DFWCON: a volunteer’s perspective

Posted on 04/14/2010

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We didn’t know what we were doing.

It all started (well technically it started months and months and months ago) Friday afternoon. I got the call from Michelle asking me to meet her up at the place. She wanted to go over some last minute details about how we were going to handle around 250, 10 minute pitch sessions between literary agents and writers.

I had been stuck at work on a project that was taking me a ridiculous amount of time, and was already late, stressed out, etc.  The call from Michelle was both pleasant and a pain my ass.  I wanted to stretch out on the couch for a few hours before the whole thing started–but she was right–we needed to go over it. Michelle is usually always right.

And we did. Then we helped set up all the other stuff for the conference. Apparently, the convention center allowed us to set up earlier than we thought. We got to basically get ready to go the night before. It was great.  Michelle and I figured out how we were going to handle the nervous writers, the agents, and the cling-ons. (Those folks always looking for another pitch session!)

Then we left. I went home for an hour, had a sandwich, then drove to the hotel where the night’s festivities were being held. It was a small crowd in the beginning, but a lot of fun later on.  We had around 80 people there, milling about, talking and partying it up. I knew almost all of them, and that was cool too.

I got to talk to a few agents that night. I was more wanting just to hang and shoot the bull with the peeps. I knew I would be getting a lot of time with the agents the next day. Boy was I right. I stayed until around 10:00 PM or so. Got pretty tipsy and then had to sober back up before driving home.  I think I was one of the last four or five people there.

Then came Saturday. I had to get up at 6 AM to get to the conference center by 7.  Have I mentioned I freaking hate getting up early in the morning? Seriously hate it. But there I was, all suited-up ready for the conference. When I got there around 7:15, there were about twenty other people doing their best impressions of being an ant. Zipping from here to there, getting final adjustments made.  We had attendees trying to get in the door early, when we weren’t ready for them. We had donuts for the volunteers, we had a nervous Jeri.  We had a lot of stuff going on all at once. Michelle and I were both a bit nervous about handling the pitch sessions all day. Neither of us were sure if our planning was going to plan out. I thought she took the harder part in the beginning, but later, I think our parts were equally as difficult. We switched in the afternoon, and both were tough. I don’t envy next year’s pitch session people, handling more agents.

We had our opening session, where the agents answer panel questions, Russell, the workshop president spoke a few choice words. All the while, Michelle and sat there, looking at the clock, willing them to hurry. The pitch sessions were taking place in the auditorium, and we had to set up after everyone vacated. Not easy considering how much time we didn’t have.  Finally, the Q&A session stopped and Russell told everyone to get out.  Luckily, Michelle and I had some other helpers to get us set up and we were ready to go.

Of course, we still didn’t know what we were doing.

Sure, we had a good idea of how we wanted it to roll, but would it work?  It was time. People were already lining up outside, eager to get in to talk to their agents. Others pressed in, trying to find out if they should wait or go to a session.  I finished up the last part of the inside area, while Michelle patiently started lining up prospects outside.  The agents took their seats, talking a little between themselves.

We held the pitch sessions in the auditorium. We lined up chairs by the doors and put the agents’ names on them (Michelle’s idea) and put up a screen to block off the chairs, so people could chat a little and not bother the other folks pitching.  The doors leading into the auditorium led to where Michelle gathered up the next batch, while I was preparing the one inside.  It was a good system, and we both were comfortable with it.

The first batch of folks came in. I lined up them up and then took them back.  Now, all our pitches were timed for ten minutes, with a two minute passing period. I clicked the timer right when they all were standing near their agents.

I walked back, and Michelle had the next batch. We brought them in and sat them down. Let me tell you, people are freaking nervous right before they pitch their stories to agents. They are like about to jump up and run out the door. It was funny. I thought I should try to give them a little pep talk and hopefully remove some of their worries. I told a few stories and made a few light-hearted jokes. I don’t know if I helped any of them chill out, but I hope I did.

One batch, then another, it went off smoothly. No big fiascoes. We did get behind, and it was mostly my fault. I couldn’t get the writers up out of the chairs, and it wasn’t always because of the writers! Sometimes the agents would keep chattering away, and I’d have to walk over and say, “Next group is ready.” I think I pissed one agent off because I kept walking over! Heh.

Anyways. We got about five minutes behind, but overall, we were on track.

Then came lunch.

By now, I’d been standing up for about two and half hours. My feet weren’t killing me, but they were giving me the stink eye. Other than that, I was cool. Michelle was too.  We grabbed some lunch and ate. She went in to hear the keynote speech, I stayed outside to help with the registration desk so others could go in and hear it.

After that, we started up again. One group, then another, one group, then another…for another two + hours. By then, my feet were barking, and my lower back was calling me a bitch. I laughed and called it a back. Yeah, that’s weak but so is your mother.

Anyway! The pitch sessions went off great on Saturday.  Michelle and I switched places after lunch, and I think we both like our other jobs better.  So we switched back on Sunday.  Somehow, it just seemed right. Oh and, FYI, working with Michelle was GREAT. We get along so well. We’re both friendly, but professional.  I really like working with her.

That Saturday night, my feet were screaming at me. We went to the after party and hung out. And stood…for another three hours. I finally extricated myself at around 10:30 PM.

I couldn’t walk up the stairs of my house!

A couple of things.

While waiting for the new batch of writers to come in, I stood next to Laurie McLean, making sure writers were moving along. She and I had talked quite a few times, just shooting the bull. She looked up and said, “What do you write?”

My mind started bouncing around like a kangaroo…What does she rep?!?  Oh ! Fantasy, Sci-fi!

So I told her about my latest sci-fi book. She said it sounded interesting and asked me to send it to her.

Yeah.

I pitched a book in between all the other pitches.

Heh.

I also got to hang with the agents on their break times. It was cool, listening to them talk about the writers they’d just listened to. Good insight.

Joshua Bilmes brought some cupcakes for the agents one day, and after the pitch sessions were over, he presented the box to them.

He then said, “Hey Jason, come get a cupcake.”

I looked around. Me?

Hell yes I ate that cupcake, while sitting around with a bunch of freaking literary agents. It was a damn good cupcake, prolly the best I’ve ever had.

Don’t hate.

The rest of the weekend was a blur. We were so busy. Moving around, hardly ever getting to sit down, always looking for something to be doing.  All the volunteers were Johnny-On-The-Spot whenever Michelle and I needed something for the agents or ourselves. Sunday was just insane, but Michelle and I did get to attend some classes.

I got to meet Jenni Holbrook. She’s cool, and has a strange yankee accent. She doesn’t look like she has one in her picture. And yeah, she’s just as hot in real life. We had some good discussions and when she and Kristen get together, there’s always a good fireworks display!

What else…hmm…

I got to pitch my books to four agents.

I met Paul Levine. I’ve heard some pretty hard stories about him, and they’re all true.  He’s a hard ass literary agent, lawyer. But he’s also kick ass and awesome. He doesn’t bullshit you. Tells it just like it is. He either can sell your book, or he can’t. And he tells you up front to your face. I like that brash honesty. He had the quickest pitch sessions, so we had the most time to chat while the other ones were going on. He’s one kick ass dude, very smart, and very funny.

Anne Hawkins is cool. She’s funny and a good talker.

Laurie McLean was honest with us. She gave us some great feedback on the conference (they all did, but she spent another hour and half helping out with some great suggestions.)

The other agents, Diana Fox, Mary Kole, Lucienne Diver, Gina Panettieri, Victoria Horn, and Joshua Bilmes were all freaking nice as hell and hung with me on the breaks, just shooting the bull. Kole, Fox, and Horn all wanted Vodka, so I brought my flask in the next day for a little nip if they were of a mind. I won’t tell you if they drank any or not.

Bilmes was super friendly. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone just as plane nice as he was.

Gina told me some super cool/creepy stories that would be great in a book. She needs to write one.

And they all paid us compliments about the conference. I can only give the props to Jeri. She is the glue that held it all together. She’s a hard worker and a great person. I’ve gotten to know her over the course of the last year, and would like to count her as a friend. She’s awesome.

I think I am going to wrap it up here. I’ve written a lot, but there’s a lot more to write. Maybe I will make another post later.

So if you went to the conference, did you have a good time? Tell me about it.

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