Wednesday, May 25, 2016

PPWC 2016 - Collecting Nos and Fighting Bitterness

By: Aaron Michael Ritchey

This year at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference I had a wonderful time. The keynotes were awesome, as always, and I became best friends with Rachel Caine and Jeff Lindsay. Both bought copies of my books, however, thanks to a few of my biggest advocates. I am very grateful for such advocates.

I also loved teaching classes and bonding with so many good, strong, courageous writers.

However, when it came to pitching agents and editors, I just wasn’t feeling it.

Normally, I’m a Go-For-The-No type of guy. Which means I collect nos. One isn’t good enough. I used to go to conferences, pitch one person, get a yes, and then walk away feeling victorious.

Then I read a book called Go for No by Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz. Getting a yes is fine, but really, this game is about collecting nos. Kevin J. Anderson knows all about this. Remember, he won the award for most rejections.

I go to conferences not looking for yeses, but looking for nos. I would pitch every single agent and editor to collect the most nos. I’m also trying to do this when I submit short stories or when I query agents. I’m looking to collect nos.

So what happened this year?

I wasn’t feeling it. Partly, it’s because I have the six books of The Juniper Wars to write for WordFire Press. That’s a whole lotta fiction right there. Four of the six are written and are in various stages of edits, including finished (the first one, DANDELION IRON, is already out in the world and burning brightly).

I’m also working on a trilogy of romance novels with Andrea K. Stein which we are going to publishing independently. So I have eight books to write and polish. Dang, when you put it that way…just…dang.

I have a full plate, yet I do have some projects I want to shop since it takes traditional publishing YEARS to do anything. Once I complete The Juniper Wars and my romance trilogy, I’ll need the next thing. If I start now, in two to three years, I might have the next thing ready.

But I have to admit, all of that is true, but I’m also getting bitter. It's been ten years of querying and going agentless.

However, there’s another reason I was reticent to pitch. I’m questioning the role agents have in my career. The biggest thing an agent can do for me is to get me into the big traditional publishing game. Ideally, I’d sell a book and Scholastic would pick it up and put me in their catalog, which goes out to MILLIONS of readers. Dude, I’d pay an agent fifteen percent to get that kind of action. You betcha. Still, those are some long odds and so many things can go wrong. And I only want an agent that adores me. Finding one of those has been challenging. 

Hence the bitterness, which I will not embrace.

If all an agent will do for me is to sell my stuff to a small or medium-size press? No, thank you, I can do that myself. *Tips hat and walks away*

Pitching to editors can be iffy since they are so busy. They might love my idea, but then it gets buried under their stack and they forget about me.

In the end, I’m surrendering to the will of the universe. Remember, Rachel Caine showed up at a writers’ conference, talked to an editor, wasn’t very gung-ho about it all, and wound up with her first publishing contract. More and more, I’m seeing this whole publishing game as one that is going to happen to me if I keep writing and putting myself out there.

For example, at Pikes Peak this year, I kept bumping into this one agent. I did my homework, read about the agents who represent middle grade, and made a list. I met this person in an elevator, got ready to pitch, but then the irony of doing an elevator pitch in an elevator completely silenced me. This person hurried away. I kept seeing her/him, kept trying to pitch to her/him, but it wasn’t happening. I let go. I surrendered. Wasn’t meant to be.

Then the two people I really wanted to pitch were standing by the elevator again, and this time, I walked up and pitched them both – an agent and an editor.

They were both tired and they both looked upon me with a certain amount of amusement. Or scorn. I couldn’t tell. The agent was interested and I’ll send her/him pages. The editor wasn’t.

Then the agent said that the way the industry works is that writers send queries to agents who send them to editors.

You all would’ve been proud of me. I nodded politely. I didn’t say that if I could pitch the editor directly, the agent wouldn’t get his/her fifteen percent. I also answered politely that, no, this wasn’t my first novel. And, yes, I’ve seen some action, won some awards, and did the Amazon bestseller thing.

Am I getting jaded? Yeah, definitely.

I still believe in collecting nos, but more and more, I want my nos to come from readers themselves, not the publishing industry.

Funny thing about that…most readers say yes to me. Go figure. And those readers become my advocates.

And I love advocates. They help me sell books. Which brings us back to paragraph one.

Ahh, the circle of life.

Will I be at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in 2017? You bet your butt I'll be there. To collect nos and to fight the bitterness.

About the Author:  Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of four young adult novels and his short fiction has appeared in various anthologies and online magazines. He is also a dynamic speaker, having taught classes on all aspects of writing fiction around the country. In 2012, his first novel, The Never Prayer, was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. In 2015, his second novel, Long Live the Suicide King, won the Building the Dream award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Artist in Residence at the Anythink Library. Dandelion Iron, the first book in his epic YA sci-fi western series, The Juniper Wars, is available through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. Aaron lives in Colorado with his cactus flower of a wife and two stormy daughters.