The New York City Pitch Conference 2015 – Updated

nycLast week, I attended the Algonkian NYC Pitch Conference. I have attended many conferences, maybe 25 to 30 over the years, all of them Christian-publishing oriented. This was my first mainstream conference.

The classes at the NYC conference focused on how to pitch a novel to an editor or agent. The conferees, about 65 aspiring authors, broke into smaller groups of about 15. During the first day, we worked on writing our pitches and honing them to perfection. The goal was to be able to communicate the story idea in about a minute in three ways–capture the editor’s interest by providing a summation of the plot, give the story’s unique selling proposition, and communicate the theme, that is, the emotional impact of the story.

We were told to come with a pitch ready to put through the paces. I thought mine was pretty good, but as my group’s coach–Paula Munier (a literary agent)–taught the class, I soon realized that I needed to revamp the pitch. It was too complicated, repetitive, and lacked flow from point to point. During the four days of sessions, it became much more streamlined and focused.

I had the opportunity to make the pitch to four different editors and agents. Since my pitch included that I had 23 traditionally published novels in the Christian fiction market, I hoped my publishing history would be a benefit. During my first pitch opportunity, I learned that the opposite was true for that particular editor. She made it clear that Christian publishing was not a plus but rather a minus. Her anti-Christian bias was quite obvious, which Paula, my pitch coach, confirmed later during class. She said, “New York has an unfortunate bias against anything Christian. They wrongly think if you’re religious, then you must not be smart.”

Because of this bias, Paula suggested that I rework my publishing history to say that I have 23 traditionally published young-adult fantasy novels in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. This is a true statement, which also communicates my stories’ Christian world view, so I made the change without reservation.

I had been warned that the authors at mainstream conferences are often competitive and lack the helpfulness we experience at Christian conferences. I found that assumption to be false, at least at this conference. Everyone went the extra mile to help, encourage, and offer advice. The camaraderie and kindness of my fellow writers surpassed every conference I have attended in the past. In that regard, the experience was a great blessing.

During our final session wrap up, our teacher advised us to make sure there is no profanity in our novels. Profanity narrows the audience, eliminates some distribution channels, and exposes lack of writing skill. Since many mainstream novels include profanity, sometimes a lot of it, that advice surprised me, but she went on to explain that editors nowadays see profanity as too easy, ho-hum, and lacking cleverness. A good writer can provide cultural flavor and raw emotion without resorting to cursing. That revelation was a breath of fresh air.

Although none of the four editors or agents I formally pitched showed serious interest in my story, I gained a great deal of knowledge as well as some new friends. I trust that God will use the experience for good results in the coming weeks and months.

Updated to add the final pitch:

Here is the final version of the pitch:

The Scent of Her Soul is an 85K word crime-fiction/urban fantasy story that can be described as “Taken” meets Philip K. Dick.

Mike Pritchard’s daughter, Emily, is kidnapped by Vega, who delivers a concussive blow to Mike’s head during the abduction. The brain trauma endows Mike with the ability to detect the scent of a girl’s soul, the olfactory equivalent to seeing a person’s aura.

His obsession with finding Emily, as well as his burden of guilt, lead to estrangement from his wife. Now a loner and a private investigator, Mike plunges into the cesspool of the human-trafficking industry in Washington state where he rescues abducted girls, delivers vigilante justice, and hunts for clues to Emily’s whereabouts.

While Mike investigates a Spokane brothel, Vega captures him and issues an ultimatum—either use his soul-tracking ability to abduct girls for him, or Emily will suffer. Yet, does Vega really have Emily? The evidence is compelling, though Mike remains uncertain.

Accompanied by Puddin, one of the brothel girls, Mike hunts for potential victims on the streets of Spokane. Of course he can’t kidnap innocent girls, yet letting Emily suffer is also out of the question. Could there be a solution to this dilemma? Mike and Puddin come up with a dangerous plan that will either spoil Vega’s schemes or end in disaster.

I envision this as the first book in a series.

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Bryan Davis is the author of 23 traditionally published YA fantasy novels in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, including the popular Dragons in our Midst series, and has sold more than one million copies of his books.

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10 replies

  1. May I ask the title of the book you were pitching? Is it a Christian y/a fantasy, or in a different genre? Just curious!

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  2. Would you have any suggestions on sending a query letter?

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    • What do you mean by “sending”? Do you mean whether you should send by postal mail or by email?

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    • Just chiming in, as a veteran of the same conference. A query letter is structured basically the same as Bryan’s pitch script above. The only differences, according to the conventional wisdom at places like queryshark.com, is that the housekeeping details (i.e., title, word count, genre, and comparables), come after the mini-synopsis. The logic is that those details, while important, aren’t the most important things in your letter. I know it’s strange, but that’s the way they do it now.

      The hardest part is still writing the mini-synopsis, and that’s where we focused most of our time at the pitch conference. It has to read like a short story version of your novel, which means it can’t be confusing or vague, and has to be dramatically compelling. The idea is to identify your protagonist, his/her goal, obstacles to that goal, and conclude with a “what’s at stake” cliffhanger, commonly structured as an either/or choice for the protag. It’s a challenging form to master. Absolute Write Water Cooler is a great message board with a “Share Your Work” critiquing area, and it has been a great help to me in learning how to write a query letter.

      I hope htis helps!

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    • Thanks, Matthew. Great help.

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  3. You’re welcome. This discussion inspired me to hold forth about this subject on my blog. I hope it helps. http://matthewwarner.com/2015/03/more-advice-on-pitches-and-queries/

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  4. When it comes to the stories themselves, especially in the case of The Scent of Her Soul, it seems that profanity would make sense, especially considering the types of characters involved. I am against having profanity needlessly thrown about in a story, but it would make sense to have certain characters using it, especially when it matches up to their profanity. If someone were to write a story about a bunch of modern day soldiers on the battle field, and none of them used profanity, it would seem very unreal, and make the story a lot less believable.

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