I Survived! (A Writer’s Conference Survival Guide)

Last weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest West Conference in Hollywood. I had a fantastic time and it was so worth it. I will definitely be attending more writing conferences in the future. Here’s some of the take away lessons I learned.

1. Go To Get Excited Again

The lectures were okay. There was some good information, but mostly there were a couple of kernels in each session. You’re not going to go away necessarily having the answers to all your burning questions. But you will get excited to write. It was so great to be in an environment filled with writers who wanted to talk about writing. It got me excited to sit down and write again.

2. There are a lot of yokels out there

Wow. They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, after this weekend, I have to disagree. “Do you really not like receiving queries with colored font? Don’t you think red pops better than black?” Okay, I made that one up, but some of them were pretty close. Here’s the thing, a lot of times it seems the publishing world is very discouraging, sending a message that it’s almost pointless to try, the odds are so against anyone liking anything you write. Yeah, that’s aimed at the yokels, not normal people who follow submission guidelines and know basic grammar and punctuation. Go ahead, submit stuff.

3. How To Pitch A Novel Length Manuscript

First, you have a manuscript, not a novel or a book. The latter two being published, the former being what you’re pitching. Second, a pitch is really very simple. There was an agent giving a Pitch Craft lecture and this was her advice. First, orient the agent to where and when your story takes place, give a little info about your protagonist (age, gender, name, basic personality), then tell a major turning point, the place where your character’s life is turned upside down.

You don’t need to give any back story (that’s boring) or yammer on about subplots or minor characters. You don’t even need to give away the ending. In fact, don’t. The idea is to whet the appetite, leave them wanting to know more, so they want to read your manuscript. Leave room for them to ask questions, that engages them so you’re idea seems interesting.

4. Agents Aren’t Scary

I went to a pitch slam. A room full of 20 agents, 250 writers, and 90 minutes. You stand in line far too close to the other writers for a 3 minute chance to pitch your idea. The goal, getting a business card and a request to send pages. In 90 minutes, I spoke with 3 agents. They were all very nice. They were giving out advice and ideas to writers whose work wasn’t what they were looking for, and they were giving out business cards. I would recommend pitching even if your manuscript isn’t finished (don’t tell them that though), just for the experience. They aren’t taking names or your work, so they won’t remember you if you don’t send anything and black list you for wasting their time. It really broke down some false ideas that were holding me back.

Chuck Wendig was there. This was his advice, just care less. You’re not going to die if they say no. Despite rumors, agents don’t eat novice writer’s for breakfast. It’s not that big of a deal. Give it a whirl, put yourself out there.

5. Talk to People

Honestly, this was the best part of the conference. Talking to the other attendees during breaks, after sessions, and standing in line waiting to pitch. Every one is really nice, they love to write, and I found nothing but supportive people out there wanting to share. I even met a couple of people who I might swap work with for critiques. The more eyes the better as far as I’m concerned.

It was really a fun weekend and I’m so glad I went and am so glad I pitched (even without a completed manuscript. Shhh!). So, now it’s off to write more fiction and get this manuscript out of the tangled mess it’s in.  To that goal, I will be blogging less. Well, not less than those weeks I don’t blog at all, but I’m aiming for Tuesdays/Thursdays. Twice a week. So I can write other things and you don’t get overly full of me.  Whet the appetite. :)

Have you been to a writer’s conference? What was your experience?


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9 Responses to “I Survived! (A Writer’s Conference Survival Guide)”

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  1. I completely agree. Two of my closest writer friends are women that I met a conference. They are a lot of fun. And like you said — get those business cards printed up and don’t be shy about handing them out and meeting folks. Glad you had fun.
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