I wimped out of my first-ever pitch appointment with an agent. I blew it with a real-life literary agent.
I spent good money to register and prepare for the three-day, intensive Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) 2015 Gold Conference. Although I write memoir, I was was thrilled to be signed up. When it was my turn to sell my book idea to Carrie Howland with Donadio and Olson, Inc., I chose to back out with my tail between my legs.
I showed up at the conference on Friday morning, six days after a downhill mountain biking accident in Winter Park. I left my crutches at home and by the end of the day my ankles were spent from walking and my elbow was throbbing from sitting in armless hotel banquet chairs. It was time to suck it up and finally visit a doctor.
Who can I see on a Friday night at 5:00 pm? I knew I’d miss the Welcome Banquet dinner, but I had to come back to the hotel just the same. I had signed up to read some of my work for a late-night gathering
Two and a half hours and three X-rays later, I reported back to the main ballroom.
I caught the last words from the podium. The doc said nothing was broken but my pain would have argued otherwise.
The female speaker was on point, making everyone in the room comfortable with her slick sense of humor. I was beat and ready to cozy up on our comfy couch to elevate and ice, but I needed to figure out if, when and where I would be reading. A friendly conference volunteer told me, “Susie will point you in the right direction and she’s right over there by the stage.”
I limped to the front of the ballroom and asked the woman who had been speaking, “Can you help me find a volunteer named Susie?” Hallelujah! She was my Susie. She told me the readings were happening the next evening. I was a day early. Her friendliness was like a breath of fresh air from a long day of shuffling in-between workshops, taking notes like mad and visiting a random, strip mall urgent care.
Susie asked me how I was liking the conference. I told her just as I had hoped, my workshops had already been loaded with gems. She seemed to know a lot about the ins-and-outs, clearly this wasn’t her first rodeo. I told her my biggest “thing” about the conference was my upcoming pitch appointment with Carrie Howland at 10:00 am the next morning.
I explained that despite knowing I signed up for a fiction conference, I wrote narrative non-fiction. I confided in Susie and told her I wasn’t sure if I should keep my pitch appointment. She was concerned, “Why not try? What have you got to lose? Tell her you just want to practice.”
I knew she was right, but I felt my insides tightening up. I tried to justify my reasoning, but it all sounded silly when my words hit the air. “Well, what I write is really personal. It’s memoir. Carrie might not resonate with what I have to say. I think I might be better to wait and pitch an agent who’s seeking my kind of writing.” Susie reassured me that I would be alright and I should just go after it.
I thanked her for the pep talk. I really liked her energy and kindness. I started the long walk to my car with a surge of positivity pulsing through my veins. I’m going to do this!
My biggest fear was that I would pour my heart out only to be met with ambivalence. What if I offend her? My book, “The Lonely Shoe Diaries,” is the real behind-the-scenes story about what it means to heal from 24-years of bulimia, self-hatred and body shame without seeking in-patient treatment. I want to write a book for the 70% of people with eating disorders who never seek treatment.
I have themes in my story that might feel unpleasant to readers; like how choosing to not have children with my husband was one of the key ingredients to my recovery or what it took for me to finally be at peace with the word God. I share the depths of a binge and purge cycle and the reasons why I liked it, why it was my secret solution for coping with emotions I didn’t know how to express.
The truth is that I’ve been scared for so long. I’ve listened to silent whispers of self-doubt for most of my life. You’ll never follow-through, Whitney. People like you talk the talk but they never actually walk the walk. The next morning my appointment was set for 10:00am. I was hyper-aware of the clock from the moment I woke up. The countdown had begun. No more fear. I’m going to do this for real.
I didn’t do it.
I convinced myself that rather than heading upstairs for my pitch, I should catch the first ten minutes of a 10:00 am seminar. Ten minutes led to thirty minutes. I was fully aware of what I was doing, in spite of pretending it was no big deal. I argued my choices. I should be walking my ass upstairs right now. Wait a minute, I paid for this conference, right? I can do what I want. Guilt took over and I couldn’t stand the idea of not showing. I snuck out of the workshop and hobbled to the elevator.
The sweet folks running the appointments where a little confused, “So you knew about the appointment but you didn’t show up? Did you forget? I don’t understand.” God this is embarrassing. Carrie didn’t have any openings left. I was too late.
I sat close to the front row in my next seminar. Unbeknownst to me, my Susie was formally known as Susan Brooks and she was listed as a speaker on the upcoming panel. She looked my way from the head table and asked, “So how did it go with Carrie?” Oh Shit.
I grimaced and responded, “It didn’t. I just sort of chickened out.” I heard the excuse come out of my mouth about losing track of time. Who am I kidding? Am I really trying to use that right now? This sounds awful.
Susie was perplexed, “Oh. Well I talked to her last night after you and I spoke. She was all ready to hear from you. You know, I’m going to grab her after this panel and get you in front of her.”
I was mortified. I’m making such an ass of myself. I couldn’t imagine this sweet volunteer putting even more energy into fixing my faux pas. I promised I would handle it after her panel. I’m not sure if she believed me.
The seminar started and I discovered that Susie was the RMFW Conference Chair for the entire weekend and that it was her fifth year running the whole shebang. Oh dear. Does she really have to be THE Conference Chair? I can’t believe this is the impression I’ve made. I want to crawl into a hole.
The thought of Susan Brooks, a big deal in the literary community, having to hold my nonfiction hand another moment put me over the edge with shame. I slipped out quickly at the end of her workshop and hustled through the crowd.
Back upstairs, they told me it was impossible. Carrie wasn’t taking appointments on Sunday.
After lunch, I sat in the front row at my next seminar and Carrie Howland was on the panel. This is a sign. It was one of the best classes I took during the conference. Not only was the moderator spectacular, the panelists of agents and editors (Ben Leroy, Latoya Smith, Chelsey Emmelhainz, Trish Daly and Carrie Howland) were so synchronistic together that the room felt alive.
The audience was teleported to a New York office filled with the kind of quick wit and humor you see in movies. These people were brilliant, creative, talented and young. Oh so young! They explained books like, “Devil Wears Prada for Foodies” or “Anne of Green Gables meets Hunger Games.” Carrie was authentic, funny and approachable. How have I misjudged this pitch situation so poorly?
I rushed the table after applauding and introduced myself. I mentioned that Susan Brooks spoke to her about me after the Welcome Dinner. Carrie knew exactly who I was. Oh boy. Here we go.
I started off by saying, “I’m the chicken shit who didn’t show up yesterday at 10:00 am.” She laughed. Thank God. I continued. “I’m so sorry for being this lame. It’s just that I write memoir and my story is really personal. I was bulimic for 24 years-“, I heard my voice crack. Don’t do this. Not now. I bit my lip and began again, “I write about what eating disorder recovery really means from the inside out.”
Carrie’s smile was warm and caring. I wanted to melt.
She relayed that three pitch appointments were no-shows and I was the only one who had enough guts to keep it real and approach her. I like this girl. I really like this girl. I apologized for being insecure and explained how new I am to sharing my story and how much I need to practice. Carrie’s response was awesome, “I get it. It’s like speed dating upstairs.” Ding! Ding! Ding! She really, truly understands.
Carrie told me if I was ready, she was more than happy to let me pull her aside in the next day and half to give it a go. I went home that night feeling lighter, not absolved, just lighter. So you’re saying there’s a chance.
Sunday morning, the last day of the conference, I ran into Susie and told her I had made contact with Carrie. She ran around the registration table to give me a congratulatory tight squeeze. Oh this feels good! She had been my cheerleader from the beginning and I had made her proud. I could see why she was so beloved by her team of conference co-creators.
I looked for Carrie during each break but I couldn’t track her down. This is what happens when you let your fear get the best of you, Whitney. The day drew to a close as I walked into the ballroom for our Farewell Luncheon. The keynote speaker took the stage and my eyes fell onto a nearby table. OMG! There she is. This is my last chance. Go big or go home!
When I approached her table I could tell she remembered me.
I ended up chatting with Carrie and Trish Daly, the Associate Editor for William Morrow for close to twenty minutes! It wasn’t just small talk. It felt like a real connection once the three of us talked. I told her my plan was to send my pitch to her in vlog format. Carrie jotted down her contact info on Westin Hotel paper. This is when I felt a true sense of redemption.
My Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference wasn’t the experience I had anticipated but it was exactly what I needed in order to move forward with my writing dreams. Eating disorder recovery is a forever process because I have to work through all the scary stuff without my old behaviors.
I see the happy ending to my RMFW conference as a true triumph. I persevered. Susie and Carrie encouraged me with grace and understanding. I’m thankful I was given the chance to make it right. I can’t wait for the 2016 RMFW Gold Conference!
I’m working on my Vlog Pitch. As soon as it’s posted, I’ll spread the word! Wish me luck.