At Love Is Murder 2012, non-fiction author Gaye Mack went to our all-day pitch event and walked away with the agent she most wanted for her first novel. She graciously agreed to share her Love Is Murder experience with KISS KISS BANG BANG.
DPG: Tell us a little bit about the novel you pitched.
GM: A MURDER OF CROWS is a medieval mystery for an audience that loves an unconventional female protagonist who solves intrigue against the backdrop of historical events in England's 12th century. The story is set in 1186, at Windsor Castle and features Lady Edana Morgon, a wealthy widow with unusual talents gleaned in the Holy Land.
Edana is highly valued by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as a secret resource and therefore is summoned to Windsor for consultation when Eleanor comes into possession of two disturbing artifacts. One object is believed to be part of the Alchemical Hermetica, purported to reveal the secret of immortality, and the other is a copy of the infamous "Letter of Toledo" written by that city's astrologers portending the "end of days" on September fifteenth.
As Edana nears Windsor, she discovers a horribly gored body on the Thames riverbank underneath the castle walls. When it's realized the dead man was an intelligencer of Eleanor's who may have been involved with the Toledo letter and the Hermetical artifact, Eleanor demands Edana find answers and quickly. She's joined by her permanent Saracen protector, Ghali, and caught up in a matrix that links the end of days, immortality, and rumors of a nefarious Templar entity, Le Corbeau Noire, to more than one murder.
DPG: Was this your first time at a pitch-a-palooza style event?
GM: Yes. Actually I hadn't been to a writer's conference in 20 years...not since Dark and Stormy Nights was a one-day event. At that time one had the option of pre-submitting sample pages to attending authors for a 20-30 minute critique session during the conference. It wasn't a live pitch as it is now. Quite different! Because this was a different experience for me I have to say that I spent a great deal of time reading articles (including the one on the LIM website) that discussed how to create a "perfect pitch". Then I spent even more time fine-tuning my pitch into five sentences with the first having no more than 25 words describing title, genre, audience and then the premise, while keeping my timing down to about two and a half minutes. I'm sure people observing me in Costco thought I was a demented woman talking to herself as she pushed her cart along! Nevertheless, as well prepared as I thought I was, at the moment of truth I wanted to run out the door and back to my room...with the expression running through my head, "What was I thinking?"
DPG: How many agents did you pitch to, and what response did you get?
GM: To be honest, I was floored. I pitched to six agents and all six asked for the full manuscript! What I really appreciated with the LIM agenda was that if an agent wanted to spend more time with you, it was permitted. This did happen in my pitches and was helpful as every agent had wonderful advice and insight. Having done my research, I had an idea of who my first choices for representation were, should I be so fortunate. Peter Miller [of Global Lion Intellectual Property Management] was at the top of my list even before I met him and upon meeting him, I knew my instinct had been right for many reasons.
At this time, Peter is preparing to pitch both of my manuscripts to major houses in New York next week and also at the London Book Fair in April. I remain in shock.
DPG: Did you attend any of the pre-pitch sessions at Love Is Murder? If so, were they helpful?
GM: You know, I did. Being new to this conference, I wanted to get a feel for the protocol and overview. Even more, I wanted to get a feel for the agents and their personalities, knowing that I would be facing them, one on one, later in the day! It was a good way to get myself focused and present. Peter's first panel was extremely helpful as he discussed the realities involved if you want to be a successful author. As for some of the other panels, I felt a little bit like a fish out of water only because I write in a time frame that's 900 years old.
DPG: Tell us a little about yourself, as a person and as a writer.
GM: There's never enough time to see, do it all. I've always loved learning about different cultures and philosophies. I began writing when I was fifteen and even though I've had various careers, writing has always been a passion...even academic writing at times. When my husband and I were first married and we'd be on a long drive somewhere, I'd be looking out the car window in another space. He'd ask me what I was thinking about and I'd say, "I'm writing my book." I've used my writing skills in all of my career paths through the years, particularly when I was in international travel (which remains a passion) and then in graduate school at DePaul University where my focus turned to alternative medicine. Even though I tried writing fiction in the early 90's, my first books were published in non-fiction. Now I'm very happy to return to the creativity of fiction writing and the excitement of taking the reader into a realm they may never have had traveled. For now I'll continue writing in 12th-century England. It's a country and culture I know well. Its history is rich, complex...crammed with possibilities and the 12th century is a territory in which I'm very comfortable.
DPG: How did you hear about Love Is Murder?
GM: How this came about is very strange. A few days before Thanksgiving I was at a serious impasse on how to proceed with this book. Last winter I'd pitched its "prequel" to more than 60 agents; three wanted the full MS, but in the end, they all took a pass, although each offered helpful editing suggestions. I put that work aside and began work on CROWS as a sequel. When it was finished, the chatter about e-publishing was intense and I was faced with deciding the next step. Should I return to non-fiction/academic writing (which was about as appealing as a bowl of dry Wheetabix), continue to slog the "traditional route" in trying to find an agent or totally shift gears and seriously consider the various e-publishing options? To say I was at a crossroads is an understatement.
As a distraction I went to Barnes and Noble and found myself staring at the magazine rack. My eyes fell on the latest issue of Writer's Digest, of which there was a single copy left. The cover story was on James Burke and how he'd had over 100 rejections before he found success. I hadn't read a copy of WD in 20 years and only bought it because of the article on Burke to cheer me up. When I opened the magazine at home, it immediately flipped to the full page ad for LIM. I knew at that moment this was no accident. When I went on the website and looked up the agents attending, and saw several who were very familiar to me, it confirmed my feeling that I had to attend. The rest is history.