If you write and plan to publish, attending writing conferences is invaluable. There’s so much to learn, so many people to meet, and a lot of fun to be had. I recently attended my first conference, the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City, and can’t express how much of an impact it had on me. But since I hate “… can’t…”, I’m going to try.
Before you start reading, no this will not be an exhaustive review of every single session. Just some (long) highlights.
Do you really want to write a bestseller? Here’s How. – Larry Kirshbaum
I got into the city (we from the northern half of NJ call NYC ‘the city’, as opposed to folks from the southern part that use that term for Philadelphia) at around two PM, so this was the first session I hit. The speaker outlined the critical elements of a bestseller, smattering in personal stories and jokes to keep it fun. A good first session for me, that didn’t cause me to panic over my book. It was obvious by looking around the room that some others weren’t feeling as good as I was, though. But hey, the kind of knowledge Mr. Kirshbaum was dropping is why we were there.
Takeaway – Three to four lines only to describe something. Don’t overwrite.
Pitch Perfect – Chuck Sambuchino
Let me get this out of the way: the number one reason I attended the conference was to participate in the Pitch Slam (see below). This session was setup as a primer for that event. As you can imagine, it was high on my list of must-attend sessions. It didn’t disappoint.
Mr. Sambuchino started by outlining the required elements of a good pitch, and took questions (some good, some WHAT?) throughout. He also read several successful pitches to the audience as examples of what to include. The best thing for me about this session is that I didn’t learn anything new. I know that sounds weird, but when the session was over, I was thrilled with the prep work I’d done, and confident that my pitch had what it needed to have. Great confidence booster.
Takeaway – Memorize your pitch and keep it short.
Ask the Agents Panel – Chuck Sambuchino (Moderator)
To new writers, agents can be scary. Like ‘my car broke down in the dark woods and I’m knocking on the door of a dilapidated cabin’ scary. But you know? There just people doing a job (keyword – JOB). Think about it: what’s going on when you’re pitching them? You’re trying to sell them something. Something they know very little about (your particular book). And you’re not the only one. THOUSANDS of other writers are doing the same thing. All. The. Time. To make the process manageable, they establish guidelines based on the types of books they represent, and how they want your submission, er, submitted. They’re not inbred cannibals in the cabin, they just need you to do things their way. Follow the guidelines and even if they decline, the process will be smooth (if still disappointing). Good to hear actual agents lay it all out.
Takeaway – Not following submission guidelines will get your query deleted.
You have three pages to win me over – Jacquelyn Mitchard
Back to the learning. All about the opening of your book, with heavy emphasis on the first line. The speaker was personable and funny, and her experience came across in every word. She had the attendees captivated the entire time. Critical and very good session.
Takeaway – Study novel opening lines to improve yours.
While not technically a session, as I mentioned above, I attended WDC14 primarily for this. If you’re not familiar, a Pitch Slam is where a large group of agents make themselves available for direct pitching (as opposed to submitting query letters to their agency). You pick a sixty minute slot, and get three minutes in front of as many agents as you can. If it sounds like speed dating, it is.
What. A. Blast!
If you’re ready to seek representation for your writing, you really, REALLY should try this. You get to look the agent in the eye, describe your work, and show them the passion you have for it. Take a moment to think about how valuable/educational that is.
To prepare, I went through the list of attending agents, and ranked them from three stars to one (three being agents I MUST speak to) based on their bios. No sense wasting an agent’s time if they don’t rep my type of book. One of my three stars canceled last minute (grr), but I got to speak to seven agents in total. Five requested submissions.
Takeaway – Pitching is not something to be afraid of.
Fail, me. After the Pitch Slam, I was so ramped-up that I skipped the rest of the day’s sessions, electing to hang-out with other writers to blow off some steam and talk about how our pitches went. I don’t regret spending the time with those great, creative people, but if I could do it again, I’d go to the Saturday afternoon sessions I’d mapped out.
7 steps to stronger middle grade and young adult novels – Gabriela Pereira
OK, this one freaked me out. But in a good way.
First of all, the speaker was great. Comfortable, animated, and enthusiastic. A great presenter. Where she freaked me out was when she went over the formula (my term) for MG/YA novels. As she spoke, I found myself overwhelmed.
I hadn’t considered any of the things she was outlining when I wrote my book. My MG book.
Everything started to spin. The lights flickered, the walls bled, and everyone around me turned into a giant gummy bear. OK, I’m being dramatic, but I was pretty ‘WTF?’ for a few minutes. Until I started running through my story in my head and realized that I had in fact hit all the points. I just hadn’t been aware of the requirements when doing the writing. I sure will be in the future, though.
Takeaway – You always need to start with a great idea, but there are things that readers are used to seeing in a story, even if they don’t know it. Including those things increases your chances of writing a successful book.
How to succeed as a writer by knowing what not to do. – Barry Lyga
Of all the educational sessions I attended, this one was the most fun. Mr. Lyga is funny, entertaining, and extremely direct. Two minutes after the session, I had several of his books on my Kindle app. He was that good.
Setup: People all over the conference were talking about platform. Tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, etc. It was one of the main ‘business of publishing’ topics, and had several sessions dedicated to it in one way or another. Mr. Lyga told us that it didn’t matter. Not at all.
So what does?
Luck. And the writing, of course.
What did he mean by luck? He outlined two scenarios where your submission ends up on an agent’s pile. In the first, the agent had a great morning. In the other, a terrible one. The result? Your query will get read very differently in each scenario. It just will. Luck.
Additionally, he went on to relate personal stories of good and bad luck he’s experienced as a writer. “I’m not complaining, my life is great! But…” he said, always bringing it back to luck.
Then he got really real, and told us that, out of everyone at the conference, most would never finish a book. Of those that do, most will never get an agent. Of those with representation, most will never have their book sell. All because of the writing, and luck.
Thanks for bringing us down, BL. But you’re right, of course.
Fantastic, put-your-notebook-down-and-listen session.
Takeaway – “Between when you write it and when they read it are infinites.”
That’s it for my session wrap-up. In addition to attending sessions, I made some fantastic new friends. Overall, while exhausting, the conference was a complete success for me. I learned so much, and had so much fun, I wouldn’t trade that weekend for anything. Already looking forward to next year.
Thanks for reading.