Let me begin with the most important take-away you should have from this post.
“If you’ve never been to a writer’s conference, and you’d like to meet agents, publishers and published authors in a stress-free ‘no-pitch’ environment, go to Backspace Writers Conference.”
As many of you know, I’m a new writer. I’ve been a long time storyteller, but have only been putting consistent word-to-paper for about a year now. After having completed my first project, “The Secret Life of Statues and urban fantasy, complete at 75,000 words” I started researching how best to approach getting published.
Well, talk about drinking from the proverbial fire-hose! There is so much confusing and contradictory information out there. Everyone seems to have some opinion on how best to approach getting published, and how to become a successful writer. In the end, the research (which is really ongoing for me) did serve to do a few useful things.
It showed me there is no one way to get published and that getting published quickly wasn’t necessarily the holy grail. It seemed the very best thing I could do for my career was write and surround myself with peers who were doing the same thing.
So I started looking for a conference I could attend where I could network and really expose my projects to people who were not friends and family. People who wrote in my genre, or even *gasp* Literary Agents. The catch I quickly found was that all new writers want to get their work in front of a literary agent. Other than blind submissions and the dreaded query letter (more on what I learned about queries in a later post), the most common way for a new writer to get in front of an agent seemed to be pitch sessions.
I’ve read about these.
I don’t think I like them.
It seems that most literary agents don’t like them either. The Backspace Writers Conference tries to solve this by formatting their event into three days of low/no pressure workshops, master-classes and panels. Pro-active interaction with agents and peers is encouraged but largely left up to the attendee.
The Agent-Author Seminar is the first day. I was treated to a couple of agent panels on various subjects, but the meat of the day was the Query letter workshop and the Opening Pages workshop. In these workshops I sat with a small group of writers, organized by genre, and we read our work out loud to two agents who represent our genre. They critiqued each of us, and opened the floor to a short Q&A.
I had never read my work out loud. I know what you’re thinking.
“Russ, if you’d really done your research, you would have found the advice about reading your own work out loud!”
You’re right, I did find that advice, I just didn’t listen to it. And sitting there in New York, around a table of my fellow writers, reading what I’d poured my heart into for a good many months prior, was a tempering experience. I said tempering, because I really feel it made my work stronger. Not only did I get to hear that my project wasn’t ready for prime time yet, but I got to hear why it wasn’t ready. I was able to receive direct critiques from professional agents and peers in my genre, and I’ll be able to submit to them later, when I feel I’m done with my polishing.
Throughout the day, the events were spaced apart with intervals for socializing with other writers and meeting the agents more directly. This was easy to take advantage of. The agents were approachable and easy to talk to. They wanted to be there. They wanted to help writer’s understand what mistakes to avoid.
I particularly liked the open and direct view into the ‘life of a literary agent’ that this conference afforded me. The agents in attendance get my standing ovation for being plain-spoken and honest. For their blunt forthrightness about what they go through to make their clients successful.
The next two days were a series of Master Classes and Panels, teaching or speaking on various topics from ‘Writing the perfect query letter pitch for your novel’ with Kristin Nelson, to ‘Writing the Breakout Novel’ with Donald Maass. As well as ‘You, too, can plot. Really.’ with Gayle Lynds, all of which I attended.
I’ve spent a lot of time in a technical field, and I’ve listened to many presentations. Some were given by passionate professionals who loved their work and had gotten to a point where they wanted to pass a bit of their knowledge on. Some were given by boring monkeys who didn’t want to be there and were just marking time. Please trust me when I tell you that these people were all comprised of the former. Mrs. Nelson, Mrs. Lynds and Mr. Maass were informative and inspiring. I took away factoids and information points that I could easily have spent the next year or three ferreting out of the trash on the internet.
That alone was worth the price of admission. To get your work in front of literary agents and peers in your industry is invaluable. I also informally pitched an agent and got to submit my first partial. So to round out an already way-to-long bundle of scribbling, please refer to the second sentence of this post.
If you have any questions, please comment here or email me. I’d be happy to give you more specific information.