I spent last weekend in Portland at the Willamette Writer's Conference. Thanks to the machinations of Dave "Evan" Lewis, noted short story writer, I was able to finesse a job in the Pitch Practice room, helping people fine tune their pitches. These people would later pitch their book/screenplay/TV show to an agent. They paid $20 for a 10-minute session with an agent and most of them didn't know what a pitch was. I heard lots of synopses, many of which were very skillfully and carefully prepared, but not many true pitches. It was my job to advise them of the difference. I wasn't paid.
Among the more memorable people I saw were: Debbie, who wrote a Hollywood tell-all about her days working parties dressed as Snow White and other characters; Marni, a 19-year-old writer; Chandara, an adorable 23-year-old with a mystery movie based on the characters in Alice in Wonderland; and Amy, who wrote a young adult fantasy. In fact, a lot of people wanted to pitch YA fantasies, no doubt hoping the Harry Potter lightning would strike twice. Three times if you count the scar on his forehead. There was Bradford, whose YA fantasy was 55,000 words too long and a very obvious Harry Potter knockoff. Blythe, Cindy, and John also had books in this vein.
I heard only one I thought was a dud. A woman pitched an HBO series about Catholic school girls (yeah, that part sounds okay), but had no real continuity and spent more time telling about budgets and camera techniques than the idea.
I attended five panels, nearly falling asleep in four of them. Not because I was bored, just tired. They were uniformly well-done and I enjoyed them. The subjects were promotion (parts one and two), creating characters, 101 Tips to Make Your Novel More Publishable (excellent handout), and one about grammar and usage (another good handout).
I had to pay $27/day for food--breakfast and lunch. It wasn't bad, but I could have eaten a lot better on that money elsewhere. Not that I'm complaiming. It was a good conference and I had fun as a pitch helper. A number of people thanked me later for my advice and it was good to hear that they'd crossed their first hurtle to publication--when an agent asks for more.