A Seattle suburb. A high-rise hotel. Each with as much character as a styrofoam cup. 2:16 a.m. I am wake. I don’t know why. Then,
You’ve got to be kidding me.
“Hello, this is Emily at the front desk. How may I help you, Ms. Johnson?”
Fifteen minutes later, Dave sets up a ladder underneath the smoke alarm. I’m curled in a fetal position on the king bed, wrapped in thick cotton robe. The alarm emits several prolonged shrieks in protest before Dave wrangles it into submission and changes its worn battery. I wait for my neighbors to bang on the walls.
At last, I lock the door behind Dave and his ladder. I cue Bach on my iPad and turn off the light.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Parked on an overhang a few feet from my window is a giant exhaust unit. Every two minutes it clicks on, sounding like a Boeing Dreamliner making an emergency landing on my balcony.
3:16 a.m. I am imprisoned in Egyptian cotton and chrome Purgatory, held hostage by insomnia.
In four hours and forty-four minutes I meet with an editor to pitch my manuscript. First editor. First time out. First pitch.
Four hours of sleep.
First pot of coffee: 4:30 a.m.
One of my writer’s goals this year was to pitch. No pressure, no expectations, just give it a go. On the advice of a fellow Northwest writer, I signed up for a writers’ conference she assured me was low-key, warm and welcoming, where there would be agents and editors and an opportunity to deliver a standard five-minute pitch.
The agents and editors at this conference represent writers and books in a genre I don’t write, though a few have broad portfolios. I felt I had little to lose. But I wanted to be prepared and professional. I researched how to pitch, spent several weeks honing a few paragraphs, tried out my pitch on two writer buddies, revised and rehearsed it again and again. I came to the conference with my manuscript distilled to one hundred eighty words that I could deliver in one minute, thirty-six seconds. Yes, I had my pitch memorized. No, I did not recite it from memory. It’s okay to bring notes.
I was assigned an editor of an independent press. Not just an editor. The publisher’s founder and CEO. She was my first pitch. My second, an hour later, the founder and CEO of a New York literary agency. I expected to be nervous, keyed up, a little hysterical from too much coffee, too little sleep and no breakfast. I expected to have fun, to receive feedback, to walk away with another learning experience in my writer’s kit, my skin a little thicker for the “Thanks, but that’s not what we’re looking for.”
I didn’t expect to walk away with two requests for my manuscript.
Rumor has it only ten percent of writers send in a manuscript after a successful pitch. And yet, writers are admonished, “Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Don’t submit too soon. Revise, polish, revise and polish again.”
I’m not rushing to hit “Send” with attachments. I know my manuscript isn’t ready. But after two days of excellent workshops on craft and a renewed sense of inspiration and ambition, I emerge from this conference with a solid rewrite and revision plan. And determination to be in that ten percent by the end of the year.
You can do anything, as long as there is coffee. Even if Dave changes your smoke alarm battery at 2:30 a.m. And a Boeing 787 lands on your balcony at 3:00. Sleep when you’re dead.