This is a fantastic success story. When we went to do our Pitchapalooza at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, little did we know that our winner would end up with a three book deal with Farrar Strauss Children’s. But Genn Albin’s truly awesome pitch for her dystopian novel Crewel just blew us away. Here’s the first of three pieces she has written for us about how the whole thing came down. Thank you, Genn, you are truly an inspiration. And we’ll be watching and reading about your journey from talented amateur to (knock wood) best-selling author.
In January I decided I needed to be more involved with the Kansas City book scene, and if you want to be more involved with the Kansas City book scene, you look to Rainy Day Books. Now at the time I had a finished first draft of my novel, but my days were spent at home with two toddlers, which meant I didn’t have a lot of time or money. So when I saw the Book Doctors were scheduled to bring an event called Pitchapalooza to Kansas City on Rainy Day’s website, I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and made a reservation for two to the event. Thankfully, the event was free, but if you bought their book, you would receive a free phone consultation, and since money was tight, this sounded like a lot of bang for my buck. I messaged my local critique partner and told her we were going.
I spent the next few weeks devouring every blog post on the Book Doctors’ website and every news article written about the event. I suppose it stems from my background in academics that I like to research. Well, maybe I don’t like it so much as I can’t escape it.
And then the unthinkable happen — a stupid ice storm. Kansas City weather is fickle at best, and I remember worrying that I would not be able to drive down in the ice. My valiant husband, and number one supporter, promised he would drive me if I was worried about the roads. In all fairness, they were bad, but I never considered that flights might be cancelled. The morning of the event, I got a phone call letting me know Pitchapalooza was being rescheduled. I was heartbroken.
I watched the Rainy Day website for the rescheduled time, crossing my fingers that it would still happen, and reserved my spot as soon as the date was made public. I spent the next month determined to get the book as close to a final draft as possible, so I could use my consult to discuss querying — a process that had me shaking in my boots. I put together several pitches and hated them all, and then the date of the event, I sat down and put together the final pitch. In the end, I wrote my pitch in an hour, but I used all the tips and tricks I’d learned over the past two months.
I waited impatiently for my critique partner to pick me up. My car was in the shop and I was hesitant to drive the family’s only car for an event downtown (in case my husband needed to escape with the kids). But then I got a message that she was running late and it would be another fifteen minutes. I called my husband, who was out with kids and said only car, to come back to the house. I knew if I didn’t leave in the next few minutes I would miss my chance to sign up to pitch. As it was, I thought it might be too late already. He came home, and I raced to the plaza library branch. I got there right as the event was starting, but with enough time to put my name in (thank god, I wasn’t pulled over). I missed all the rules, what the prize was, introductions, but I got my name in.
Then came the excruciating part. The contestants were drawn one at a time using the on-deck system. My critique partner showed up and succeeded in keeping me calm (aka listening to me nervously prattle under my breath), and then my name was called. I was elated and terrified and ready! The thing about pitching your book in front of hundreds of people is that you are taking an often isolating experience (writing a book) and proclaiming your ambitions to the world. It was no secret to family and friends I was writing a book, but ask anyone who is a writer and they’ll tell you that most people kind of give them an oh-isn’t-that-adorable nod when you talk about it. This felt real. I was standing up and sharing my story, for better or for worse, with a group of people who knew what I meant by “writing a book.”
My pitch was timed perfectly and I stumbled over the one line I knew I would screw up (why didn’t I change it?). And then it was my turn for feedback. Arielle proclaimed it was exactly one minute. David said my delivery was smooth, and I admitted I was trembling. I believe David’s exact words were “Fake it until you make it!”
And that was it, and I was disappointed. I wanted more feedback, more criticism. I wanted them to rip me to shreds. I whispered this to my critique partner when I got back to our seats and she gave me the standard cheerleading reply : “That’s because it was perfect.” I realized then that at some point, I’d cross the divide between someone writing a book and being a writer. Criticism no longer sent me running. I wanted to make my pitch and book better even if it was painful.
There were a lot of amazing pitches there that night. A few that made me stop and take notice. A few I couldn’t hear (word to the wise: don’t sit in the back!). And I was flabbergasted by the shear number of people there. People, who just like me, were spending their free time writing with the dream of publishing a book. I hear people say they want to write a book all the time, but this was a room of people who had done it. It was such an inspiring experience.
Then it was time for them to decide on a winner. David did his best to entertain the crowd and answer questions, but I know that for myself and 24 others in the audience all we could do was try to suppress the horrible, rolling nausea in our stomachs while they decided. Geoffrey came out and reminded us about what to do to get our books signed and set up our consultations, and I refrained from screaming, “Just get it over with before I puke!”
And then he said my name.
And my critique partner let out this blood-curdling scream.
And I almost died – from excitement, from embarrassment, from surprise.
I waited for the next forty-five minutes or so to talk to Arielle and David about my pitch. The whole experience was a blur of enthusiasm and well wishes. And then another amazing thing happened. A teen girl walked up with her mom to tell me how she wanted to read my book. Talk about awesome. A real life member of my target audience wanted to read my book! Turns out V is a writer herself and an avid reader. It took me about ten seconds to beg her to be a beta reader for CREWEL. She said yes, and I’m happy to report she’s the first teen to read it and all futures books!
Arielle and David were worth the wait. They asked some questions, we took some pics, and Arielle suggested I wait until I had a finished manuscript before we had our consult. I walked away with a renewed confidence. It was as though pure adrenaline had been injected into me. I was ready to get back to work. I couldn’t have imagined how much craziness and excitement lay before me. Pitchapalooza was only the beginning of a very wild ride.