Tracy Lee Curtis

Tracy Curtis: Professional conferences don’t always bring clarity …

So I’m at a writing conference with over 100 other writers, in a session called “Writers’ Got Talent.” It’s a chance to get your book’s first page read (anonymously) with literary agents giving expert feedback. That is, if the moderator can read the entire page without three of five agents raising their hands to stop him, signaling they’ve completely lost interest.

Page after page is read, as agents stop Chuck, the moderator, sometimes after only one sentence, then offer their critical critique. My heart pounds every time he begins to read a new page. And then finally, I hear it – “Yoga pants are killing the planet.” As he reads my page about the problem of yoga pants, my peers chuckle – the agents smile and smirk – he gets all the way to the end just as an Agent No. 2 puts up her hand …

“I like the writing – but I’m sitting here wondering, is this whole book going to be about yoga pants?”

Yes, yes it is. I wrote 236 pages about yoga pants entitled, “The History of Bold Britches.” Agent No. 1 says it feels prudish, you should wear whatever’s comfortable. Agent No. 4 identifies the stigma of these trousers, Agent No. 2 confesses to wearing them, despite her husband hating them, and Agent No. 1 states that wearing yoga pants is not an invitation to be hit on.

Uh – could we please get back to the writing?

It’s Chuck’s turn. I don’t think he gets me at all. I pitched him earlier in the week and made a joke about somebody stealing my carpool number. And he said he doesn’t understand what a carpool number is. If he doesn’t understand time-sucking carpool duty, he’s not going to get skin-sucking spandex.

Chuck points out that the narrator (me) said these pants shouldn’t be worn, but then reveals she’s wearing them. Great, I’m a hypocrite. And there’s a question about genre, as it reads like a memoir, therefore not narrative nonfiction, unless it’s prescriptive nonfiction, prompting Agent No. 2 to ask, “Are you saying it’s self-help about not wearing yoga pants?”

And just like that, I’m a hypocritical self-help yoga pants expert.

Agent No. 4 said she wouldn’t represent me or my book because she couldn’t think of anyone who would buy it. Um, so is that a “no”? And Agent No. 1 told me I should write a book about being a newspaper columnist, which I guess is different than being a newspaper columnist writing a book.

So I think the trick is to stick to conferences in your profession. So I’m sticking to parent/teacher conferences. They’re in my genre, they only critique kids, and they don’t cost any money.

And everybody has a carpool number.

Curtis: tcurtis@charlotteobserver.com

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