My "Thrillefest" Agentfest Experience - Jo-Ann Carson

My "Thrillefest" Agentfest Experience


While it’s hard to squish my three and half hour experience with four rooms filled with agents into a blog post, I know that many people are curious about it. So here goes:

First the short stories:

  1. Yes, it is worth the steep price.
  2. I managed to talk to a total of 10 agents (the rumored record is 17 and the average is 7): 1 turned out to be a sneaky vanity press rep <grrrrr- more about that later>, 2 rejections, 2 requests for fulls (that means they want to see my full manuscript) and 5 requests for partials (which means they want to see part of my manuscript and a synopsis, length varying from 1 to 3 chapters). This result is better than I dreamed.
  3. I have no idea if any of these contacts will result directly in a publishing deal, but I learned a lot about presenting “my stuff” and the experience furthered my development as a serious writer. I feel less virginal.

The Rejections

I had one hard rejection and one soft.
The Hard: The hard rejection took me by surprise. He was the third agent I talked to and I was flying high on the success of my first two encounters. After telling me that I looked like a good friend of his he listened to my pitch he interrupted me mid-sentence and said, “No not interested.” I gulped. But hell, I had too much on the line to leave it there so I asked him why. He blinked and leaned back in his chair. Then we discussed his rejection and arrived at the agreement that it was my presentation. I wasn’t giving him the feeling that there was enough at stake in my story. He wanted greater conflict. He said, “It’s not enough that her life is at risk. I get that…” It was a good conversation and he suggested I send him a rock solid query. I won’t, because I think he’s looking for a different kind of thriller than mine. All in all I consider it a jarring but good experience.
The Soft: The agent liked my pitch but said she was representing a similar story, so she couldn’t represent me. She suggested I talk to her colleague in the next room.

The Vanity Press

I question what they were doing there. She was my last agent. Time was running out. I stood twenty minutes in line waiting for her. The first thing she did was compliment me on my pitch card. My inner voice nudged what was left of my brain.
“Did you do that all by yourself?” she asked.
Oh no, something’s wrong here. I pitched and she talked about the changing landscape (my word condensing hers) of publishing, and in the middle of her barrage of words I picked up $5,000.00. I stopped her and asked if there was going to be a fee for her services. “Well, yes, but you get to keep the copyright and our goal is to get you out there.”  When I accused her of being a vanity press she again talked around the term, but she knew she’d lost me.
While my inner voice swore like a sailor, I rose like a lady and left. My time with Agentfest was over.

The Requests

Each agent received my pitch in their own way and asked different questions. They accepted my pitch card and were encouraging. They all had timers on their desks but I didn’t see one use them. If it looked like I was going to lose them I blathered on about how well I’m doing in writing contests. It all seemed to work. But we’ll see. These agents read thousands of manuscripts. I just have to hope that my work will resonate with one of them.


So, if you’re out there wondering if you should dip your toe in the pond, I say forget the toe, jump in the water is warm and the possibilities are endless. But wear comfortable shoes, because the lines up are brutal.
(Back to my apartment saga tomorrow.)

0 Replies to “My "Thrillefest" Agentfest Experience”

  1. Jo-Ann! Yea you! Pitching was the hardest thing, short of childbirth, I’ve ever done. Some of my buddies just jumped in! They were comfortable talking to strangers. Not me. But it’s necessary and, my fingers are crossed for you.

  2. Good report on agent experience. Pretty much my experience with smaller agent fear. Three of four agents at event requested full or partial and one would not even let me pitch, saying he already knew he was on a different page than me. Of those no contracts—and submitting to 75 agents email, three requests including one huge agency in LA. Alas, no contracts and I’ve stated with my small press (TWRP) til now. There are miracle stories though and my crit partner is one; she wrote ONE BOOK only – her 1st – went to local RWA event, got an agent who sold her woman’s lit book in two months for SIX FIGURES – that’s 000,000!

    1. Judi
      I love the – wouldn’t even let you pitch your story. That’s a winner. lol
      Thanks so much for adding your experiences to the conversation. It makes it easier for all of us. I’m certain a contract is around the corner for you. It’s a matter of finding the right corner. I know you’ve heard that line before, but really we have to believe it. And in the meantime, we all dream of being your cp.
      Best Wishes

  3. Loved this summary. I’ve never done agentfest as an author, but I volunteered one year to help, and it’s a huge exciting and scary process! …. Email the coordinator about the vanity press. That’s not OK. ITW doesn’t endorse vanity presses.

    1. Allison
      I have to say that running into you at the conference was one of my biggest highlights. As I told you I’m a total fan.
      When I get back home and go over my notes I will email the coordinator. Right now my scribbles are stuffed into the bottom of my bag and I’m trying to see New York despite the crippling heat wave (and having great fun doing it). I wondered about the policy. Thanks for always being so approachable.
      Best Wishes

  4. Yea! Jo-Ann! This is all so encouraging. Sounds like you handled yourself way better than I’ve ever done in an in person pitch. You’d think with my theatre background, it would be smooth sailing for me. It’s not. But you were really truly prepared, lady. Proud of you and happy for you. Absolutely amazing to get to talk to that many agents in such a short time.
    And how cool, you got to meet Allison! She’s the nicest, most supportive person.
    Hope the temps drop and you enjoy the rest of your time in NYC. Look forward to hearing more about this trip. My book is out Friday. Hope you can stop by Jerrie’s blog to help celebrate, but understand if you can’t get there.

    1. Marsha
      Thank you for your kind comments. It was wickedly scary but I did survive.
      Allison is amazing isn’t she. We are so lucky to have her in the KOD chapter.
      Just got back from the Rockerfeller center and my fingers are sticking to the keys from sweat. Too funny.
      But it’s a trip I’ll never forget.
      Two days to launch. Wooo hoo.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. OOOO! I’m turning green! Good thing it’s my favourite colour. (Just had to use the true English spelling. ;-)) Good for you Jo-Ann. Loving the feeling that I’m tagging along on your shoulder listening.

  6. Hi Jo-Ann – LOVED reading this… fascinating – what an eduation! Thank you so SO much for doing this. MAJOR kudos to you for getting out there…you are so brave! Good luck, and I am very much looking forward to more stories (I remember the first time I pitched, I was so proud of myself – be proud of yourself!) Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa
      As usual your writing is like a warm hug. Thank you. You are right. It’s time to celebrate my first big agent push.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  7. Wow, Jo-Ann!! That is fabulous! Good for you for putting yourself out there. It’s hard enough to pitch once, but to pitch ten times? Wow! Best of luck with all those requests! And can’t wait to hear the rest of your apartment saga. 🙂

    1. Ros
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I feel like we’re travel buddies. It was hard to repeat my pitch over and over again. Thanks for your well wishes.
      I promise more about the danged apt tomorrow.

  8. Way to go, Jo-Ann! I’ve never pitched to agents, but at RWA NYC a couple of years ago I pitched to a few editors. I was…abysmal! LOL. The funny thing is, my debut is actually releasing next month with one of those very editors because of that pitch! So these things *do* work! Keeping my fingers crossed for you! 🙂

    1. Misty
      Thanks for stopping by.
      I get your abysmal comment. None of the words that came out of my mouth came out with finesse. They kind of tumbled onto the table and then I tried to herd them into something that made sense. At one point, an agent and I broke into a fit of laughter as I started to explain to her what a triology is.
      I absolutely love your HEA story. It’s the kind that keeps us all going.
      Can’t wait till your launch.

  9. It sounds like you did fabulously! Kudos for facing down all those agents. I am curious, though. The pitch cards you showed us were so neat. How did the agents react to them? Did it seem like a lot of authors were using them; or do you feel they helped you stand out a little more? Thanks. Congratulations on the requests for fulls and partials. Extremely exciting!

    1. Hi Linda
      Thank you for your kind comments about my pitch cards.
      In the end, I only took the Black Cat Blues cards and only pitched that book. I put them on the table as I said my name. They all took them. Some looked at them. Others just glanced and then returned their eyes to me.
      My friend who prepared a pitch sheet on paper found they didn’t want the sheet. That’s what I found last year at the RWA nationals. No one would take a paper one-sheet. But a cute postcard seems more interesting.
      Did it help me? I think it did in the sense that it gave me more confidence in my pitch. But I can’t say I felt like I stood out at all. I leave that honor to the fast talkers.
      I am proud that I went through it and can only hope that I’m growing some interest in my work. But I tell you, I can’t wait to get back to simply writing. lol
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  10. “I feel less virginal.” Loved this image…and after reading the post, it sounds more like you can take on a Madam role LOL I have so much respect for what you put yourself through. Sure hope it pays off big-time!!

    1. Hi Judy
      Sending positive thoughts your way for your pitch sessions, but I know you’ll do well. You speak confidently about your work and your pitch card is awesome. I know it will all go well.
      My cards? People liked them. They made me feel more prepared and confident. Pat used a paper one-sheet and they didn’t take them. That’s what I found last year at the RWA nationals.
      Glad you’re liking my Black Cat. I’ll be back at it soon.
      a very hot (+100 degrees) Jo-Ann

  11. What a fantastic experience! Bravo. And so many opportunities, like you said, to get your work out there! It’s all good. Enjoy the rest of your time in New York! Will you be able to see some shows?

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