Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I don't know how you did it.
Honest to God, I don't.
But you did.

Today at the Writers' Digest Conference and Pitch Slam fifteen of you lined up, rushed up in fact, to be in line to have your pitches critiqued.
In public.
Into the microphone.
In front of God, mammon and 500 people attending the conference.

I don't know how you did it.
Honest to God, I don't.
But you did.

In order to demonstrate how the Pitch Slam worked, you came up on stage, sat down next to me, said hello and started in. I stopped you sometimes with a scream (185,000 words!!! ACK!!) Sometimes it was just a "stop, what's the novel called."
Sometimes it was "your memoir about your life isn't enough."

And you listened.
And you thanked me.
Honest to God, you thanked ME.

It's easy to be flamboyant and fun and crack jokes on stage when you're an agent at a writer's conference. It's as close to playing to a packed audience of relatives as I'll ever be now that I'm not in the third grade.

But you, you weren't playing to that house. You were in front of your colleagues, your competitors, and agents. You were alone. Just you, in front of everyone. Risking it all to tell me about a project you've labored over, loved, polished, prepped and are hoping someone else will love too.

What you did today was extraordinary.
Never doubt that.
And never forget it.

Come what may, know that you have what it takes. Writing can be learned. Grammar can be corrected. Courage comes from your heart. You've got that and then some. I saw that clearly today. And so did everyone else.

Thank YOU for letting me be part of your conference, your day, and your creative life.


Anonymous said...


FYI, there have been few comments lately because for the past couple of days your website has been killing Internet Explorer. Unfortunately I can't tell you why.

Amy Kinzer said...

Wow - 15 people stood in front of 500 people to do this?

Good for them, I would have fainted on stage. I share your admiration of people with that kind of courage.
sounds like a fun conference. I wish I could've seen these brave people in action.

Tiffany Schmidt said...

Hooray! I'm quite proud of the courageous writers and jealous I couldn't be there myself. It sounds like it was a great event for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've done the "SIWC Idol" thing a couple times, but that's completely anonymous (and yet my heart nearly busted my ribs with how hard it was pounding when my work was read). To have the courage those 15 had is just "wow". :)

Toni McGee Causey said...

Utterly lovely tribute, Janet. Makes me want to applaud them all for their courage and you for the grace and the honor to listen.

Paul D Brazill said...

Well, It is is very impressive, isn't it? I've never been quite sure what Chutzpa is but I'm sure those people had it. In spades.

Ellen said...

Lovely, Janet.

Marie Devers said...


Thanks for this.

Maybe I've been reading too many agent blogs lately, or wallowing over not being important enough to go to BEA, or hanging out with editors too much.

For whatever reason, as of late I've been feeling like, as a writer, I am kind of the scum of the publishing world, the lowliest of all literary professionals.

Your blog consistently makes me feel valued, so seriously--thanks.

K said...

I hope those individuals who had the courage to stand up like that read your blog! This is the kind of feedback that will help them get back up there again if they need it. We learn the most about ourselves and our writing by putting it all out there!

kah said...

aww I got a little teary eyed on that one. Thinking I was going to pass out when I pitched and got critiqued at PPWC is still fresh in my memory, so I sympathize with all those writers. Kudos to all of you. :)

Unknown said...

I was in the audience and agree completely - everyone listened, took the constructive criticism, and kept trying. As someone unwilling to get up there myself, I appreciated reaping the benefits of their bravery! I tweaked my own pitch, and every pitch I did in the slam resulted in a referral or a request for more material (including three fulls). Wheee!

I admit I was tempted to pitch to you just because you were cracking me up (I was sitting near you before you went up for that session) but I know I'm not your thing so it would have just been for the kicks.

Thanks to you and all the other agents for the great sessions yesterday, hope you found some material you liked.

DLBach said...

WOW!! I heard you were a "man-eating shark". Take no prisoners kind of agent. I don't believe it anymore. Not after reading this. Those 15 souls are brave and also lucky to have had you critiquing their pitches. I too, am jealous and wish I had the courage to do something like that.

Myra McEntire said...

By encouraging them, you encourage us. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Very nice sentiment, Janet. Public speaking is difficult even when what you're talking about doesn't really matter. I'm a stage fright sort of person. My brain freezes in front of an audience. Heaven forbid when I sell something and have to do a reading. I've done it though. Years ago I joined a speakers bureau with the local domestic violence shelter to go talk to schools about date rape and domestic violence. I did it one because the issue is important to me, but also because I know I needed to get over being petrified in front of an audience. It was hard. I sweated a lot, stammered a bit, but I did it. Big kudos to those who did this. It's ten times harder when you're speaking about something personal like your own novel. You don't want to sound like an idiot or worse have people snicker at your work or your efforts. And kudos to you Janet for being so cool about it.

Alli Sinclair said...

A lovely post, thank you. I would love to have been there. Congrats to the brave writers for putting themselves out there, and thank you for understanding the passion and courage it takes for a writer to bare his/her soul - especially in front of 500 people. Impressive.

Anonymous said...

Janet, this reminds me of your classic post, Two Parts of Brave. Lovely!

Pamela Hammonds said...

I was there in spirit as my writing partner attended and listened intently as others practiced their pitches with you. She said it was awesome and later had great success with pitching during the Slam. Thanks, Janet, for your helpful feedback to those brave souls.

jdsanc said...

I was also in the audience, and it was a wonderful experience. I did not get up. Would not get up, no way. I might as well do the interpretive dance Ted Weinstein suggested, or run around naked. Same level of fear, you know? But their guts gave me the confidence to get past myself and go for it. So thanks, guys! You're beautiful!!!

Flower said...

Janet, this post broght tears to my eyes. You have no idea how encouraging it is to read this paragraph.

"Come what may, know that you have what it takes. Writing can be learned. Grammar can be corrected. Courage comes from your heart. You've got that and then some. I saw that clearly today. And so did everyone else."

Now, I only wish I could have been there.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Most gracious of you.

My husband is a professional songwriter and one of the most difficult things he ever does is participate in song critiques. He, too, admires the courage it takes.

Kwana said...

Thanks for this warm my heart post. Big congrats to those courageous souls with more bravery than I may ever have.

Alicia Evans said...

I wasn't there, but that was just all kinds of awesome!

Unknown said...


I just wanted to take a minute and say you were amazing at the BEA/WD Writers Conference. I'm happy to be a follower of your blog and I'm glad I had the chance to meet you in person (albeit for a few fleeting moments).

Nancy said...

Janet, I applaud those who took that risk, but you get the standing ovation for your grace, kindness and sensitivity - and your honoring of those who came on stage.

Kudos to you all!

Nancy Haddock

ryan field said...

Doing something like this really DOES take courage. Wow!

Laurel said...

You've gone soft. It's kind of sweet. Is the moon full or something?

Wendy said...

Yeah, you're definitely not talking about ME because I would have been curled up in the fetal position under the table, quivering, sniveling, whining. Nope, not so brave at all.

I would have loved to be there to witness it though! I think you're awesome. Also, I noticed you were listed in Writer's Digest as someone writers can't live without (okay, possibly exaggerating slightly) and wanted to say congrats. I personally thought so long before they said that. :)

Anne said...

okay, maybe this is stupid, but this post made me cry.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Me to youngest daughter: That was a nice hug. What was that for?

Dau: Becuase I love you, Mommy. Thanks.

Me to Bill E. Goat: And what are you smiling about, Bill?

Bill: I just visited the cute French Alpine down the road ... she said thanks too. ...

Me: You mean she didn't run away bleating for help?

Bill: Nonsense. I was all the help she needed.

Me: ??

Bill: Your mouth is hanging open. ...

Me: Bill ... go write something ...

Betropper said...

I was there and saw it all! Yes, it was amazing and Janet did great critiquing without being too harsh:) I didn't go up, but the bravery of those who did was astounding and made me think how much people love their babies and will do anything for them. It was inspiring and noble. Everyone at the BEA was so encouraging. We all came away a little more hopeful.

Other Lisa said...

This is a beautiful post! Thanks, Janet.

Kane76 said...

As the coordinator of the BEA/Writer's Digest Books Writers Conference, I just want to say that Janet was absolutely terrific! People commented to me that they were amazed at how great she was hearing their pitches and her advice was exactly what they needed to hear.

Thank you Janet!

Picks by Pat said...


That was a gracious, generous and sympathetic portrait of the writer's struggle and courage in their battle to be published.

Uh, are you feeling OK?

Joan Mora said...

The highlight of my BEA experience (aside from getting 9 out of 9 requests!) was listening to your pitch critiques and comments on the agent panel.
Great to finally meet you in person!

Tina Swayzee McCright said...

I did not attend this conference. I read about your post on a writing loop and came over to check it out. I want to thank you for being so gracious. In this climate where people often bash each other for publicity, it is so heartwarming to find someone who is genuinely nice and thinking of the feelings of others. I haven't checked out your website before, but I will look for it now and I will put your blog on my Favorites.

Kathrine Leach said...

Hi Janet,

You critiqued my pitch and I wanted to thank you. (I was in the purple and black, but you probably don't remember me.)

After your comments, I sat down and reworked my pitch. I tried to make it more interesting. I no longer used the lines "It begins in a bedroom with a stranger..." I didn't say anything about "Society often sees..." Your comments were useful because I knew what agents were looking for from a pitch. I could zero in the main theme of my manuscript.

I had the 1st fifty pages of my novel requested by both agents I spoke to. (Long lines!) I know it's because you told me what was wrong with my initial pitch, and how to correct it.

It was the first writer's conference I've ever been to, and it was a great experience. Your honesty during the pitch practice and agent's question session were so helpful.

I hope someday we'll see my book on a shelf somewhere. (And I hope it goes into royalties *cross fingers*.)

Thank you for your critique,

Heather Wardell said...

I didn't have quite the success of some of the others (9 requests out of 9 pitches!) but I did get some requests and some good feedback/face time from people I'd previously queried.

And I got to meet you, and even though it was right at the end of the day you were willing to talk to me for a few minutes and ask how I'd done, and I so appreciated it.

You're the only agent for whom I'm tempted to change my writing genre. :)

Petrea Burchard said...

I'm browsing the agent blogs recommended in the May/June Writer's Digest, trying to get a feel for the people who write them.

This post gives me a strong feeling for the type of decent human you are.

Julie Weathers said...

I am so impressed with the writers who did this. I would never have the courage. I did get requests from both people I pitched to in Surrey, but it certainly wasn't because I knew how to pitch the book. This would be an invaluable session to watch.

Now the rest of the world knows what I have been saying. Janet is very kind and giving. Her advice is spot on and the humor is just a great extra.

Unknown said...

Oh, Janet Reid, I didn't know you had this in you. It's lovely. But I'm a little frightened to let my guard down as it may be a ruse- while you circle around us for the kill.
You keep me on my toes, for sure.