My guest today is Angela Noel. Her experience at a writer’s conference brought back many memories for me.
By Angela Noel
A poet friend told me about The Loft’s Pitch Conference. The idea terrified me. Pitch my book to three agents? Live? That sounded like a job interview married to a parole hearing and covered in olives (I hate olives). But, I reasoned, I’d never been to a writer’s conference. It was in my hometown. The Loft in Minneapolis is an incredibly supportive haven for writers and ideas, and not likely to host another conference for at least another year. And, I had a second novel languishing at 30,000 words that needed a swift kick in the pants. I decided to sign up.
The months between signing up and showing up were filled with drafts. I finished that second novel, but it needed so much work, it wouldn’t be ready in time. My first novel was much closer to perfect. So, I polished it with the help of my writing group, and wrote draft after draft of my short pitch (the verbal equivalent to a marketing letter). It needed to roll off my tongue. It had to be perfect. I practiced with everyone who would stand still for four minutes and listen to me. I pitched my aunt and my mother over the phone. I pitched my golden retriever, who thumped his tail in appreciation. I pitched myself in my bathroom mirror. In short, I did all I could to prepare.
The day of the conference dawned. I picked out my clothes carefully and promised myself that in just ten short hours I’d either have a yes or a no. My first pitch to one of the three agents was mid-morning on the first day. If an agent liked my pitch, she’d request my work. That’s a foot in the door, not a shoulder or an armpit, just a tiny toe-hold, but a toe-hold nonetheless.
I had only dread in my belly. Too many new people, no friendly faces, sweaty palms, and rejection—I imagined the soup of terrible awaiting me. But, I got in the car anyway. I drove to the conference, parked my car, checked that I hadn’t accidentally put my dress on inside out (it happens), and tried to pour mental molasses on the butterflies to slow their fluttering. Then, I trotted across the busy street and opened the gorgeous wood and glass doors of The Loft Literary Center.
That’s when it hit me: I could do this.
The first person I saw, a woman in a scarf so large and intricate I wanted to hang it as a tapestry on a wall in my home, looked up at me wide-eyed.
“Hello! I’m Angela,” I said, probably too loudly. “This is my first conference. How about you?”
She looked down at the floor, but shook my proffered hand. She told me her name and that she was new here too. She pointed me towards the stairs. “I think you have to register,” she said. “I’ll see you up there.”
The queue of eager registrants spilled down the wood and iron spiral staircase on the second floor. Once at the top, I found my name badge, got my program, smiled like a lunatic, and made my way to the coffee and mini-muffins. I saw many awkward fellow writers looking timid and alone.
“Coffee!” I said, setting my bag down to grab a paper cup. “Thank heavens for this! Unless I spill it on myself, in which case: curse you, coffee!” I don’t even know to whom I aimed my words. But hearing my own voice in the air comforted me. Smiling at the man who looked like a science fiction writer (and was) gave me courage.
Within minutes, I knew that in the land of introverts, a smiling ambivert is the circus come to town. As an ambivert—a quixotic creature sometimes filled with the extrovert’s love of people and company, and at other times the introvert’s craving for silence and peace—I had both an opportunity and an obligation.
I believe there is greatness in all of us and I’m grateful to see it in others. If I could just pick my head up, forget that I, too, am nervous and fretting that my preparation or worse, my novel, might not be good enough, I’d see how others suffered. They had all my fears but seemingly less of my willingness to shatter uncomfortable silence with words, smiles, and handshakes. My natural curiosity, and sincere love of fellow humans took over. Before the first hour had elapsed, my nervousness had been replaced by joy.
These people, these wonders, had put their work forward just as I had. They wanted to learn, to grow, to see their writing blossom in view of a wider audience. I could do something about that. I could connect people. I could meet one person and include them in a group. I could ask questions, share ideas, and demonstrate my interest in their work. With these small acts the nervous turtle in all of us relaxed. We came out of our shells. Desperate to relieve my own fears, I stumbled upon a gift I had to give to others.
Years ago, I realized the cost to me of being the first to love, the first to stretch out a hand to connect, was infinitesimal. Many times, I’m the instigator of new relationships. I can’t help myself. People are wonderful. And, though I don’t like rejection, I don’t often fear it. But, I’d let fear get to me prior to the conference. Yet something about walking through those doors and seeing all the other writers, my kin, made my fear disappear.
We journey together, all of us humans. For some of us we walk in tandem for the duration. For others of us, we are but temporary companions on the Appalachian Trail of life. Either way, initiating conversations costs me next to nothing. But the payoffs in learning, in awe, in wonder at the capabilities and pursuits of another human are infinite. I had forgotten this truth in the days leading up to the conference. I had focused too much on myself: my fears, my work. The moment I remembered I wasn’t alone, that I could forge connections and offer others a lifeline, everything changed.
I loved the conference. I loved when a woman I had just met asked me to hold her hand while an agent read her query letter aloud to an audience of people and applauded her work. When all three agents I’d pitched my novel to requested my manuscript, I knew my success was not mine, but ours. Each of the writers who’d let me into their world, who had talked to me about writing, creativity, passion, and purpose had gifted me with confidence. When I met with the publishing professionals I had an army of love behind me. It was the purest and best kind of love—the kind we give away for free without thought of return. I loved those writers and didn’t need them to love me back. I didn’t even wonder if they did. Giving love, standing in awe of creativity and accomplishment, is its own fuel; it feeds on itself. The more of it we give away; the more we have to give.
Though I believe I offered comfort to some of the quiet and withdrawn among the constellation of would-be authors at the conference, ultimately it was they who comforted me. By giving all I had to give, I got everything I needed in return and more.
So: Go. Be. Do. Invest in whatever it is that scares you. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by signing up. If I can, you can too.
If you’re interested in attending an excellent, small, and well-run conference to pitch your novel, meet industry professionals and network with other writers, sign up for the 2018 Pitch Conference at The Loft Literary Center. Registration begins November 14, 2017.
Angela Noel lives and writes in Minneapolis. In between fiction projects, she posts inspiring stories about interesting ideas and compelling people on the You are Awesome blog. She enjoys yoga and loves books, humans, wine, and chocolate (but not necessarily in that order). Connect with her on Twitter at or Facebook or subscribe to her blog for a new post each week.