I attended my fourth writer’s conference. Although they are similar in format, this one always stands out in friendliness and inclusivity. A positive energy source emanates throughout the Colorado Spring’s Marriott. It must be built upon a special kind of bedrock. Agents, editors, and best-selling authors are willing to have conversations with people like me; the super fans of the conference.
Here’s what inspired me and what I learned:
If you write fiction: Your blog, social media presence, and overall author’s platform are meaningless to traditional publishers. The agents suggested focusing on writing books instead. After you’re published, they are grateful if you already have a blog since they’ll want to link you up.
If you write non-fiction: The polar opposite is true. You better have a successful blog with lots of social media followers as part of your author’s platform. You should be booked for public speaking engagements, interviewed on podcasts and in YouTube videos. Publishers look at anything and everything you’ve done to build your presence, following, credibility, and to show you’re a respected expert in your field.
Sign up for critique sessions. It can be unnerving, but the input is invaluable especially if an agent you would like to pitch is giving the critique. They are the experts who you are trying to impress.
Attend the agent panel. This is a top priority for me at every conference. They talk about their pet peeves, what’s new in publishing, etiquette, and include their individual stories. You get the most up-to-date info. Every one of them chose their career because they love to read books.
What I learned:
Some of the agents throw you into the slush pile if you wait too long after a request while others prefer polished manuscripts up to a year afterward.
If you are writing a series, polish the first book and outline the rest. Spend your time on another book so they have something else to pitch if your first doesn’t sell.
Some publishers recognize the advantage to e-booking and becoming a hybrid author, since there may be a built-in following.
Don’t be afraid to pitch at the bar or during a meal. I sat next to a lady who was horrified to hear I was pitching to agents outside my one appointment. I actually think she sniffed at me. At this conference, it is totally acceptable behavior. In fact, one agent was so sweet, she asked everyone to pitch their book during lunch and requested pages from every writer. She was cool like that.
How I pitch. I research all agents and editors before attending the conference and pick out a couple who may be interested in my genre. I don’t waste anyone else’s time. Then I practice my logline – One or two short sentences describing your book. I’ve usually had a few conversations with the agent by the time I casually ask, “Would you be interested in hearing my logline?” I like to get a feel for the person I may be working with. Also, I’m not as nervous if I’ve talked to them before the big moment.
This year went really well, but last year, I had a deer in the headlights experience. I knew I wasn’t engaging the agent. I don’t think she blinked while I recited my logline and elevator pitch. After what seemed like a thirty second silence, she said, “I don’t represent your genre.” My face heated to scorching. I thanked her with six and a half minutes to go in the session. Later that night, I approached her in the bar and we had a good laugh about it. If it happens again, I will ask, “What are you looking for? What’s happening in publishing? What are the trends?” I will definitely use every second of my one-on-one time in being educated.
What the keynote speakers taught me:
Andrew Gross taught me you can have a MBA and be employed in an unrelated field like sports apparel for years and still become a New York Times Best-Selling Author with your first published book. After losing his job, it took him three years to write a book and score an agent. Andrew’s manuscript sat on a publisher’s desk when it became apparent James Patterson needed someone to co-author who could write from a woman’s perspective. Andrew’s first book was written from a female POV (point-of-view), and the publisher was impressed. Patterson called Andrew and asked if he’d be interested in collaborating. Needless to say, his first published book made it to #1. WOW! He wrote five others with Patterson and has written several thrillers on his own.
From Mary Kay Andrews a.k.a. Kathy Hogan Trocheck, I learned perseverance pays off. She worked for many years as a journalist, but had grown up writing and telling stories. After she came up with the idea to write a book, she secretly used her computer at work. It took a year of sneaking into the office at night, but she accomplished her goal. Many of her novels and mysteries have made the New York Times Best-Seller List. Her hard work has paid off very well!
R.L. Stine taught me to be yourself, be willing to laugh and try something new. Bob edited for fifteen years at Scholastic and wrote joke books for a series called, Bananas. At first I thought, Joke books? It soon became evident that he’s a natural comedian.
One day, it was suggested he write scary stories for kids since there were so few. Surprised by the idea, he said he would try. But first, he had to come up with a great title. That’s how he works. No title? No story. Before he started the famous series, he opened the TV Guide and read, “It’s Goosebumps week on Channel X.” And the series Goosebumps was born. He wrote another series called, “Fear Street,” where all kinds of monsters lurk.
Jack Black will play him in the Goosebumps movie where Stine’s monsters escape from his books and wreak havoc. He has to figure out how to capture them and put them back in their stories. Stine wanted to play himself in the movie, but his wife informed him, “You’re too old to play yourself.”
He told one joke after another. “I was in the airport on my way to Colorado, when a gentleman approached me and said, ‘Has anyone ever told you, you look just like R.L. Stine?…..No offense.'”
Ironically, the last keynote speaker, Seanan McGuire didn’t talk about her process. She didn’t mention her books. She said you don’t have to be nice, but you have to be kind to everyone at a conference. To many writers attending, her topic probably seemed unnecessary, I mean, this is a conference known for friendliness. But I straightened up and listened.
Seanan said that during a conference some people are handed an ice cream cone while others are left salivating. Instead of retaliating or having an outburst, you don’t have to be happy for the person who scored the cone, but you have to be kind. It’s not that person’s fault you weren’t handed a sweet treat. Some people blame everyone else for their misfortune. There are many opportunities during the weekend to make connections and to learn about your craft. Instead of putting out negative energy, put positive energy into working harder to accomplish your goals.
I had been handed the metaphorical ice cream cone, much to someone else’s frustration, one hour earlier. If they had realized how much time I had spent becoming acquainted with agents and editors over the weekend, they might have held their tongue, or not. Did it taint the positive experiences of my conference? No. I found the irony of the speech, amazing. I had never realized that to some, this is a competition.
What have you learned from writer’s conferences? Have you been inspired by keynote speakers? Have you ever seen a crazy squirrel?