This past weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. It just so happened that there was another Sheraton Hotel directly across the street. Two Sheraton Hotels facing each other [caution: double spoiler alert], like the identical twin white mega churches at the end of Wayne’s World 2, during its parody of the end of The Graduate.
After I’d finished my coffee and noticed that the lecture I was attending, “Growing Bananas In Your Old DVD Player: An Introduction,” did not seem to have very much to do with writing and publishing and other ways to work in jeans and long t-shirts. I wanted my money back, but all refunds had to be in banana seeds.
I was fortunately able to make the three lectures by author A.J. Jacobs, agent Donald Maass, and Chuck Sambuchino, an editor for Writer’s Digest Books (an imprint of F+W Media). A.J. spoke about some approaches to writing about yourself in the 21st Century. I started to think of myself as a robot, with a Pentium brain and a 75-page Terms and Conditions. Then Donald Maass—known by some as simply, “Don”—talked about breaking through genre boundaries, and right then and there I began outlining a generational epic based on a family of extreme couponers.
The last speaker of the night was Chuck, who showed the attendees how to write the perfect pitch. To write a pitch, he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, you have to make your book sound like the back of a DVD. I wanted to ask him if the emergence of Blu-Ray discs required any adjustments to pitches, but the microphone was in the middle of the room, and to get to it I would have had to squeeze in between table and probably would have knocked some coats off of the backs of chairs.
The highlight of the evening came, however, from a question from a member of the audience. The vigorous conference attendee said, “Now, let’s just say I’m pitching one of these agents tomorrow, and let’s just say I have a memory stick with my completed work on it. At what point might be able to slip my stick into the agent’s hands?” When the laughter died down, Chuck looked at the man, and advised him to not put any sticks into any agents’ hands.
You just couldn’t achieve a public-speaking moment like that 10 years ago.