NEWS From The Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference

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 loglineOne 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:

photo 2 (3)

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. RL Stine and meHe 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-McGuire_web-e1410829620781

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.

It's not a competition

What have you learned from writer’s conferences? Have you been inspired by keynote speakers? Have you ever seen a crazy squirrel?

75 thoughts on “NEWS From The Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference

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    1. It really threw me, but she turned out to be a very nice person. I thought I had done my research!
      RL Stine was super nice and approachable. So was his wife!
      Thanks, Linda!


  1. Writer’s conferences not only require money, they actually have to be in my area. (I know of no such thing…not that I’ve gone looking. <—tiny guilt)


  2. Thanks. This just reminded me a writer I met told me there’s a conference in my city that I didn’t know about. I must find out. Thanks for the encouragement Susie!


    1. You would love it! There is something about being “with your people” that makes the entire weekend a wonderful experience. The icebreaker between writers at the conference is, “What do you write?” I hope you find one!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your insights. As a budding creative writer still currently living in the land of hope (and frustration), it’s always great to hear from more experienced writers. I’m really glad I found your blog.

    p.s. I have seen that crazy squirrel, except the caption was, “Everybody freeze! I dropped my nuts.”


    1. I’m so glad you found my blog too! If you’re a writer who plans to publish in some way, a conference is invaluable. I bought the CD so I can listen to the classes I missed while attending others. So much amazing information is shared.

      Ha! I love your caption. 🙂 We have a few squirrels who scream, “Hey, Roxy! You can’t catch me. Neener, neener, neener!!!” My Bichon goes WILD!


  4. OMG to your deer in the headlights moment…and still you laughed it off later! You’re so bold, I love it!! Sounds like an amazing experience, thank you for sharing all about it!!


    1. Thanks Liz! I made myself go up and talk to her. She was really nice and it smoothed out my bump in the road to pitch others last year.
      I concentrated on the publishing aspects, but I learned a ton about structure and writing too!


  5. I grew up on the “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street” books and am entirely jealous that you received the ice cream cone of meeting R.L. Stine. Now that that’s off my chest, you go girl! I love hearing about your experiences at conferences and the wisdom you learn from them. Keep it up, Susie! And don’t let those ice cream-less grumps get you down. Just sit back and enjoy your own cone. 🙂


    1. I savored my ice cream! 🙂 Thanks Jessica! It really didn’t mar the conference. It must be a pretty common occurrence for a keynote speaker to talk about how some people react.

      RL Stine was hilarious. If you ever get the opportunity to meet him, go! My kids had a lot of the Goosebumps stuff since my husband owned a wholesale toy and school supply business back in the day. I thanked him since we made so much money off the licensed product and asked if he kept licensing in mind when he made up characters. He said he never thought about it, but he may in the future! Pretty cool.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have been to the Dallas/Fort Worth Writers’ conference several times. It is always great. I have learned so much there. thanks for the post.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Melissa! It’s always great to “see” you.
      The DFW conference is on my list since so many WANA’s attend. It would be a blast!


  7. This is wonderful information. Thanks for sharing it. I found traditional publishers’ views about a web presence being different for fiction and non-fiction writers very interesting. Many of us fiction writers spend so much time online when we should be writing. Like me, now. 😉

    I pitched to agents at Thrillerfest a couple years back. I didn’t find it as frightening as I thought I would. I tried to put it into perspective–it wasn’t like we were performing brain surgery. We were simply telling people about our stories.


    1. You know, I started out writing a non-fiction book and had heard the advice about a writer’s platform back then. It never occurred to me that it was different for fiction, especially in light of the changes in the industry. Most of these agents have worked for many years, so I trust their judgement. I’m having everything professionally edited before sending my package out to agents and publishers. I can’t wait to start on another project! 🙂

      Ha! Now that’s what I call perspective. It’s not life or death!!! I was more worried the day before. This year, PPWC had everyone bring in a query to be critiqued. Not only did we receive valuable input, but it was a HUGE icebreaker. I loved it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You have been one busy gal! No wonder I hadn’t seen your gravatar around much. Great advice and great attitude! You already exude positive energy as it is, I can only imagine you with even more of it while eating ice cream cones. 🙂


    1. Haahaha! I thought about how busy I’ve been when I stopped by your blog today. This will be the fifth weekend in a row I’ll be out of town. CRAZY, but I love it! I described blogging to my husband today. To me, it’s like eating sweets and all my favorite treats. Blogging gives me the same endorphin rush. But I need to find a balance in order to reach my goals, so I’ve cut back.
      Thanks for stopping by, Maria!


  9. Can’t believe it’s been a year since I met you @ Pikes Peak last year. I always leave writing conferences ENERGIZED and ready to retackle my work-in-progress. Sounds like this year was a good one. 🙂


    1. Awww! I’m so glad you’re inspired! I wanted to pass along some of what I learned.
      I do find it difficult to sum up my 350 page paranormal suspense. The more I pitch, the easier it gets.
      Thanks, Cecilia!


  10. Really interesting, Susie. If I get off my duff and write a book this will be invaluable. What was the metaphorical ice cream cone – did you hook up with an agent or publisher?


    1. I’m so glad to help, Peg!
      It was an editor. I couldn’t pitch to her since she didn’t take my genre, but we hung out a couple of times over the weekend. 🙂


  11. All good advice, which you’ll no doubt hear again and again. After all, good advice is timeless and never goes out of fashion.

    Keep up the good work and keep putting those words on the page. I’m sure we’ll run into each other at a conference somewhere along our journey.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt


    1. It would be wonderful to see you at a conference!
      I think some of this advice may change. The traditional publishers may change their stance on author’s platform, you never know!
      This is the year! 🙂


  12. Welcome home. It’s good to read about your experience. I’ve only attended workshops, while I s-l-o-w-l-y wend my way through second draft of a novel. Figure it would be better to go to one of these with more-or-less finished book in hand. Good to know about blogs, and fun to read about the guest experts. Cheers.


    1. Thanks! I agree that you’ll get more out of it if you’re close to finished. Then you can pitch!!!!
      This was the first time the agents admitted getting a pro to edit was valuable instead of a critique group since they may not want to hurt your feelings and may miss grammatical errors. Good luck with your WIP! (work-in-progress!)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by!
      The first time I went, I was overwhelmed. This time, I had a better handle on what I wanted to get out of the conference. I learned so much! There were classes I wanted to take, held at the same time, so I’m anxious to listen to the CD.
      I learned tons about writing, but focused on publishing for this post.
      Pitching is unnerving, but it’s getting easier. 🙂 Are you writing a book?


  13. Great post, Susie! And what a relief to know my cutting back on social media is okay. I was finding it hard to find time to write. BTW, you won a drawing in my newsletter. I’ll be sending you an email.


    1. Thanks so much!
      I WON????? WOOHOO! COOL! Thanks, Nicci!
      Yep. Unless you have hundreds of thousands of followers, traditional publishers don’t care. I have several writing projects and social media can be a total time suck. I am prioritizing too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so glad you are happy you won! It is nice sometimes, huh? I sent you an email with your choices. Let me know if you didn’t get the email. Have a great writing day.


    1. The first one was unnerving. My experience was far from great since I was a “conference virgin” and the hosts were not helpful or friendly at all. The three since have been at other locations and I’ve had a blast.
      Everyone is a writer, so you are with “your people.” The cool thing is when random strangers ask what you are writing. How cool is it that??? They are genuinely interested. Some of my friends could care less.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I never cease to be amazed at how many of my friends admit to almost never reading much of anything. There is no worse way to start a conversation with one of them than to ask something like: “Can I tell you about this incredible book I’m reading?”


  14. I’m so glad that you had a good experience and you were willing to share some of your insights from the N.Y. Times Best Selling Peeps. I always like to hear the advice from a successful writer. And so glad that everyone had a different lesson. And I completely understand the being kind bit to everyone …. “Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine any brighter” I heard that one time and it blew my mind. I agree although not all writers are like that. I went to a writer’s conference when I had just gotten out of school and met some good writers and then they had some really successful Latino writers and I just wanted to chat with them and get some advice, a few were nice but the one big cheese guy that’s pretty well known acted like such a tool it was so disappointing. But I did learn from the others and picked up some good books in the process.


  15. Hey Susie, I always love to hear your report about the conference. You do know how to work it! How’s the recuperation going? Are you back to your fabulous dance fitness level again? Hope so!


    1. The conference news surprised me. I’m watching how I’m spending my time more than ever.
      I’ve rewritten my story a ton since you read it and I am super excited to get a pro edit back and then submit!
      Oh my gosh! I am finally back. Took for freakin’ ever, but I’ll be stronger than I ever was before. I can’t run until July or so, but I’ve turned a corner through hitting the gym hard. I’m blogging about it on Wednesday.
      How are you doing? I’m loving your posts about France. I would love to go back especially with the Euro being so low!
      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your continued support, Pat! You are the best!


  16. Wonderful essay, Susie… very insightful and informative! I haven’t yet attended a writer’s conference, so your advice and insights are especially helpful to me.

    It was interesting to read of publishers diametrical views on Web presence for fiction and non-fiction writers. It makes perfect sense though… fiction writers should focus on the story-telling-a good story will grab a reader by the throat and word of mouth will help sell the book of even a little-known or even debut author. On the other hand, most non-fiction writers need to market and sell themselves as experts in order to get people to read their advice/opinion. With fiction and even memoirs, after all a memoir is still a story being told, it’s the story that is important. With non-fiction the writer is selling themselves as much if not more than their words.

    So glad to hear you are getting stronger and stronger. I did a ten mile run yesterday in absolutely perfect running weather. It felt amazing afterwards and I am so thankful I am able. Convalescing and rehabbing truly test one’s patience. When I have been in hospital and then recovering afterwards, it made me crazy not being able to get out and go full tilt. Trying to convince your wife or doctors that just because you’ve been in a coma for the last week is no reason you shouldn’t be able to go out and run is a bit like trying to convince a elephant he can walk ON water. You’d probably have better luck with the elephant. Lol!

    Peace and good health, sweetie!


    1. I agree! A good story will be spread by word of mouth. Even with a memoir, I think there would be a slant in which the storyteller becomes an expert. When I am ready to publish my Boob Reports, I’ll have to do a lot of public speaking…It doesn’t terrify me like it once did. This must be a product of going through hell. I don’t care what people think anymore. I am who I am! Ha!

      Was the coma a metaphor, I hope? It sounds really serious. I’m glad to hear you’re back running! It feels good to blow all of the dust out of my old engine. Okay. It’s not that old. 🙂
      Great to “see” you, Veronica! Peace and good health to you too! 🙂


      1. I’m sorry… I should have said ‘medically-induced coma’; that’s a bit less dramatic, yes? “I was in a coma” conjures all sorts of scenarios, especially in the fertile mind of a writer.

        I have a latent medical condition that, and thankfully this is a very rare occurrence, is triggered by a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions and my body cannot regulate its internal temperature. Left unchecked… well, you can imagine.

        But yes, I am back ! 🙂

        I am so looking forward to your Boob Reports. I believe I mentioned this some time back, my mother passed away a few years ago from breast cancer. We were estranged at the time and I never knew the battle she fought and in the end lost. Your story and the insights you share will help me understand, to some degree, what my mother went through.

        You are so right… once we’ve walked through the fires of hell and come out on the other side, scarred but no longer scared as we were before, things that were a big deal before – worrying about what other people think or the ‘terror’ of public speaking – aren’t a big deal any longer. We gain a certain fearlessness… we are no longer victims, but survivors. We are survivors with stories to tell. Not just for the sake of telling a story, but to help others. To show them that they are not alone and to show them the power of ‘can’ over ‘can’t’.

        And if our stories help even just one person, then what we have gone through will have not been in vain.


  17. I went to a Writers Digest conference several years ago and like you, was inspired and motivated by what I learned and the people I met. Your post puts me in the mood to attend another. And your very first point it so interesting. When I first started writing all I heard from people was, “You must built your platform through social media STAT!!!” Hmmmm . . . I guess that is no longer the case.


    1. I don’t think building an author’s platform has ever been recognized by traditional publishers. I think we get a lot of misinformation on the “internets” and by so-called experts. I had been swept up in the importance of numbers too. When I publish my Boob Reports, it will be different. Right now, I’m focusing on my writing. It’s such a huge relief!
      It is a gift to go for a weekend and hang with people who “get” us. I’m still absorbing all of the information.
      Thanks Robin!


  18. These are terrific tips, Susie. Thank you for posting such thoughtful takeaways and giving us something to think about. It’s so important to research the agents and editors before attending the conference.

    It sounds like that paid dividends for you. You said that you had received an ice cream cone at the conference…does that mean an agent requested a full ms? I hope so! Good luck!


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