Monday, September 23, 2013

Reflections from my first writing conference

"Wow!  That was amazing" were the words pouring from my lips, as I left the hotel and climbed into my car.  I will keep my reflections brief, but I want to share with you the great experience I had at Northern Ohio's SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators) Conference in Cleveland.

  1. Conference 101:  I was so nervous and anxious (and my husband was eager to push me out of my comfort zone), so I arrived for the beginner's session at least 35 or 40 minutes early.  I sat down at a table in the empty room to review my folder of information.  Within a few minutes, some other newbies trickled in.  I recruited most of them to my table and surprised myself at my outgoing behavior.  The session itself was formatted in Q/A, and I surprised myself again, as I knew most of the answers to the questions.
  2. First business card swap:  I was very fortunate to have my best friend bless me for my birthday with professional business cards and case.  It was at that table full of newbies I made my first swap of business cards.  The first card I received in return belonged to an adult mystery author, transitioning to children's fiction.  That was thrilling!
  3. YA Panel:  I had the great honor of my first session introducing me to a panel of Young Adult authors, whose first books were debuting this year.  I was laughing before the panel even began.  These authors amazed me.  They were hilarious, helpful, and eager to push us out of our comfort zones.  After they finished their talk, I pushed the shy person next to me to go up and meet the panel with me.  The first person I met was K.A. Barson (aka Kelly).  I ended up talking with her for several minutes and barely had time to grab bookmarks and business cards, giving a quick wave to the others on my way out the door.  
  4. Dinner Table:  First thing I want to say about dinner is to pick your seat carefully.  I found myself sitting next to my best friend of the conference (and a lifelong friend) and an agent.  When I walked in, I felt completely overwhelmed.  So many people and most of them had already picked seats and were deep in discussion.  I walked to a table near the door and turned to a couple women, saying, "Now, the awkward part.  Are these seats taken?"  They laughed and said no.  My table quickly filled and had to be the best table in the room.  Other than my two new friends, my table held an author and illustrator we were celebrating that evening, another awesome new guy friend, and an agent and illustrator friend of hers.  When the agent introduced herself as Karen, I laughed and said, "I'm Karen, too.  Karen Mahara."  We chatted about what I was working on, and she was very excited, saying she had just helped a client of hers land a deal for her retell about the Pied Piper.  I was very excited for her.  I was so nervous, at one point, I turned to my new friend on my other side and said, "I am soooo nervous!"  Deciding to be bold again, I turned to Karen and began another conversation.  Before I knew it, we were deep in conversation about our relationships, my family, hobbies, and anything else that struck our fancy.  She was unbelievably approachable, sweet, caring, and willing to share about herself and ask all about me.  Before the speaker began her address, I pulled out my business cards and asked if she would like one, which she was happy to take.  To my great surprise, she took out one of her cards and gave it to me.  That was the single greatest moment of the conference.
  5. Our evening address was Linda Epstein's debut address.  She was amazing!  She had a great speaking personality.  She made jokes, shared her heart, and kept everything engaging.  She taught me several things.  First, writing as a career can begin anytime, whether it is a career as a writer, editor, or agent (which Karen also showed me in our conversation before Linda began). The lesson that has stayed with me is when your writing career begins, own it.  I am a writer!
  6. Outlining Book and Structuring Chapters session was the one session I needed more than any other.  I am what you call a "pantser" (to my nonwriting friends, this means I don't outline and plan out my book, but I have the idea in my mind and pour it out on the page), so structuring my chapters and writing is a definite weakness of mine.  The speaker helped break up each book into acts and explained the structure each chapter should have.  This is going to be very important as I go back and revise my manuscript.
  7. Anatomy of a Query Letter:  This was put on by the awesome Linda Epstein.  Her central theme was that a query is a business letter, so it needs to be professional and short and sweet.  Most important points are the following:  correctly spell agent's name, follow the guidelines provided on agent's website, keep out all personal details unless it applies to your manuscript, and only try to sell your strongest work, aka ONE book at a time (there will be plenty of time to discuss future projects).  Your first paragraph should capture their interest.  Start with a hook and tease them (do NOT tell every detail of the story).  Make sure each word counts.  Your second paragraph should give title, genre, subgenre, word count, and mention your manuscript is complete.  Include necessary information about you that is relevant to writing and/or your manuscript.  DON'T FLATTER!
  8. Rejections—not good fit, needs work, or won’t sell (market’s not ready).  I have over 100 examples of rejections, but they mostly go with these three reasons.  Agent Karen had some great examples, stories she loved, that just weren't right for the editors.  The market is a complicated place, and only great stories are making it, unless they are published by an author/illustrator.  Best piece of advice is make sure your story is very strong and beloved by your crit group.
  9. YA Panel 2:  Yes, I went back for more.  This time the panel went through each story of how they got their agent.  It sounded like a combination of things that made the timing right:  right manuscript (completed and strong) to the right agent (do your research) at the right time.  The biggest thing is to FOLLOW THE RULES for your query (make it punch and capture their attention, so they have to read it; be specific, don't generalize) and submission guidelines on their website.  They also said you can sneak in a couple chapters under the query in the body of the email.  I'm super excited to start that process, but first...I have to finish my rewrite/revision.  The BEST PART was they forced us to sit down for 3 minutes and write down our 1-2 line of your pitch.  (Side note, if you haven't written your query, start with your pitch or logline; this will keep your query pitch/synopsis on track).  Then they all came to us individually and asked us what our book was about.  I was thrilled and terrified when it was my turn.  I shared my pitch or logline 3 times, and I was given a business card to help me when I write my query.  Awesome!  Guess what?  Yesterday, I was asked what my book was about.  Without batting an eye, I recited my pitch (with a few "uh"s and "um"s).  Thanks, @classof2k13.
  10. Critique:  The last thing I am going to share is my critique.  I submitted my critique by August 2nd, so you can imagine how much my manuscript has changed.  I learned in my research about passive voice and keeping my story chronological.  Most importantly, I knew I'd have to "vamp up the action several notches," which is exactly what my critique person said.  The positive comments overflowed the section with comments on my "vivid imagery," dialogue punctuation, POV, interest created by beginning of story, and foreshadowing.  Some things pointed out for me to work on were transforming my telling into showing and making Edward's name change be a process, as well as his determination to overcome his circumstances.  Well, time to get to work and transform my manuscript into its new self.

1 comment:

  1. So glad this conference was special for you! I remember my first conf. 20 years ago! I was so nervous I couldn't talk to anyone! You did better than me. In 20 years you'll look back at this post and wonder what you were so scared about!