I’ve been attending the virtual conference for GardenComm this week and it’s been great. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this brave new world (new for me, anyway) of virtual conferencing. On one hand, it’s just not as good for networking as meeting in real life. The best connections I’ve ever made at conferences have been made over a meal or on a bus ride while we were touring gardens. That just doesn’t transfer to a virtual context. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for attending sessions in my pajamas or while I’m doing a load of laundry.
But so far I’ve attended really useful sessions on creating book proposals and on moving from nonfiction to fiction. That last one was with best-selling author Amy Stewart and I learn something new about writing every time I hear her speak.
The keynote address by Shaun Spencer-Hester was also great. She’s the grand-daughter of Anne Spencer, one of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance and she talked about her grandparents and Edankraal, their home and garden in Lynchburg, VA, as well as their connections with writers like Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois, who were among the many luminaries of their time that visited their home. The house and garden are open for tours and that’s now on my list of writers’ homes I want to visit when the world opens up again and we’re finally out of this damned pandemic.
But so far, the highlight of the conference for me has been the round of pitch sessions we were able to sign up for. I have two garden-related book proposals that have been simmering on the back burner for a while and the time felt right to move them to the forefront again.
Now, for those who don’t know, pitch sessions are a publishing device that has popped up in recent years where an author has a 10- or 15-minute session to sit in front of an editor or agent (or, in this case, meet in a one-on-one Zoom session) and tell them about your book proposal and try to sell them on it. It’s actually a pretty efficient way to get a read on how receptive publishers will be to your project. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure the whole concept of pitching was dreamed up by some sadist who really gets off on torturing writers. A lot of writers, maybe most writers, are introverts, so this face-to-face process of hanging your baby out there to get picked apart or rejected outright is just a wee bit harsh. That being said, I’ve pitched a few times now and I’ve never met an editor or agent who was anything less than gracious, even when what I was pitching was clearly not something they were interested in.
So I was scheduled for four pitch sessions with editors from four different publishing companies. One session ended up not happening, possibly because of technical issues. But the other three sessions went great. Two editors asked to see one of the proposals and one of the editors asked to see both. I tried not to appear too shocked, but honestly, that was a better reception than I was expecting. Of course, that just gets my proposal in the door and it’s a long, long way from an offer but for the moment I’m allowing myself to feel encouraged. I’ve learned to take my wins where I find them!