Pitching to Agents Part 3: Turning Negative into Positive

After the tough go-round with the last two agents, we talked for at least an hour. I called my mom, Maddie’s biggest fan, and tried to get ahold of my husband, who got back to me after we left the hotel room. But mostly, I tried to bolster my young co-writer’s confidence.

Still, I was shocked when the time came for us to return to Governor 4. She marched right in there, and she sat at the same table we practiced at the night before, and she stared into the blue eyes of this petite, smiling lady and launched right into her pitch. I let her go for a couple minutes, and then I took over. I shortened five paragraphs into about two, and the whole time, the agent we were speaking to had an inquisitive, intelligent, gentle look about her. After a few minutes, she grabbed one of her business cards and started to scribble notes on it. “I want the manuscript, double-spaced, one-inch margins . . .”

“You want the full manuscript?”

The agent’s blue eyes glinted and she gave us both one of those smiles that starts at the eyes and keeps going. “Yes.”

We chatted a few minutes more, and then our time was up. This was the only agent Maddie and I would pitch to “back to back,” so before Maddie actually stood up, I said, “Well, it’s my turn, uh Maddie, you wanna hang out here or—”

“—I’ll stay.” Maddie smiled at me, and I laughed aloud.

It felt completely different to pitch Off Grid with my daughter at my side. I was relaxed. And so was the agent. She waited for Maddie and I to get ourselves sorted out—as usual, we were talking about the million and one little things that mothers and daughters talk about. I have no idea what we said to one another exactly, just that we were talking to one another almost privately, but in front of the same agent I had to pitch to—and the agent was, if anything, charmed by our interplay. After all, we are extremely close, Maddie and I are. We talk, we write, we walk—together. And all of that comes through when we’re around one another I think.

I didn’t have to work hard to pitch my book. But when I got to the final scene and said that the book ends on a cliffhanger, the agent frowned. First frown yet. “Cliffhanger? Would you be willing to change that?”

“Yeah Mom, it’s awful, I never liked the ending either, I don’t like any books that end on cliffhangers, it’s cheap, it’s not right . . .” Maddie entered the fray.

I laughed and reflected on what I was hearing, and detected in them and in then in myself an acknowledgment of the truth they were speaking. “Well, now that you mention it, yeah, it might not have been my best choice, I have no problem changing it.”

“It’s just that if you end the book on a cliffhanger, and it doesn’t sell as well as you expect it, and you don’t get to put book 2 out, all your readers are disappointed,” explained the agent. “Would you be open to changing the ending?” She gave me a sharp look that was both honest and decent—more intelligent than critical.

“Yeah, I’d be willing.”

“Good, then I’ll take your manuscript too,” she said.

“You’ll take my full manuscript?”

“Yes.” She smiled at us. “The two of you are kinda amazing, it’s been a pleasure, you have all the details written on the back of her business card.”

“I do,” I said, and I smiled, and we said our goodbyes.

But not for too long. At dinner, the agent found us. She and her family were eating dinner one table over, to our right, and she spent at least fifteen minutes talking to us. She introduced us to her twin girls and to her lovely husband, and I genuinely truly just plain liked her. I think she liked us too, and I’m hopeful that she will read the book we wrote together and send me an email that says something like, “The book has a lot of potential. Are you open to editing suggestions? If so, I can take it on.”

Because we are. We both have been looking at scenes that need to be trimmed. Our word count (131K) is about 5-7K too high, but we both know how to make the book better. And we both feel that we would be at home with this particular agent . . . so now we wait to see if she feels the same way.

In the meantime, there is a neat postscript. Maddie had one more pitch. This one was with the Christian Fiction lady I liked so much. And she was absolutely wonderful to Maddie. She listened. She smiled. She asked lots of questions, and she gave many compliments. She also offered to read the first ten pages of the Third Eye of Cain—so Maddie left Governor 4 on a cloud.

The next morning, in fact, we ran into the Christian fiction lady in the lobby. We actually hugged one another, and she even offered to give us a lift to the airport. I declined, saying, “Aw gosh, that’s the nicest thing, but I think it would cause you too much stress,” and we smiled at one another and wished each other the best. She gave Maddie an extra smile and more kind words.

We did hear back from this treasure of a woman. She read both our samples, and wrote a long email in which she gave suggestions, thoughtful and helpful critique, and her best wishes. “Your books really aren’t meant for the Christian market,” she said, “But they should do well in the mainstream fiction market. I hope to run across your paths someday.”

I wrote her back actually, which I worried was pushing the limits of politeness but nonetheless I sent her a simple thank you because it felt right to send such a note.

And we bought one of her books. It’s got a hopeful message and both of us took the time to read it, and while reading it, I mostly just thought with gratitude about the people in the publishing industry who try to do their best and help others to reach their best.

That’s the message I reckon I choose to take from our first Writer’s Conference. Remember the good people, and keep on trying to get your own good words, your messages, your work out to others. And in the meantime, be kind to whoever you can be kind to, not because it might help you, but because it might help them.

After all, it’s a hard world we live in. But that doesn’t mean we gotta turn hard too. We just gotta keep heading where we’re supposed to go, and hopefully we won’t have to make our journey alone, or without the kindness of strangers and loved ones along the way.

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