Yesterday, I attended a big writing conference in Philadelphia: The Writer's Workshop Conference. I drove almost two hours from my sleepy New Jersey town to attend sessions with experts, pitch an agent, and rub elbows with other like-minded and local authors. To say I was excited was an understatement.
The conference was split into FIFTEEN sessions on various topics over five time blocks, so each author could choose the sessions best suited to them. Here are my thoughts on the ones I attended:
1. Self-publishing vs. Traditional-publishing: This session, taught by the great Chuck Sambuchino, was a great intro for folks who have yet to really start on either path. He confirmed a lot of my frustrations with self-publishing (that many doors are closed for us) and gave a few warnings about traditional publishing (the glacial pace at which it moves). I missed a good chunk of this session for my pitch.
2. Agents and Query Letters: This session, also taught by Chuck, was sadly overrun with repeated questions by green authors. Of course, everyone is here to learn, but folks seem to have failed to do *any* independent research and asked dozens of questions about the exact. same. thing. I kind of wanted to rip my hair out. I think there could have been really great information in this session, but we just didn't get to it because of the sheer number of questions.
Lunch: I went to a restaurant that only serves macaroni and cheese. It was as amazing as it sounds.
3. First Page Critique: This was the session I was most excited about, and for good reason. Authors submitted their first pages anonymously, and agents publicly read and critiqued them. And not kindly. Some were brutal, some were glowing, but all were educational. I made changes to my first page based on their feedback. Definitely worth it.
4. Science Fiction and Fantasy: This session, by the esteemed Eric Smith, was a brief introduction into world-building and trends in SFF, then opened to audience questions. While there was nothing really wrong with this session, I wish it had more information and structure, rather than being a town hall event. I didn't leave with unanswered questions but I didn't leave with a lot of information either.
5. Social Media and Blogging: This session, by the very cool Amy Sue Nathan, was another session that was sadly overrun by very green authors. Rather than discussing effective SEO strategies, newsletter marketing, website configuration, or anything else really valuable, we discussed how to create a Facebook page. No really. I get that there are non-tech savvy authors out there, but if my grandma can work a Facebook page, then you have no excuse. I ended up leaving this one early.
I paid $29 to get 10 minutes with an agent. Theoretically, the time is used to pitch a novel you'd like represented, but really it's your time to use as you see fit.
Here's what I did:
1. Pitched my book. I memorized a 90-sec pitch of my YA Fantasy Romance and spewed it first thing, making it sound as natural and conversational as possible.
2. Answered questions. The agent asked about themes and what makes my book unique, and thankfully, I had prepared great answers for each!
3. Asked questions. Since it's my time, I decided to address a few areas of concern:
Prologue - Most agents don't want to read prologues, but my book has a short (450 words), strong, and relevant prologue that starts with the protagonist. I asked if I could include this in my query materials, and the answer was: YES!
Self-publishing - Since self-publishing and traditional-publishing are so exceptionally different, I asked if I should include my self-publishing history when contacting agents, or if I should change my name and maintain innocence. She thought it was totally dependent upon an author's success in self-publishing success, and based on my history, I would probably be fine sharing it. Hooray!
All in all, there were some great points about the day, and some not so great points. I liked pitching an agent and meeting fellow authors, but in the future, I'll look for conferences more geared toward current working authors rather than the new new new authors. I leaned a lot and can't wait for the next!