I attended the 59th annual Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference over the weekend in Seattle. Since I moved to the city, I try to be active in PNWA and help out during the conference. A great way to meet writers and others in the book biz. For the third year I helped out with the Power Pitch sessions. For those who haven’t seen this activity–and there’s absolutely no reason to have seen it unless you’re a writer looking for an agent–it’s the literary equivalent of speed dating. About thirty agents and a few editors sit at one side of long, narrow room. Then ushers herd a hundred or so writers into the space and they rush to get in line for a four minute session with their preferred agents. Four minutes. Long enough to pitch your book and get some feedback. Most writers hope for an agent to be enraptured with their work, demanding a full manuscript. Of course, the reality is only a few get such a request, some are asked to submit a chapter or two and many are told that the story “isn’t for me.”

In my role as a volunteer at this dating game, I stand between the masses of writers and the agents, encouraging participants who linger too long with an agent to move along and keeping those waiting in line at bay. For ninety minutes I stand looking into the eyes of a hundred writers — some calm and confident, others reviewing their pitches with a nervous shuffle and some absolutely terrified.

As I stood in the demilitarized zone, it struck me how every person in the room had a story to tell, something so close to their hearts that it scared them to say it out loud. I know some of these stories need work, the development of their craft, a more dramatic plot arc, more compelling characters, etc., but wherever the story fell on the continuum, the writers all had stories to tell.

And I suppose that’s really what a writing conference is about. The celebration of story.

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