I wanted to turn around and go home as I made my way to the third floor of the Hilton near LAX. The parking lot had been jammed. I’d snagged the last spot and had tentatively filed in behind all the other aspiring writers toting laptops, files spilled out of tote bags, and the ultimate accessory, a coffee in hand.
I’m at a Los Angeles writing conference to pitch my manuscript to an agent. I’ve got three ten-minute pitches with three agents in between the morning sessions. I’ve written and rewritten the pitch countless times after calling on two friends and my sister to describe my manuscript in their own words.
My oldest son, Allan, told me to focus on the book. “No gimmicky sell, Mom. Just be straightforward.”
On the drive over, I’d tried to memorize my pitch. “Forget it,” I’d thought after numerous flubs and missing my exit on the freeway.
Way out of my comfort zone, I continued to the elevators. “I’ve got to keep at it,” I’d told my husband, Hank, after learning about this opportunity. “This book’s a hard sell, a ‘quiet read,’ but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.”
All the triggers are creeping into my psyche as I check in at the desk. What am I doing! DO I actually think I have something to pitch? Is it good enough? Worthy? Look at all these writers. They have such a sense of ease, such a look of confidence. Perhaps they’ve been to this rodeo before, but I’m terrified!
I take a seat on the row of chairs facing the small ballroom that houses the agents. The carpet is a swirl of brown and olive green with random, galaxy-like circles ranging in size. Who picks these hideous carpets? Is it to hide the stains? This makes me smile, and I realize that humor is the tonic here.
Around me, writers study their pitches, heads deep into a typed page, mouthing the words. Some are pacing. All shapes, sizes, genders and races and one writer has put his nametag on his dog, a large mixed-breed that he has brought today. “No gimmicks,” my son had said. I smile again.
“Ok!” blurts out a woman at the door. “All up for the 9:40 time slot!”
As they queue up, it hits me. This is f**ing American Idol for writers. Look at them, these last-minute contestants, rehearsing the pitch, adjusting a skirt, deep breathing and shifting their weight side to side.
Who, I wonder, will get a golden ticket – the ticket to representation!
I feel the tension rise at 9:48 when the doorkeeper calls out the two-minute warning and the 9:50 group inches closer to the double doors.
Dim the lights.
“Exit right if you’re happy and left if you want to cry,” says the doorkeeper.
A writer directly in front of me is staring at himself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. Young-ish, he’s dressed “artsy” in designer skinny jeans, trendy sneakers, and a camouflage backpack. This one’s not starving, but clearly ambitious as he mouths his pitch in the mirror, his hands, emphasizing key points. A pointed finger here. Arms outstretched there.
I’m fascinated. Who can do this in front of people? Five minutes. Ten minutes. He’s still at it in the mirror when the doorkeeper yells the final call for 9:50.
With one last look, he winks at himself and dashes for the double doors.
I’m competing with this?
As my 10:00 time-slot ticks closer, my mouth becomes dry. My stomach is in knots and I stand to join the lineup that has just been called. I smooth out the paper nametag (my last name misspelled with an added “r”) stuck to the lapel of my blouse and wait.
“Ten o’clock,” the faux Ryan shouts. “You’re up!”
I straighten my shoulders as I walk through the double doors. “You got this, Heath,” I tell myself, and search for my first agent.
I make my way through the maze of one-on-one tables, a placard identifying the agent. I find my first agent and take a seat. We greet each other formally and before I start the pitch, I look back at the doorkeeper.
“I’ve just got to say before we get started, this is frigging American Idol. You’ve even got Ryan.”
She burst out laughing and my fear melted. Just like that.
“Be you,” Hank had said before I left that morning. “You’ve done the work. That’s enough.”
Dim the lights…