The Agent Pitch Session – or how to feel like a 13-year-old in two minutes or less

Ah, pitch sessions. You register for a writers’ conference and spend an extra $25 for ten minutes of an agent’s time. You prep a verbal speech to describe your book. You practice in front of a mirror. You research the agent you get and you stress over the timeslot you’re given—too early, where they won’t remember you? Too late, where they’ll be tired and crabby? But you’re ready. You’ve done your deep breathing. You’re looking good. You walk in the door, manage a firm handshake w/ lots of eye contact.

Then they say, “Tell me about your book.”

Your thirteen-year-old self, hidden in all of her pimply, dorky glory, is suddenly running the show.  How did that happen? You thought you killed off that insecure dweeb years ago. But, no–there she is– 13-year-old you, verbally vomiting on the agent, the words spewing over Ms. Agent’s neat suit. My God, you’re talking at the speed of sound. Maybe your voice cracks. Maybe you actually DO vomit. Some people have. I hear it’s not as uncommon as you think. But you soldier on. Hopefully you don’t have a heart condition, because frankly – the agent pitch is more stressful than a cardiologist’s stress test.

Somehow you muddle through. The agent asks you some questions. The blood rushing through your head is so loud you can barely hear them, but you answer anyway. Then they say, “Tell you what – why don’t you go ahead and send me some pages?”

Wow. There it is, right? You thought you sucked, and yet you still managed to get a positive response from a real live agent. You’re on top of the world. You KNEW you could win them over with your charming repartee. And people said this was hard? You should just forget about querying via email and do it ALL in pitch sessions. You leave the room, able to breath again and bouncing on the clouds. That was the best $25 you ever spent.

Then you find out at lunch that unless you actually DID vomit on them, they pretty much told everyone the same thing. Oh, well. If nothing else, you can now put “Requested Materials” in the subject line. That will get Ms. Agent to notice your query in the sea of cold-queries. Still worth the $25. Right?

So You Want to Write YA fiction – 5 things to remember if you’re over 25

1. Justin Beiber’s hair isn’t funny.

Okay, actually it is. When I was in school a kid with his haircut would have been begging for a wedgie and a visit to a stinky locker. But sorry–to today’s tweens, Beiber is a gorgeous god. I have no idea why, so just believe me and deal with it. And remember– most of us thought guys with mullets and skinny ties were hot at one point. Who are we to judge?

2. Not every teen has a gay best friend with a heart of gold.

  • Fact: Not every teen has a gay friend.
  • Also a fact: Not all gay people are happy, charming, and secure with their sexuality.
  • Another fact: I have read so many YA books with happy, witty, fully-out gay friends that I’ve lost count of them. Same goes for beautiful, wonderful bffs of a different skin tone. Oh, and people with red hair. There are a lot of gingers running around in the world of YA fiction. With perfect freckles and alabaster skin, of course.

Here’s what I say to that: Pfft. Go with a crabby gay friend. Or no gay friend at all. Go with an ugly friend of a different race. Or a crabby, gay friend of a different race, preferably with brown hair. None of these things will make you an intolerant jerk. It will just show you realize everyone is different, and that groups of people—whether a particular race, religion, or sexual orientation–aren’t clichés.

3. Girls named Sue are not sixteen.

Naming your character for a girl you knew in school is a great way to date yourself and lose the interest of your audience. Seriously—when was the last time you met a “Sue” that was under the age of thirty? Just go to the Social Security Administration site when you’re naming your fictional babies, okay? They have a tool where you can look up the most popular names by year or decade. Or name ‘em what you want and write fantasy fiction. No one cares what the names are then. You could probably even name your male protagonist Sue in a fantasy book.

4. “Milkshake” does not mean what you think it does

Slang is a part of every generation. But before you use it, make sure you’re using it right or you will be the laughingstock of the Twitter generation. The internet is a great tool. There are entire sites dedicated to translating slang. There are also sites telling us how old we are because the things we think are still in aren’t. If the internet is too much for you then heck—go talk to an actual teenager. Most of them don’t bite. The ones that do usually don’t have rabies.

5. If your sixteen year old has a car, you better make sure they’re not in Jersey

Not everyone lives in the same state as you. Or the same country. What’s legal in Tennessee, for example, may not fly in New York. Why? Not every state has the same rules. This is true for a lot of things—driving, age of consent, you name it. Got a kid buying booze at the grocery store from the old rheumatic clerk? Make sure it’s not Vermont, where there are state-run liquor stores. Got a sixteen-year-old taking her driver’s test in Atlantic City? Better age her up a year, because NJ kids can’t take that test until they’re 17. Kids know the rules for where they live, so make them right. Or save yourself the research and write sci-fi. Luke didn’t need no stinking license to drive his landspeeder.

Writing about the things that go bump in the night.

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