I don’t like to talk about the stories I’m working on. Not in detail at least. Especially not to people I don’t know well or those who don’t consider themselves writers. That plotline that’s in its umpteenth iteration? Those characters I’ve spent years getting to know? What do they look like? What are they afraid of? What are their desires? No ma’am, that’s personal.
It’s not that I don’t want to share my work. It’s just that, well, I’m awkward. I look for signs of approval. I hear it in my voice and I’m sure whoever I’m speaking with hears it too. I project accusations like, ‘They don’t think I’m ever going to finish this novel.’ I wonder, ‘Am I even going to finish this novel?’
That’s why on Sunday I said to hell with it and signed up for a speed pitch.
For the next 10 minutes, I would sit across from Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media and attempt to hook her on the novel I’d been working on seriously for the past three years and counting. If you’re not familiar with the publishing industry, Joanna is the literary agent who represented Veronica Roth and the Divergent trilogy (yes, I had a fangirl moment). Joanna eyed me through her chic, black- rimmed glasses as I retrieved my purple notebook with the fairies and the glitter, and said, “Nope. No reading!”
‘But wait,’ I thought, ‘I can’t read the query letter I woke up at the crack of 7 a.m. to revise? I can’t look at my manuscript? You want me to talk?’ Talk?!
Speed pitching was just one of the side events during this year’s BinderCon, an annual professional development conference for women and gender non-conforming writers. This year, the conference was held in New York from November 7-8.
BinderCon is organized by members of the secret Facebook group, Binders Full of Women Writers and the women-run nonprofit, Out of the Binders, Inc. The name, of course, is derived from the infamous uttering of Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential debate.
This year, panelists included Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and best- selling author Suki Kim. Kim’s book, Without You, There Is No Us, chronicles the months she spent as an undercover investigative journalist in Kim Jong-il’s North Korea. Speakers also included Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (Random Family), Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die), and many more.
One of my favorite panels was “Breaking into Podcasting.” During this discussion, Stephanie Foo shared how she landed a job as producer for This American Life by teaching herself how to use podcasting software and tools. Foo explained that her first podcasts were “pretty bad,” but she kept making more and got better over time. Eventually, Transmon hired her. She then went on to become one of the original producers for NPR’s Snap Judgment before joining This American Life.
“Don’t wait for permission to create,” Foo advised. “Don’t wait for that internship.”
I was particularly eager to attend “Education or Exploitation? The Tricky Business of Sexual Assault in Fiction.” Speakers included Kaitlyn Greenidge (We Love You, Charlie Freeman), Helen Benedict (Sand Queen and The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq), and Jada Yuan (New York Magazine). Because this is such a critical topic, I’m going to write more about this panel next week. So, keep an eye out on the blog.
When it comes to favorite activities, networking is up there with cleaning out my compost bin. But BinderCon was different. I felt comfortable introducing myself to both participants and panelists. The conference was a community. And that community was particularly strong amongst the writers waiting in line, preparing to pitch their “babies.”
So how did my speed pitch go?
I told Joanna that my novel was a gothic fairytale and I watched her eyebrows flicker in what I hopefully perceived as interest. She listened as I walked her through the plot, and then she gave me specific feedback and suggestions for recommended reading. Without a doubt, my novel needs more work, but preparing a query letter and pitching a pro gave me a tremendous boost of confidence.
I’ll be at BinderCon next year, and you can come with me! In the meantime, here’s where you can watch recordings of the event.
Lauren Johnson is a contributing writer for Café Américain and a second-year candidate in the American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.