Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Writers Conference Cringe

I registered for a one-day writers conference in New York City for the hefty sum of $275. It was held last Thursday. This fee provided the opportunity for aspiring authors to sit in the same room as two successful literary agents and receive feedback on their pitch letters and the opening two pages of their books. The fantasy outcome is that both elite agents will be so impressed with your material (the same material that has garnered a collection of rejection letters thus far) that they will beg you to sign with them on the spot. A fistfight might even break out between the two professionals as they vie for your talent in the dream.

I was worried the night before about how to dress. The internet told me I should wear what I would wear to an interview. An interview for what? The last time I hunted for a job was 1997. Really. I selected a skirt and jacket and packed my bag with copies of my pitch letter and story opening. I bit my fingernails while my printer spat out the pages and on the train into the city. It felt like I was masquerading as a writer, but I wasn’t sure what my costume should be.

Arriving at a mid-town hotel, I was directed to the appropriate floor for the event. The elevator dinged and I stepped out into a reception area. I thought I had mistakenly entered a Star Trek convention. No Vulcan ears or jumpsuits, but a definite freaky vibe. There was a range of ages, sizes, shapes, genders, and hairstyles. The unifying theme was eyeglasses: big round coke bottles, rectangular edgy academic frames, and kinds in-between. I realized that glasses probably are a typical writer accessory. I should have remembered my driving glasses so I could look writerly. A bun fastened with a pencil would have worked, too. I just looked like a displaced suburban housewife who remembered to wear sensible shoes.

The author-agent sessions were organized by writing genre. I approached the room designated for MEMOIR. My non-spectacled eyes imagined the sign read: NARCISSISTS. First cringe.

Inside, each author-memoirist-wanna-be read their pitch letters aloud and tried to accept, as graciously as possible, the constructive criticism from the agents. It seemed that no one had a winning letter. The agents politely told the 9/11 survivor, the cancer survivor, the obsessive-compulsive, the menopausal Christian humorist (what?), the illegal alien with border-crossing tale, the Korean war veteran, the mother of an autistic child, and little ol’ me that our pitch letters needed work. If we didn’t change them, we would face a writing career that begins and ends in the slush pile.

But then, a red-headed lady in her forties began to read her letter-- voice sultry. It was a good letter. Real good. Her story? Well, she was a normal married woman with a boyfriend, a cat, and money troubles that made her decide to become a “whore” (her word- not mine) for one year. Coincidentally, her starting nightly rate was $275- the same amount the rest of us amateurs spent for the conference. (FYI- with the help of Craigslist, she quickly advanced to $2000 per night.)

The listening group was silent. The whore was seated next to the menopausal Christian humorist, who was carefully biting the inside of her cheek, and taking cleansing breaths. The room then flexed with a collective cringe. Bottoms flinched in chairs, temples were rubbed, fingers clutched pens for doodling, and eyeglasses were propped up on the bridges of noses. We writer- strangers did not want to exchange any eye contact. Ceiling and floor tiles were studied, maybe even counted by the obsessive-compulsive.

One of the literary agents cleared her throat. “So, this…this is…your story?”

“Yes, yes,” Red nodded enthusiastically, her sundress strap falling over a freckled shoulder.

“My blog gets over 4000 hits per month.” she added with a savvy smile, and maybe even a wink.

It was time to break for lunch. I couldn’t wait to get back for her first two pages.

*Thank you all for your comments. They are very encouraging! And, please, if you want to receive an email notification when a new post is up--please email me at weeklycringemail@yahoo.com Thanks, Tracy


  1. This is great, once again you made me laugh out loud!!!! I'd love to get a look at "Red's" blog!

  2. great stuff Trace...but we really needed to see a picture of Red....one little click of the cell cam?...

  3. ahem...what was the name of that blogg?
    You rock...I probably would have melted in my seat!

  4. As usual, your "cringe-worthy" moments are hilarious! Do we really have to sell ourselves LITERALLY to get a book deal? Thank goodness, I am in kid-lit. Our conferences are filled with the occasional bow-tie, propeller hat, sparkly vest and visible tattoos but never an actual lady of the evening (that anyone admitted to.)

  5. Oh, this was the best! Please let there be a part two. You have the knack for describing people.

  6. I see I am not alone in wanting to know about red heads blog...but seriously...you are hysterical

  7. Okay, so waht did her first two pages say? Or do we have to wait until next week?