|Thanks to Jessica Sinsheimer (aka "The Iron") for letting me use this picture!!|
Having been through Pitch Madness several times before, both as a contestant and as an observer, I kind of knew what to expect. And I knew there would be disappointment and nervous anxiety woven into the excitement. But this time around, I noticed something different. This series of tweets, posted on Monday afternoon by the lovely Jessica Sinsheimer, made me really stop and pay attention to the agents participating in the madness:
Writers weren't the only participants hoping and praying for good results.
Agents were just as excited about a win as the writers were. (Clarification: Please note that Lady Lioness is not an agent. She's an intern for Louise Fury, who was acting as the voice of Team Fury for the Pitch Madness reveal, which is why I grabbed a few of her tweets for this post. All actual decisions for Team Fury were made by the agent, Louise Fury, herself.)
And writers weren't the only participants who faced disappointment when they didn't get the results they were hoping for.
And at least once, I saw an agent kicking herself for not bidding on an entry that didn't get any bids. Why didn't she bid? Because the agent thought she wouldn't have a chance to win this fabulous pitch.
My first observation: Each agent had 61 bids to spend on pitches. (You can see the actual distribution of available bids here.) With 64 final pitches to bid on, even if every agent spent every single bid in the opening round, there was a possibility that some pitches wouldn't be snagged. Not because no one wanted them (remember, to get to this final round in the first place, each pitch had to get a "yes" vote from at least EIGHT different slush readers! - There were no bad entries in the bunch.), but because that's just the way statistics work.
Of course, it's completely unrealistic to think that any agent would bid on EVERY pitch. When you walk into a library or a bookstore, do you fall in love with every single title on the shelf? No. Chances are, you have favorite genres, age categories and writing styles that you look for when you pick a book. Agents also have preferences. And you wouldn't want an agent who took the grab-em-all-and-see-what-happens approach to requests. So, as you might expect, none of the agents actually spent all 61 of their bids. (In fact, none of the lowest bid denominations were played. And only 3 of the 2nd lowest cards were played.) Just like they do when going through their email slush piles, agents were selective in their choices.
My second observation: Each agent had a definite strategy for bidding.
|Again, thank you Jessica Sinsheimer (aka "The Iron") for this fun image!! :)|
Jordy Albert was the most conservative in her bids. Of her 16 bids, 13 were "low cards." I assume she was holding the high cards to allow for tie-breaking victories. And if she'd made it to the tie-breaking rounds, she would have probably won every single pitch. Unfortunately, she was out-bid again and again (often by Jessica Sinsheimer) and only won two pitches. (I have to admit, I cried a little bit when I saw how discouraged Ms. Albert was getting by the end of the big reveal. But even the agents don't see the full picture. She didn't see, for example, the private message I got from one of the fought-over contestants who said, "And Jordy also asked for it. *happy dance*")
My third observation: The more experienced agents (those who participated in previous Pitch Madness contests) were more likely to bid aggressively. This wasn't always the case, but one agent I spoke to indicated that she didn't want to use her low card bids because she didn't think they'd win. And she was right. Only three pitches were won with a bid of $20 and only three with a $50 bid. From an author's perspective, my first instinct was to complain. "It's not fair! You had all of those $5 or $10 bids you didn't use! Even if you knew you wouldn't win, why not just throw one of those bids on there to let us know you were interested?"
But the more I stalked the agents' twitter feeds and studied the bidding patterns and chatted with agents yesterday, the more I began to suspect that there might be another side to the story. (Agents, please jump in and correct me if I'm wrong!!)
Imagine that you're an agent for Pitch Madness. You have eleven "high card" bids to vote with and ten more that are kind of middle-of-the-road. You've found twenty-one pitches you really want to request, so technically you have enough available bids to bid high on all of your favorites. But if you use all of your good plays, you won't have anything left to throw out in case of a tie, and you'll lose every single time. The answer seems simple, right? Just bid low on a few of your favorite pitches, so the author knows you're interested. You won't win, but hopefully the author will query you anyway. Then, you can save a few big votes for the tie-breakers, and you won't lose everything.
Except it's not really that simple. Because everyone will see your bids. And those authors who got your low bids might think you really aren't that interested in seeing their manuscripts. You worry that they'll compare bids and think, "Oh. She wanted at least 100 pages from everyone else, but she only wanted 20 pages from me. If she's not even excited about my manuscript, why should I bother?" Instead of encouraging the author, you're worried that your "pity vote" will be discouraging. So you don't do anything. The pitches you don't place bids on are so good, you know they'll be snatched up anyway. And maybe the author will see you tweeting about not having enough bids to go around and he'll query you anyway.
If you, dear hypothetical agent, had this selection of pitches in your slush pile, you could simply request partials or fulls of every manuscript that interested you. But in a contest, you only have so many full requests to work with. You must play them carefully, because if you're too conservative or too aggressive in the initial bidding, you might walk away with little or nothing to show for it after the tie-breaking round.
Every agent I've ever spoken to HATES rejecting manuscripts. Especially when they see true talent in the writing. Most agents seem to dislike writing rejection letters even more than I hate receiving them! It's no fun to be the bearer of bad news. And in a contest, where the results are publicly available for everyone to see, it's particularly nerve-wracking. Because even when they "win" a pitch, every agent knows that it's ultimately the author's choice. Will they send the requested manuscript? Or will they ignore your request because you weren't the agent they wanted to snag in this contest?
You think it's stressful to face rejection on your one manuscript? Imagine how it feels to be facing potential rejection on 64 different manuscripts all at once!
The biggest take-away message from it all is this: Don't get discouraged and Don't Give Up! If you didn't make it to the final round, you might have been closer than you think. If you made it to the final round and didn't get any bids, remember the agents had only a limited number of requests they could make - and they were playing against each other. You might have been closer than you think!
And if you have Pitch Madness requests, don't keep these poor agents waiting any longer. Send your pages!! They watch their inboxes just as closely as we writers do! ;)
Jordy Albert, Jessica Sinsheimer, Summer Heacock, and Lady Lioness for allowing me to use your words for this blog post! You guys are the best!!
P.S. For those of you who are interested, here is my chart with the statistics for the Pitch Madness bids (you may have to click to enlarge the image to make it readable):