The Stars Are Out at ThrillerFest

by Boyd Morrison

I would love going to an actors’ convention where I could have dinner with Sandra Bullock, take an acting class from Michael Caine, audition for a role in the next Spielberg movie, and share laughs at the bar with the cast of Castle. Won’t ever happen. It sounds too good to be true because it is. But that kind of dream conference does exist for thriller writers and fans. It’s called ThrillerFest, which will be held in New York City on July 10-13, 2013.

The attendees this week include writers who live on the New York Times bestseller list. The five spotlight guests alone–R.L. Stine, Anne Rice, Michael Connelly, Michael Palmer, and T. Jefferson Parker–have sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 million books. And everywhere you look at the conference, you’re blinded by the star wattage: Lisa Gardner, Steve Berry, Lee Child, Catherine Coulter, Douglas Preston, Heather Graham, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder. It’s as if you could get into the Oscars merely by paying a registration fee.

But the really amazing thing about ThrillerFest is that you get to meet and talk to these people, not just ogle them from afar. When I was a newbie unpublished author at the inaugural ThrillerFest in Phoenix seven years ago, I didn’t know a soul. At the opening cocktail reception, I spent most of the time ambling about, listening in on snippets of conversation as I tried not to spill red wine down my shirt. Then I spotted Jon Land, an author I’d been reading for years. I gathered up my courage and nervously introduced myself, telling him that I was a huge fan. To my shock he asked me to join his group for dinner, where we had a fantastic time. In what other entertainment medium could that happen?

While I’ve mentioned some of the big names you can hobnob with, there are also plenty of up and coming writers who attend, some of whom will be household names in a few years. Imagine getting to know Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer just before they hit it big. And because I’ve gone to the convention every year, I’m lucky to count many of these future publishing phenoms as friends.

ThrillerFest is also a great deal for unpublished authors looking to break into the business. Through an event called AgentFest, aspiring writers can pitch their novels to a who’s who of the biggest agents in publishing. I was fortunate enough to find my own agent there. Before I met her my manuscripts barely got a nibble. Now I’m the director of AgentFest, my sixth thriller, THE LOCH NESS LEGACY, has just come out, and my novels are published in 22 languages. If I hadn’t attended ThrillerFest, who knows what I’d be doing?

For those looking to hone their writing skills, CraftFest offers a wealth of knowledge that is available nowhere else. You can actually take writing classes from legendary authors like Connelly, famed for books such as THE POET and THE LINCOLN LAWYER, and David Morrell, the creator of Rambo. The biggest problem is the information overload you might experience trying to cram every nugget of wisdom into your brain.

The best part of the conference is hanging out with these authors at the bar, the central gathering place. At first you’ll regard them with awe that they have descended from the heavens to walk amongst us. Then when you’re introduced to them, you’ll realize that they’re just people, too–although extremely talented, friendly, fascinating people. They’re happy to greet fans and share their insights about the business. Buying them a drink doesn’t hurt, either, though this being New York you’d better hang onto your wallet for a bumpy ride.

If you do get some of these writers liquored up, don’t be surprised if you laugh yourself silly as they spin wild tales of publishing wackiness, crazed fans, and book tours gone wrong. After all, these people know how to tell a story.

Conference season and the pitch

By Joe Moore


This week, ThrillerFest VII, the annual writer’s conference sponsored by the International Thriller Writers is taking place once again in the heart of the publishing universe, NYC. Like many other major conferences held each year, ThrillerFest is a great opportunity for writers and fans to come together and celebrate their love of the genre. If you’ve attended a conference like ThrillerFest, you already know the benefits. If you haven’t yet experienced a conference, make a goal to do so soon. You won’t regret it.

ThrillerFest is actually a combination of 3 events: CraftFest, AgentFest and ThrillerFest. CraftFest is a 2-day series of workshops taught by some of the most successful mystery and thriller authors on the planet. Names like Berry, Sandford, Gardner, Coulter, Palmer, Morrell, Rule, Child, and TKZ’s own James Scott Bell are just a few of the instructors on staff this year.

ThrillerFest is a 2-day collection of discussion panels and spotlight guest interviews culminating in the naming of this year’s ITW Thriller Awards.

AgentFest is an insanely popular opportunity for writers to pitch their manuscripts to over 50 top New York agents and editors. The pitching exercise is what I want to talk about today.

We all know how important it is to prepare when pitching a manuscript to an agent: look professional, act professional, be able to summarize your premise in a couple of sentences, and know that not every book is right for every agent (most of the time, that’s why they say no).

But what about those things you don’t want to do; those things that could wreck you presentation or turn off the agent? Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

Never refuse advice or feedback. Even if the agent or editor is not interested in your book, many times they will offer suggestions or advice on making it more marketable. Never have a closed mind and think that it’s your way or the highway. Professional agents know the market and are aware of what the publishing houses are looking for at any given moment. Also remember that just because an agent is not interested in your book doesn’t mean the book is not publishable. It’s just not for them.

Don’t begin your pitch by saying that “everyone loves your book.” Of course they do, because everyone is probably your family and friends, and if per chance they don’t like it, the last thing they want to do is hurt your feelings. If they didn’t like the book and were completely honest with you, it would be like hitting your ego with a sledgehammer. Now on the other hand, if John Grisham, Ken Follett or Stephenie Meyer read your manuscript and loved it, I would mention that somewhere right after "hello".

Don’t be a pest. By that I mean sending the agent multiple emails, phone calls, letters, presents, or anything else that would quickly become annoying. If the agent says no, the likelihood of you turning them around with a box of Godiva chocolates is not good. Send it to me instead.

Don’t suggest that if the agent wants to know all about you they can visit your website or blog. It doesn’t matter if Michelangelo designed your graphics, James Patterson wrote your text, and Lady Gaga composed the music for your book trailer. The agent doesn’t care. All she wants to know is: who are you, what is your idea, and can you present it in a logical, concise and professional manner.

Even if your manuscript has been rejected before, don’t volunteer that information. As far as the agent is concerned, they’re getting the first look at your idea. They’re also realistic and know it’s probably been pitched before. And the fact that you’re standing there means that if it was, it was rejected. Always remember that rejection is as much a part of the publication process as line editing or cover design. It happens to everyone. Move on.

Don’t claim that no one has ever written anything like your book before. If that’s really true, there’s probably a good reason no one has. But trust me, claiming that what you’ve written is a brand new idea is as compelling as claiming you have the winning numbers for tomorrow’s lotto. What you might want to do is suggest that you’ve completed a unique and original treatment of a well-established theme or premise. That will make sense to the agent.

Never say that your book is going to be the next blockbuster or that it should be made into a movie. The top professionals in the publishing and motion picture industries cannot predict with certainty what will be the next blockbuster or bestseller. Neither can you.

In general, always assume that an agent or editor has already heard every variation on a theme there is, because they have. Much of your success in capturing the attention of an agent is you, not your story. Be enthusiastic but not obnoxious, knowledgeable but not condescending, proud but not conceded, prepared but not pushy. And most of all, be friendly and professional. Your presentation is a foreshadowing of what it would be like to work with you. Agents don’t want to spend a year or more in a wrestling match with a jerk.

Remember that literary agents and editors are people, too. Yes, they can have a tremendous impact on your writing career, both positive and negative. But just like the rest of us, they get excited when they hear a great idea. Treat them as people, not gods.

If you practice all these tips and you have a killer idea for a book, there’s a good chance the agent will hand you her business card and ask for a partial. And if by chance, she asks for a full, go celebrate. You’ve accomplished more than most ever will.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By John Gilstrap

It’s Launch Day! This is the day when Threat Warning hits the stands (actually, it’s been on the stands for a week or so, but July 1 is the official launch date). This is my eighth time at bat, and it never gets ho-hum. Far from it, in fact. Each time a new book comes out is another pinch-me moment.

There was a point in my life—the first thirty-eight years—when the thought of publishing a single book seemed ridiculously unachievable. Then, along around 2003, the smart money said that my fourth book would be my last. Now, thanks to a hard-wired resistance to listening to people who tell me what I cannot do—and the good fortune to be introduced to Kurt Muse, who introduced me to the world of Special Forces—I’m basking in the glow of the release of my eighth book while I pound away on my ninth (Damage Control, to be released in July of 2012).

I don’t mean to get all sappy, but honest to God, sometimes I have to step back and wonder what good deeds I did in my past lives to justify the ride I’m getting in this one. Next week, I’ll be in New York City for ThrillerFest, hanging out with some of the best writers and smartest people on the planet, trying my best to be more friend than fan, though I confess that the difference is separated by a hair-thin line.

If you’re planning to be there for CraftFest—the writing program that begins on Wednesday—please consider dropping in on my session, “Who’s Story Are You Telling?”, a workshop on effective use of POV. Alternatively, please pop in on Saturday to the panel I’ll be leading on the future of the military thriller.

ThrillerFest is one of two indispensable meetings for writers of suspense fiction. Whereas Bouchercon—the other indispensable meeting—is mostly about meeting fans and gaining new ones, ThrillerFest is about professional development. Yes, T-Fest is expensive, but New York is an expensive city, and it is the heart and soul of the publishing industry. At the receptions and the bar and the banquet, you’ll find dozens of editors, agents, publishers, sales reps and publicists. It’s not the place to pitch your book (unless asked), but it’s the place to hang out with the power brokers and learn the industry.

Enough about that. This is Launch Day! In Threat Warning, Jonathan Grave and is team confront homegrown terrorists who are much more dangerous than they appear. Quoting the cover copy:

“The first victims are random. Ordinary citizens, fired upon at rush hour by unseen assassins. Caught in the crossfire of one of the attacks, rescue specialist Jonathan Grave spies a gunman getting away—with a mother and her teenage son as hostages. To free them, Grave and his team must enter the dark heart of a nationwide conspiracy. But their search goes beyond the schemes of a madman’s deadly ambitions. This time, it reaches all the way to the highest levels of power…”

I hope you give it a try. Even more, I hope you enjoy the story. One way or another, please let me know what you think.