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More adventures in publishing: Thrillerfest’s a blast

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Jury duty meets speed dating meets “Antiques Roadshow.” That’s Thrillerfest XIII, which runs through Sunday at the Grand Hyatt, a hop, skip and a jump from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

As the name implies, the conference is designed to bring fans, writers, agents, editors, publishers and movie producers of all types of thrillers together for one big thrill fest. This year’s big honoree is George R.R. Martin of “Game of Thrones” fame. Pretty heady stuff.

Me, I was just there to pitch my latest novel – related to this blog and my TGMP book series, but different – about a rising Russian tennis star whose glamorous, globetrotting career masks his day job, agent and assassin for the Russian government.

Fortified with a bowl of New England clam chowder at Grand Central’s Oyster Bar, I got on a line of some 200 hopefuls that looped around the conference level of the hotel at 1 p.m. Thursday. At 2 p.m. we were taken down one flight of stairs to a series of rooms with different agents, editors and producers whom we first encountered in their biographies online. We now got on shorter lines to pitch our projects for three minutes. Sometimes an agent or editor would engage you for longer only to tell you that it wasn’t right for him or her. One agent cross-examined me before saying that he couldn’t sell an assassin as a hero. I told him that people are complex creatures who do wondrous, monstrous things all at once and that people would fall in love with my antihero. We parted graciously.

Other times, you sat for less than three minutes as you were either rejected or – miracle of miracles – got the desired business card to send the agent, editor or producer actual pages. Remember that an editor is not going to buy the book from you. But you can use the fact that editor A wants to see the first 50 pages to leverage your pitch to agent B. Movie producers can acquire unpublished works outright, but again you’ll need an agent to negotiate that deal.

I met 11 people and got good responses from seven, so a batting average of .667, for which I was ecstatic. One agent even gave me a “wow” and “good pitch,” for which I was, well, thrilled. Even those who rejected me were helpful. One cut me off early in my pitch, saying he was involved in a somewhat similar project (but one that was different from my book – whew) but recommended an agent who turned out to want to see the whole manuscript. So, all good and we’ll see what happens.

I felt blissful and blessed. The night before, my late beloved Aunt Mary’s former home health aide, Subrina, and her son, Jovan, rang my bell. They were in the neighborhood and dropped by. So, I invited them in and wound up practicing my pitch on them. Why should they have come on that night of all nights? When I was a younger woman, I would’ve been irritated at the interruption from my work. But a voice inside me said, “No, invite them in.” They, my friend and colleague Robin said, were my aunt’s way of showing me she was still with me, watching over me, that I wasn’t alone. You took the words right out of my mouth, Rob.

  Manhattanhenge, which I witnessed Thursday and is visible Friday, seen from 42nd Street facing west. This image is from 2006.

Manhattanhenge, which I witnessed Thursday and is visible Friday, seen from 42nd Street facing west. This image is from 2006.

Leading up to the conference, I was enveloped in nothing but good wishes – from Daniel at my financial planner’s office; Mary, my friend and colleague and friend at WAG magazine wagmag.com; even the waitress at the Oyster Bar.

At the reception hosted by St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur Books, I talked with a woman pitching a memoir about being date-raped in college. She had gotten good responses to her memoir from nine of the 13 people she saw – a batting average of .692 – and we wish her all the best. I also chatted with a lawyer who was a just a big thriller fan and was up from Atlanta with his parents to enjoy the fest.

As I left, I paused to watch a group of people on the bridge over 42nd Street watching the sun set. I forgot all about it:  Thursday and Friday marked Manhattanhenge – the phenomenon in which the sun aligns perfectly with certain streets on Manhattan’s slightly tiled east-west axis. It occurs around Memorial Day and this time in July.

It was the ribbon of light on a gift of a day.