Writing

Pitchapalooza BookCon 2019

Dumbledore once explained to us that you have a choice when it comes to being placed into a Hogwarts house. I know many people would love to be placed in Gryffindor. I have said this before and I will say it again: Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw and I fully accepted that I was not brave enough to be in Gryffindor. Seriously, if the Basilisk was slithering towards me I would probably be shielding my crying eyes and calling on someone from Gryffindor to fight the snake for me. Not even kidding.

However, I’m happy to report that I sometimes have my courageous moments and I displayed some serious Gryffindor vibes over this past weekend at a Bookcon Panel called “Pitchapalooza”. That being said, it was the most terrifying feeling ever. It must be exhausting being a Gryffindor. You guys are welcome to join me in the Ravenclaw library for some meditative reading sessions when you need a break from all that valiant stuff you do.

Pitchapalooza 2019:

I was not planning on attending day two of Bookcon, but I had so much fun on day one that I decided to go. That morning, I looked through the list of panels I could attend and came across one called “Pitchapalooza” and the description is what caught my eye.

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Literary agent Arielle Eckstut and bestselling author David Henry Sterry, known as the Book Doctors, were set to host this panel. Joining them on the judging panel was author Cheryl Willis Hudson. The basic premise of this panel was to give a one-minute pitch of the book you were writing to the panel of publishing experts. They would then critique your pitch in a kind and gentle way and the winner would be introduced to a literary agent or publisher. Twenty participants would be selected at random to pitch their books from everyone who signed up before the panel began. It sounded equally wonderful and terrifying.

Let’s get real for a moment: I hate public speaking. I like to melt into a crowd rather than be placed in front of one. So when I was looking at the bowl containing names for the draw, I heard a voice in my head listing all the reasons why this was a bad idea:

  • My book was far from complete
  • I had not prepared for this in any way
  • What in the world was a book pitch?

I stood there with my name scribbled on the piece of paper that I was clutching for dear life and started listing the reasons why I should do it:

  • What were the odds my name would be picked from the draw?
  • I had my notebook in my bag, which contained a brief summary of my book. It was far from perfect, but it was something if I was chosen as tribute. 
  • I was visiting the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, and according to Alicia Keys and Jay Z, there is nothing I can’t do (let’s hear it for New York!)

I stuffed my name at the very bottom of the bowl and headed towards the panel. I did feel proud of myself for putting my name in the draw but I was also realizing that if I got chosen this would be the first time anyone other than myself would be hearing the story I was writing.

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I sat down with my journal and flipped through the pages of character profiles and scenes until I found the brief one page summary of my book I had written a month ago. It was well written but I knew it did not have the structure of a book pitch. At best I would be given advice on how to improve my book pitch and my story. I sat there with my stomach in knots and kept telling myself I would not be called.

I was the third person to be called on stage to present my book pitch
*Cue the Hunger Games music*
*Cue the Game of Thrones Battle music*
*Call an ambulance and send me back to Canada* 

You know in the movies how some scenes become super dramatic in slow motion? Well that is the only way I could describe the few seconds after I was called on stage. Everything was a blur and my legs went numb. I suddenly wished my parents or my friends were there with me, but in that moment the kind lady sitting next to me gave me a nudge to get up and told me I would do great. I walked up to the stage on shaking legs and stood behind the podium. Looking out at the crowd I saw nothing but smiling faces. It did not occur to me in that moment that the room was filled with fellow aspiring writers. They understood how scary it was to stand behind the podium and maybe it was their energy that made me take a deep breath and started reading. 

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It was over before I knew it and I was so relieved once I heard the applause from the crowd. I did it! It was a proud moment and I was curious as to what feedback the judges would give me. I was ecstatic that Arielle was intrigued by the premise of my story and took mental notes on all the advice they gave me on how to improve my book pitch. They were so kind and honest that I felt motivated to keep working on my story.

I knew I did not win but I still walked back to my seat feeling like I had just won the House Cup for Gryffindor. Getting up there on that podium and sharing my story was my personal win.

Writing can be a lonely activity, especially when you never share your words with anyone. I was always terrified of sharing my stories with people. A part of me thought that if I shared my stories I would be exposed as a fraud who had absolutely no talent. It took me a long time to realize that I have always been a writer, and no form of validation from others would change that. So I started sharing bits and pieces of my previous work with a few friends and my parents. Their praise and supportive words are locked away in my heart forever. This was the first time I shared my new story with anyone and the first time I shared my writing with complete strangers. I felt vulnerable and terrified but I survived and came out of it feeling lighter. That is what happens when you release the words you have hiding within yourself for far too long. 

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I was grateful not only to have been given the chance to present my book pitch but also to listen to those of the other nineteen writers. It was incredible hearing such creative stories and I found myself hoping these writers would be published soon. I really want to read their books. The Book Doctors gave so much helpful advice that you could hear the sound of notes being scribbled onto paper throughout the room. I left the panel feeling inspired and full of hope.

So I guess the moral of this story is that we all have some Gryffindor traits in us and all we have to do is take that first step towards something outside of our comfort zone. That is where all the wizardry magic happens.

Keep on writing!
Shazia.                                      

 

Book Events

Bookcon 2019: A Celebration of Storytelling

Question: How does one go back to regular life after experiencing a weekend of book heaven in New York City? Asking for a friend….ok fine, I am that friend. Help!

Bookcon 2019 was a dream come true. Over the past few years I have always watched videos and looked at pictures of this magical book convention held in New York and wished I was there. I’m not a spontaneous person, but this year I very quickly decided I wanted to experience this festival for myself and before I knew it my tickets for New York were booked. It was the best impulsive decision I have ever made. Spending the whole weekend with people who love books as much as I do made for an unforgettable trip.

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Bookcon is a two-day event held in the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Each year readers, authors, publishers and writers come together to celebrate the love of books. Attendees get to meet authors, have their books signed, snag some book merchandise, attend author panels and get their hands on advanced reader copies of highly anticipated books. There are booths selling books and merchandise and creative writing workshops. Most importantly, attendees get to meet and connect with the amazing people who share the same passion for reading.

The Crowd of Readers:

Walking into the Jacob Javits Convention Center was enough to get me excited. This place was huge and everywhere you turned you either saw a bookworm power walking/running to some location or authors faces on banners hanging from the high ceiling. The crowd was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. There were so many people that at times it became a bit claustrophobic but you could also feel the collective excitement in the building. The lines were monstrous. I was walking for what felt like forever to find the end of the line that kept snaking and looping around corners. Half the time I could not even tell where the line began and ended. I found it mind blowing that people would chose to wait in line over two hours for a single book. That is dedication, but it also takes away time to see the other incredible things happening at Bookcon.

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As soon as the doors opened, I power walked to the booth that was having one of my favorite authors signing her new book. I got to the booth in literally three minutes and I was told their line was capped. I walked away deflated, but tried to shake it off and power walked to the next author signing which also ended up being closed. I was frustrated but then I reminded myself there was still so much to see and experience and so I roamed around without much plans for the next two hours.

Funny thing about letting go of control and plans: you stumble upon some pretty amazing things. Those two authors I missed out on in the morning? I randomly bumped into them when I was just walking around aimlessly on the showfloor and managed to have a conversation with them. I also ended up in the right place at the right time and managed to get in lines for advanced reader copies (ARCS) and meet a few authors to get my books signed. 

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(Meeting Stephanie Garber author of the Caraval series)

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Panels and Socials!

I think a lot of people get caught up with the possibility of getting new books and free stuff that they forget about the amazing panels that are offered. Watching authors talk about their writing process and what it was like for them to create the characters we fell in love with makes for an incredible session. It is also a nice way to catch your breath after the chaotic scene on the show floor. Sure getting free books and swag is fun, but the panels are so interactive and fascinating. 

I got a chance to see the amazing Leigh Bardugo in a panel as she discussed the release of her new book and answered questions from the audience. There is something great about seeing the author’s personality shine during these panels. Leigh was an absolute delight as she gushed about our favorite characters and her future books.

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A new friend I made informed a couple of us that Penguin Random House would be having an ice cream social event at Bookcon. We were given a warm greeting and offered flower necklaces as we socialized with other bookworms. There were stunning bookstagram displays at each table and cute photo ops. We were offered ice cream and popcorn and given generous swag bags. Again, this was a nice breather from the crowds and lines. For me, this was one of the best parts of the event as I got to meet so many nice people. Not ashamed to admit that I walked around for the rest of the event with my flower necklace on…and during the Uber ride to the hotel…and when I drank tea in the hotel lobby. I love flowers, ok?

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(Spotted: bookworm in her natural habitat. Seriously though, look at how happy I am)

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(All the swag bag up for grabs)

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Book Merchandise:

I was really proud of my taste in comfortable shoes because there were many booths at this event. I’m not the best with navigation so half the time I was spinning in circles and trying to imagine myself in the map I was holding. Needless to say, I was lost 90% of the time. Being lost was actually an advantage because I stumbled on many fun booths that were doing giveaways with games.

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There was so much cute merchandise that I had to remind myself that I would be travelling back to Montreal soon and did not have the space for more items. However, there are some things I could not leave behind. I could not say no to Hogwarts house lanyards, mugs with bookish quotes and journals. I mean how could you turn your back on these items? I stuffed them into my overly packed tote bag and backpack and moved on to the next booth. There are so many companies now that are adding a bookish touch to merchandise. I lost count of how many tote bags, t-shirts and socks that I saw with fun quotes from books printed on them. 

Bookish Friends:

The best part of Bookcon is meeting the incredibly kind people within our book community. I was so grateful to have met such amazing people over the weekend. It felt like I have known them for a while as we talked about our Bookcon experience. A couple of us were in a group chat together before the days leading up to the event. We kept each other posted on what we were doing throughout the day and I eventually met a few of them during panels and shopping at booths. It was great having a group to discuss and plan with but it was even better to meet them in person both at the event and after for dinner. I’m so happy to have met this lovely bunch. Thank you for making my Bookcon experience even better! 

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(Tired bookworms at the end of Day 1 of Bookcon)

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My First Bookcon Experience:

Overall, this past weekend was epic for me. I had only planned to attend day 1 of Bookcon, but I enjoyed myself so much that I returned for day 2. I’m really glad I decided to return because amazing things happened on the second day, but I will save that story for another blog post.

I was definitely in my element and managed to make a fool of myself in front of authors as I fangirled like a child. I have no regrets! Despite the long lines and the very enthusiastic and sometimes tumultuous crowds, I had the time of my life. At the end of the day, our love of books is what makes people become overly excited and eager. In general, everyone was really kind and I loved striking up conversations with people all around me. Bookcon was the highlight of my trip to New York and I’m definitely going back next year to experience it all over again and to be reunited with this incredible community.

Until next time bookworms,

Shazia.