How we found the confidence to pitch our book to thirteen agents (who all loved it)

Nicole Moleti

When two co-authors traveled to New York City for a writing conference, nervous about pitching their book to an agent, they found the confidence they needed—in some of the most unexpected places.

by Nicole Moleti

After so much time spent behind our computer screens alone, with conferences and classes canceled for two years, the writing world is finally opening up. For writers, having the opportunity to meet other writers and publishing professionals is priceless.

With years of experience as a nonfiction writer, I was confident in my skills when I started writing a thriller three years ago. However, breaking through as a fiction writer was not as easy as I had hoped. Despite taking classes and reading countless books on how to write, my path to success was ultimately paved with something that nobody ever mentioned. My breakthrough came about not through a sparkling manuscript or a perfectly crafted query, but from good old human connection.

Some would argue that if I were a really amazing writer, my query letter would have worked. This could be. For some writers, an attention-grabbing query and a great manuscript will do the trick. For me, that wasn’t the case. I worked diligently with my writing partner on our query letter and our first three chapters. Fifty-five rejections later, we were losing hope on getting a literary agent to sign us, the first step to getting a book deal.

A local author suggested Thrillerfest, a conference for thriller writers that offered a “Pitchfest” session, an opportunity to go from agent to agent pitching our book in two minutes or less. The thought of putting ourselves out there in such a way was daunting. Speed dating for agents is not for the faint of heart.

Our nerves sizzled as we walked into the room and saw people with clipboards sitting on chairs.

We bought tickets to the conference and practiced our pitch over and over again before the day came, then hopped on a train to New York City. We asked a gentleman next to us on the train if he would listen to our pitch. His reaction was supportive and he said he would buy our book once it was on the shelves. This gave us the gumption to go from seat to seat in the train car asking if we could have five minutes of each rider’s time. Everyone we asked took out their earbuds and listened, and every rider gave accolades and encouragement. When we got off of that train, we were exuberant. Fueled by the words of mere strangers, we walked into the streets of New York more confident than we had ever been before.

The first event of the conference was the practice pitch. At this event, editors and published authors allowed us to deliver our pitch as a warmup before the big game. Our nerves sizzled as we walked into the room and saw people with clipboards sitting on chairs around the perimeter.

We were still on a high as we entered the room and were ill-prepared for the harsh criticism. Nobody liked our carefully thought-out title. Even more jarring, the last author we sat with, who had eighteen published novels under his belt, ripped apart our practiced—and memorized—pitch. He told us exactly what to say and what not to say, and made us practice it a few times before we ran into the Pitchfest.

Nobody liked our carefully thought-out title. Even more jarring, the last author we sat with ripped apart the pitch we’d so carefully practiced.

We walked in with our hearts on our sleeves, scraps of paper with notes clutched in our sweaty palms. The lines were long for each agent and we only had two hours, so we were strategic about which lines we chose, making sure to time it so we hit our “dream agent” last.

As we waited in line, we noticed the author who had recrafted our pitch in the hallway waving us over.

“Go see what he wants. We can’t get out of line!” I told my partner.

She went over to see him and came right back.

“He wants us to go with him to the lobby.”

“For what?!”

“Not sure,” she said with a shrug.

“We are in a room filled with people that have dedicated their lives to writing about murder. We can’t just leave with him.”

“He said it’s very important.”

As I slipped out of line and made my way toward him, it was like I was watching myself from outside my body. We were leaving behind our only chance of success to get into an elevator with a complete stranger.

“So I called my agent,” he said as he pressed the down button in the elevator. “She’s not here, but I told her, ‘You have to meet these two and hear their pitch.’ Yours was the best pitch I heard today. She only has a few minutes, so when we get out of the elevator just give her the pitch right in the lobby.”

There’s nothing like the thrill of adrenaline pumping through your veins to make your dreams become reality, and that’s exactly what happened next.

I think I blacked out. We got out of that elevator and an agent came sweeping into the hotel and we stood in the middle of a bustling New York City hotel lobby with people coming in and out all around us and pitched the hell out of our book.

When we were done, we thanked the agent and dashed back to the elevator. When those elevator doors closed, we both jumped up and down, each of us screaming like a teenager who just had her first kiss.

There’s nothing like the thrill of adrenaline pumping through your veins to make your dreams become reality, and that’s exactly what happened next.

We pitched thirteen agents, and all thirteen asked for the full manuscript. In the end, we chose our dream agent, who subsequently sold our book in a two-book deal to Lake Union Publishing.

While we were only speaking aloud some of the very same words that we wrote on the countless query letters that were tossed in the garbage by fifty-five agents, somehow our excitement and confidence came through and made the difference.

Thrillerfest changed our trajectory as authors. This summer we will attend the conference again, this time as debut authors. As writers, we hope that our carefully crafted words will be enough, but we learned that the gift of a conference, filled with other people whom we could learn from and be inspired by, has immeasurable value. And after years of Zoom conferences, the world is opening back up and live conferences are back. Buy that ticket and take a chance on yourself—it just might change your life.

When she is not writing fiction, Nicole Moleti is a makeup artist and real estate agent. She was a contributing writer for POPSUGAR Beauty, Spotlyte by Allergan, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Her work has been published in Scary Mommy, Today Show Parenting, and the Hartford Courant. Her debut thriller, An Imperfect Plan, is available May 10, 2022.

Connect with Nicole at her website, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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