho, to hockey, to my writing LEVEL WITH ME, to the actual pitch of the story. At this, I tell her it’s a light Romeo and Juliet . . .
. . . heavy on the kissing, with no awkward death scenes at the end. To which she says, “I can sell that!”
Wouldn’t that be awesome? I think.
We chat about my Cupid story, and how I’ve cut it from 135K words down to 116K, down to 82K. I tangent about the R and R, leaving out names, and then I confess. I’ve queried her with this Cupid story and she rejected it and rightly so. I sent it to her at the hefty 135K. Not once is she making any indication that we’ve talked too long or that she needs to go.
She tells me to send her the query, again, that her intern probably rejected it (Which is true) and the synopsis, and maybe “we can figure out what’s going on with it.” I can tell she’s not as into this fantasy story as much as the lovey-dovey kissing book, and that’s fine by me.
We talk about how I’d like to do three Idaho Falls romance stories, all based around some real-life things happening in my hometown.
We’re interrupted off and on, but it’s not a big deal and about 45 minutes later, I’ve decided if I ever have to pitch again, I want to go last. That’s for sure. We’re joined by some of my favorite people, Serene and Rachel, and eventually others, and Marisa makes no effort to excuse herself. We even tell her we don’t mean to keep her. She takes more pitches from anyone who sits down and is willing to share their pitch in this Shark Tank setting. It’s fascinating, it’s encouraging. It’s full of laughter and interesting points of view from Marisa, and I can’t bring myself to give up my seat next to her. Not for a book signing, or the bathroom, for that matter. I want every minute.
Marisa’s nearly late to the Gala, but she seems fine with this. She texts Rachel (I’m a little jealous, but moving on) hoping to join us after the award ceremony, and she does.
She spends nearly three more hours talking and laughing with us. I keep looking at Serene, and we share this unspoken “Is this real?” look. I can’t put my finger on it—why is Marisa still with us? Isn’t she tired of us? Whatever the reason, she stays.
When I crawl into bed at 4 am, I’m positive she’s in love with Storymakers, and the people it produces, and the spirit of our conference. That it’s less about me, Serene, and Rachel, and more about how she’s really enjoying herself.
Eyes closed for the night, I’m reliving some things. I think I sang a Barbie song at one point. Was Marisa still there? I dunno. I kinda hope so. Haha. I recall Marisa teasing me that I’m obsessed with kissing (which is true)
and I know I have a concrete list of labels she gave me. I thought it was so funny that she kept describing me out loud, I started writing them down. Loud, honest, unfiltered, trouble maker, and pickable (meaning, I can be picked on and take it.) By the time I get to my Idaho home, she’s tweeted me, calling me Kissie and Miss Kissie. I’ll take it.
I’m impressed with her work ethic and drive, which was so evident as she continued to take pitches long after mine. Maybe she was still looking for that ONE STORY, but I don’t think so. I think she came to the conference to find authors to work with, to meet her standing clients, to teach us.
Above all, it was fun to learn about her life outside of being an agent, because AGENTS ARE PEOPLE. They love books and stories and while they juggle all the ins and outs of the industry, they’re just like the rest of us in so many ways.
And in the end, her presence combined with Jennifer’s class rekindled my desire to keep searching for that door in the concrete wall. To push myself harder.
I was attending Storymakers the way some people attend church. It’s just WHAT YOU DO on Sunday. I went because I WRITE.
And while I learned plenty, in the end, I FELT that heartbeat that feeds my writing.
Sunday Night, 9pm.
I’m out cold. And sleep for 13 hours. Trust me. I enjoyed every minute.