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Writing is an Art, but Publishing is a Business


This last weekend, I took my first serious step into the world of publishing. My husband gave me the best Mother’s Day present I could’ve ever asked for and held down the home front with our kids while I went to the 2023 Washington Writer’s Convention in Bethesda, Maryland. It was my first time ever going to a writer’s convention and the sheer joy that I experienced in being there was unparalleled.


I found my people.


I found an incredible group of writers, agents, editors, publishers, and unashamed book nerds who shared my love for the written word. In this crowd, stepping back to a quiet corner and scribbling in a notebook or typing furiously into a laptop was not odd. In this crowd, overhearing conversations about imaginary people, Pomodoro Techniques, or strategies to build platforms and readership was not unusual.


These are my people. It didn’t matter if someone was a writer of genre, literary fiction, historical nonfiction, or a persuasive advocate of pick-your-issue, what we all had in common was a belief and conviction of the power of the written word, a love of books, and an overwhelming compulsion to simply write. Labels like genre or style didn’t matter. We were writers and unabashed book nerds. That commonality was enough.


Writers by nature are typically introverts. You have to be to some extent to spend so much time wrapped up in your thoughts or in the imaginary worlds you create (depending on your chosen genre). Yet, attending a writer’s convention requires attendees to channel their inner extravert. Whether the goal is to network with other writers (or people involved in the business side of publishing), pitch a book or concept to an agent, or find a writer willing to swap chapters for feedback does require one to shake off the introvert inclinations and talk about writing instead of letting the writing talk for you.


My biggest objective in attending this conference was to pitch my memoir, Magnolia in November. In this very personal and vulnerable memoir, I share my experiences of raising a medically complex and special needs child, but it’s far more than that. My daughter, Maggie, is the subject of my book, but it is also my personal journey. I tackle many issues shared by countless others using my personal experience. Although Magnolia in November is a memoir of the personal struggles of a single family, it also strives to give voice to the voiceless. There is a market of women who desperately want to be seen and heard, especially after putting their careers on hold due to the pandemic. There are countless teachers who are gagged by the terms of their employment from raising serious issues that plague education in the public sphere. There are bibliophiles who are alarmed at the recent movements to ban books and suppress free speech. Many communities of silent Christians recoil at Christian Nationalists hijacking the public perception of faith. There are marriages that struggle with gender roles and what it means to be equal partners. There are families struggling daily with the simple realities of parenthood, let alone the complications of navigating the medical and educational services necessary for neurodivergent and medically complex children. Magnolia in November strives to give voice to more than just one child.


The way pitching worked was similar to speed dating (I personally have never tried speed dating, but I’ve seen it work on TV shows and movies). All of the agents are seated at small tables in a single large room. Prior to the conference, writers can schedule appointments to pitch to the literary agents best aligned with the writer’s work within six minutes.


Six minutes is not a lot of time.


I was grateful that a “How to Pitch an Agent” panel was on the first day, prior to the pitches. This helped me plan my pitches. The following highlights helped me prepare.

  1. In six minutes, plan to pitch for 1-2 minutes, and save the rest of the time for conversation. Agents represent people, not projects. This is, ideally, the beginning of a long and fruitful professional relationship and there should be professional compatibility;

  2. The four agents had their own expressions or expectations for the pitch, but I particularly liked the “Hook / Book / Cook” expression. The “hook” is the elevator speech, basically a one-minute commercial of why someone would want to read your book in the first place. The “book” is a brief (as in one-to-two sentence) summary of the plot; the “cook” is the writer sharing about him or herself;

  3. Don’t officially query until your book is ready. That does not mean the first draft. That means the book is polished through revisions, feedback, workshops, and other rewrites. Many agents only accept queries once and that is your only opportunity to showcase your best work;

  4. Know your market. At a bookstore, where will it be shelved? What are comparable books or what authors are similar to your style? What is the universality of your story? Do you have a platform? What is your platform? (If you don’t have a platform, you need one. It is a nonnegotiable requirement in today’s publishing market). If you don’t have a platform, do you have a community? How do you plan to promote your book? (Writers are expected to promote their work in whatever way makes sense for their market); and

  5. Why did you write this? If you’re asking a reader to go on an emotional roller coaster with you, why should they?

All of these questions rolled through my mind as I scripted and role-played my pitch that evening in my hotel room. Using my laptop, I watched myself pitch again and again, honed in on what I wanted my overall message to be, then mostly scrapped it after my first pitch. For the rest of the pitches, I dropped the elevator speech (and after role-playing ad nauseam made me feel more nervous than prepared), I created a bullet point list of the main points I’d want the agent to know about my book. Even if the agent wasn’t a good fit because they weren’t representing memoirs or for any other reason, all of the agents I personally met gave me excellent feedback. A few of the agents expressed interest in my book, and I cannot wait to send it to them when it is ready.


Throughout the conference, I made new writer friends. I’m excited that they are willing to read chapters of my book and I am very excited to read their work as well. Some write fiction, others nonfiction topics, and I even met two women who wrote memoirs on similar topics (Huntington’s Disease and hospice with a loved one).


In the meanwhile, I am rebooting my website and rebranding it as myself. I am shedding MamaV and I am simply Vanessa Forisha. Much like how Magnolia in November takes a reader through our medical and educational journey with Maggie’s Lennox-Gastaut Disease, my intention is to reboot my website and blog on my journey as a writer.


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