Written by Sharon McElhone
The looming question since the Great Recession, the invention of Kindle, and the highjacking of content by corporate giants like Amazon and Google has always been, can the publishing industry survive the onslaught? For about a decade, a dark cloud has hovered over newspapers, writers, agents, editors, and publishers alike as they found it increasingly difficult to make money in an industry that was already difficult to survive in in the first place. Times have been bleak for writers and all their affiliates, but lately it feels like the purpose of the writer is being re-established.
On March 31st, writers, agents, publishers, and editors found less darkness and instead a renewed sense of optimism. The environment was cheery as people congregated inside the iconic Women’s Building on 18th Avenue in San Francisco. Pitch-O-Rama 2018, which ran from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., didn’t disappoint. The venue sold out. The intimate space filled up with both new and long time professionals, both women and men in the writing industry. It felt like a dawn of sorts, as if all the chaos and confusion caused by the past upheavals had finally settled and professionals in the industry had a sense of how to move forward again. The great feeling of community emanated all morning.
The morning started off with coffee and a pre-pitch coaching session led by WNBA members, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, Mary E. Knippel, and Amanda McTigue. The pre-pitch coaching session allowed writers to practice their pitches before meeting with agents, editors, and publishers. Small group break-outs in an intimate setting helped ease jitters before the actual pitch sessions began.
When the half-hour of coaching finished, writers spent the next three hours delivering pitches to the agents, editors and publishers of their choice in 6-minute time slots. It was like speed dating for writers. A pitch for a book was made, connections happened, and cards got exchanged. The morning ended with a panel discussion on marketing and craft led by WNBA president, Brenda Knight.
The WNBA sponsors this annual event for a morning full of expert advice, networking, with the potential of finding an agent, publisher, or editor for a particular body of work. Breakfast is also served. This year, in attendance were agents Lisa Abellara and Dorian Maffei of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, Michael Larsen of Larsen-Pomada, Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary, Kristen Moeller of Waterside Productions, Andy Ross, Jennifer March Soloway of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, among others. Publishers included She Writes Press, Smashwords, New World Library, and HeyDay, among others.
WNBA board members and volunteers make this event possible each year. The work that it takes to put on these events is no small thing: getting up at 4:30 a.m. the day of the event and the prep months beforehand. As some of us sat behind the breakfast table serving bagels and homemade apple coffee cake, attendees, both women and men, came up to say things like “Glad I came,” “A pleasant surprise,” “It felt very warm,” “and “I would like to become a member and help.” Those are the kinds of exchanges that mean something good happened that day. The publishing industry and the writer found their place again on the other side of what has been shrouded in uncertainty for far too long.
WNBA-SF board member Sharon McElhone is a journalist, columnist, and author of six books. Her articles have appeared in La Oferta, Orchard Valley Review, The Cupertino Courier, The Sunnyvale Sun, among other publications. Her column is called “Middle America-Our Engine,” and can be viewed online at La Oferta. Her fiction has appeared in The New Short Fiction Series 2012 in Los Angeles, Label Me Latina/o Spring 2015 and in the 2017 anthology Basta! She is half Ecuadorian and half Irish and lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and children. She is working on a memoir related to childcare, a novel, and a fourth collection of poems.