I attended my very first writer’s conference this past weekend: The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and participated in the Pitch Slam. During the Pitch Slam, writers received 3-4 minutes with an agent—half of that time was meant for their pitch and the other half was allotted for the agent to provide feedback on the pitch and viability of the book. Many of the pitches I heard on Saturday were very well thought out, concise and clear. However, I did also make several observations that I hope aspiring authors reading this will take to heart when attending their next conference.

Unfocused pitches were not nearly as ubiquitous as I would have expected, but there were still some writers who delved into plot specifics way too deeply. Now usually this wouldn’t be so bad, but remember that writers only had 90-120 seconds to pitch their book, and those with meandering, seemingly aimless, pitches often ended up speaking the entire time, which left agents, such as myself, no time to respond. The whole point of a pitch slam is to provide writers with feedback and help them perfect their pitch. That’s not possible if the agent doesn’t get a chance to respond. Instead, the truly standout pitches told me everything I needed to know in a short amount of time: genre, word length, comp titles, and quick character and plot descriptions. And the best of the best also incorporated a nifty tagline to capture my attention. (Click here for more helpful advice how to pitch your book.)

Now my conversations with writers who didn’t take too much time to pitch their book typically went one of two ways. Either I was impressed with their pitch and preparation and we engaged in a short, but lively, discussion, or I mentioned a few areas where he/she could improve. Most took my suggestions into consideration and were very grateful for the advice. After all, that’s what the event is for. Yet, there were some who became defensive, if not downright argumentative. Criticism is never easy to hear, and you absolutely shouldn’t take anything one person says as gospel, but there’s a time and place for lengthy explanations and vehement disagreements. During a 3-minute pitch session isn’t one of them.

Lastly, don’t be so uptight and competitive with your fellow aspiring authors! People line waiting to pitch their book often gave others dirty looks or were so noticeably anxious that I felt a little bad. It’s not the end of the world if someone inadvertently goes over the time limit during their pitch. Remember that another aspect of these conferences is to try and make some connections, so present yourself in an amiable, professional manner. And relax. Agents put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you.

All in all, my first conference was very enjoyable and quite productive. I heard a lot of great pitches, and sample pages from writers I met on Saturday are starting to flood my inbox. I’m looking forward to my next one!