This weekend I attended the New Hampshire Writers Project Writers' Day. I met lots of great people, listened to Nicholson Baker speak and read from one of his works (look him up - he's a funny guy), learned about social media and how the latest great way to market yourself changes almost daily, and most importantly, I PITCHED to an agent. No, I did not throw something at her.
Here's the deal: You get five minutes to sell yourself to a perfect stranger (I've heard that at ThrillerFest you get one minute - apparently a miasma of depression and desperation fills the room that day). Personally, I dreaded the moment. I'm not the most extroverted of people and the spoken word is not my forte. Having stopped wearing a watch, and unable to find the one I usually bring for such events, I stayed too long after lunch chatting to a new found friend and had to hurry over to the right building. Of course I was the first to do my pitch, so I had no time to go to the bathroom beforehand. And of course I had food in my teeth (luckily, I discovered this afterward, and luckily it wasn't noticeable - I hope). Basically, I was freaking out, and I had to go.
Luckily for me, my agent was great and helpful and didn't bite me once. But let me let you in on a little secret. If the workshop coordinators tell you not to bring a manuscript, don't listen to them. Bring it (or at least the first 3 chapters). You may never do anything with it (and don't force it on the agent), but at the very least, you can hold your query letter in front of you for comfort, and consult it if you forget where you are, who you are, and what the heck you're doing here in this scary place.
I learned this little trick by reading The Mysterious Benedict Society (great book for kids, BTW). The children are told to bring only one pencil to take a test, but one character, Constance Contraire, brings 37. Borrowing a book from Constance's page, I brought along the first 3 chapters, a synopsis and a query letter. What did I have to lose? Nothing! The agent asked for a sample of my writing and lo and behold, I had one! Most times I'm a rule follower, but sometimes, you've got to take the initiative, break some rules, stir things up. Who knows what will come out of this? Maybe nothing. But as Elvis always says, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
In sum, when doing a pitch, be prepared for any contingency. Keep a copy of a writing sample (preferably the first three chapters and a query letter) in your bag, just in case. Bring a watch and leave yourself time to go to the bathroom to do your business.
Oh, and note to self: Next time, avoid eating baked beans for lunch.