Last month, I attended Thrillerfest – an annual conference put on by International Thriller Writers – for the very first time. The conference was held in New York City at the Grand Central Hyatt Hotel, July 6-9, 2011.
Thrillerfest is an event devoted to thriller writers and thriller enthusiasts. Every year, bestselling authors such as R.L. Stine, Ken Follett, Jon Land, John Lescroart, Diana Gabaldon, Steve Berry, and more participate in the conference along with some of the top agents and editors in the industry.
The conference is divided into three parts: Craftfest, Agentfest and Thrillerfest. I attended Craftfest and Agentfest but did not stay for Thrillerfest. Next year, I will be sure to rectify that.
Craftfest is a day and a half of writing seminars given by bestselling thriller writers on such interesting topics as forensics in fiction, writing suspense, how to keep relationships alive without killing the pace of your novel, point of view, psychic distance and passive voice., ways to make your thriller ring with emotion and how to write compelling and believable villains. The seminars were interesting and informative and I learned new things in each of them.
The event that gave me the most bang for my money was Agentfest, which was held on Thursday, July 7, 2011. Because the conference is held in New York, which is publishing Mecca, Agentfest offers unprecedented access to the most top-notch agents I have ever seen in a single setting. More than fifty agents participated this year.
Agentfest is a version of speed dating with agents held over a two and a half hour period with a short break after the first hour (to allow the agents an opportunity to breathe). Agents looking to sign up the next bestselling novelist are seated in alphabetical order in three large rooms. Writers hoping to find an agent to represent them line up and then head into one of the three rooms to pitch their novels to the agents of their choice.
Since there are a lot of writers participating in the event and some agents are more popular than others, it helps to have a game plan. Being the maniac that I am, I researched the agents participating in Agentfest beforehand. By the time the event began, I had a chart in hand listing the agents I wanted to pitch and the book best suited to pitch to each particular agent. I had to do that because not all agents would be interested in hearing about a romantic suspense novel. So, I pitched my mainstream suspense novel to those agents and my romantic suspense novel to the agents who represented romance authors.
My plan of attack was to first pitch those agents on my list who had either no line or only a short line of writers waiting for them. After I picked off the low hanging fruit, I got in line to see the agents I thought would be the perfect fit for me and my novels to the extent I hadn’t already pitched to them. I had time left over after that, so I pitched two agents who were not on my list but who were available. One very kind agent was even willing to hear my pitch after the event had officially ended.
It proved to be a wildly successful afternoon. I was able to pitch to a total of fourteen agents and every single one of them asked me to send them anything from the first 25 pages and a synopsis to a full manuscript. Many of my colleagues did not enjoy the same measure of success. Apparently, all of the preparation I had done for Agentfest paid off. That preparation included evading the persistent advances of a fellow writer the night before Agentfest and returning to my hotel room alone to hone and practice my pitches.
Speaking of fellow writers, Thrillerfest offered great networking opportunities. The night before Agentfest, I met a group of writers at a cocktail reception who invited me to have dinner with them afterwards. That group included one of my personal idols, Jon Land. He is the writer of amazing thriller novels featuring a hero named Blaine McCracken. I followed that series avidly during my spy novel craze in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and devoured every single one of those books I could find. He now writes great novels featuring a heroine named Caitlin Strong who is a female Texas ranger. It was amazing to be able to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He turned out to be a very nice man who offered to help me with my pitch for Agentfest.
I missed the Thrillerfest part of the event which, according to the program, offers additional seminars on writing and publishing topics, including a bonus session given by the C.IA. on how to make your spy novels more realistic. It also offers even more networking opportunities.
All in all, I had a great time, met some great people and had a very productive conference. I will definitely attend Thrillerfest next year and stay for the entire event. Maybe I’ll see some of you there.