I am a writer. There. I've said it at last. Yes, by day I teach and tell people I'm a Lit teacher, but it never changes the truth. I write. Even when no one is looking. Even when no one pays me. Even when all odds are stacked so firmly against me that it seems a preposterous waste of time. I write anyway.
This madness has been going on for 20 years. Then it was in notebooks and peache folders in high school, scribbling away about doomed rock stars in the middle of Algebra. My twenties were spent in a maelstorm of screenplay contests, printing off 120 pages on a printer you had to feed individual paper. Today I'm incredibly sophisticated with my pink Dell lap top and my full time job. But how does one break out of their computer and land on the shelves of Amazon.com or the illustrious Barnes and Noble? If you've read anything about publishing, the answer is: YOU DON'T! But, to all the writers who are reading this post, rest assured about one thing: THEY LIED!
There is a golden ticket. For singers, it's American Idol. For writers it's a thing called The Writers Conference. They are expensive (thank you full time job!) but the good news is that they are year round, all over the country and probably coming to a city near you.
Why are Writers Conferences such a boost for new writing careers? Well, anyone who has ever performed the masochistic duty of sending out rounds of query emails (they don't even accept written letters anymore) knows what a trial in self -hatred it becomes. First, nobody cares. Second, even though they ask you to include the first ten pages in your query, they don't read them. Last year, I sent out queries for my book about an international Punk icon who disappears from her adoring (but violent) public and buys a bed and breakfast in the South of England. Now, I realize that punk rockers may not be the first choice for all agents and editors, however, it became clear to me that they weren't even reading the pages when they said things like, "a little more conservative than what I was hoping for". Surprise, surprise, agents really don't read unsolicited material.
At the writers conferences, they have to. It's their job. You can pay an additional fee and have agents write all over your first ten pages and conference with you about what they did love, and what they didn't. They have to look you in the eye and discuss your project. If the agent doesn't like your material, they'll tell you and they'll show you exactly why. If they do, many agents feel kind hearted enough to allow conference attendees to send them material. In other words, you are miles ahead of the email query.
My Experiences at the SDSU conference Jan 29-31st
My book: A gothic teen romance set in the French Revolution in which Martine Demont, a starving girl with an ability to telepathically connect with her loved ones, is saved by a cursed boy.
My Strategy: I researched the attending agents, found the agency I most wanted to work with, someone who was looking for teen Gothic romance and who was relatively new. This helps because new agents actually want clients and I want someone who WANTS me. As for the sacred 10 minute window of opportunity, I decided long before the conference that I would sit down, LISTEN, and at the end of whatever the agent said, if they did not include: "Please send me the rest", I would then ask them exactly when they knew they were not interested in my book. Was it the title? Was it the genre? The first page? Where? I need to know exactly where my pages became a snooze fest or not up to standard.
What Happened: I actually went to a presentation that the agent was giving right before our scheduled appointment. This allowed me to see whether or not I thought I could work with her, if we were the right fit. She blew me away. She was so enthusiastic in her approach to teen lit, so approachable and fun that a terrible gnawing began in my stomach. I suddenly wanted the chance to work with her more than I'd imagined. It was almost cruel. I introduced myself after her presentation and then proceeded to panic. When we finally met, she had written all over my pages clarifying to me what the difference was between good and great (thank you!). She told me what she enjoyed and what was still misty (ha ha) and then said nothing. Oh dear. I took a deep breath and launched into "Where were you out?" She looked at me and said: "I'm not. I want the rest of the book." HOOO RRAAAAYYY!!!!!!!!! Granted, it's just another step in the yellow brick road but every step is forward motion. Even if she just reads it -- it's more than anyone else is reading.
Results: I'm not the only one this happened to. In fact, I know, personally, three people who have had this happen for them within the last year. Considering that I don't know many writers, this is a pretty amazing statistc. My friend Seamus, who has been shopping his WW2 thriller for a year, consulted with the top agent at the conference, had a very less than impressed interview with her and when he asked my get to the point question of "When were you out?" she said the same thing my agent did and even gave him the award for best submission.
I guess sometimes, you've got to lead the horse to the water, and ask him why he's not drinking. Apparently, he will then, dip his nose in the water and swallow it down. Not that anyone in this scenario is a horse.
Writers conferences: the golden ticket.