I recently spent three days at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. One of the biggest and best organized conferences in the country, it pulls in writers, editors and agents from all over the country, lots of them. They gathered here in Portland to pitch their books and screen plays, to attend lectures to hone their craft and to network. (Whatever the hell that is.) When you’re pitching your book it can get pretty serious, but there was a lot of levity, too. Writers are an irreverent, outspoken, and funny bunch–my kind of people.
It’s all about the pitch at these gigs. A pitch is an intense sales job that has a lot of unwritten rules, like you shouldn’t use any notes. Thus selling your project becomes highly dependent on your verbal communication skills, not your writing, an irony that took a little getting used to. Also, you should only give the high points and make sure you deliver the HOOK–the element in your story that, when revealed will make the agent or editor leap across the table begging to sign you. A sharp hook won’t guarantee a book deal, but without one, you should seriously consider self-publishing.
I pitched An Indecent Burial to three editors and one agent. All of them asked to see either the manuscript or a significant chunk of it. The hook in this story is–A fifty year cold case? Are you kidding me? Interestingly, the hook was the inspiration for the book. When I heard about the commemeration of the flooding of Celilo Falls in 2007, I thought to myself what if a body was buried along with the falls and it fell to Cal Claxton to figure out what happened fifty years later? With that thought, I was off and running.
We’ll see how sharp the hook is…