If you’ve been following in recent weeks, you already know the things I did to get ready for the Writer’s League of Texas (WLT) Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, TX. This week, I’ll go over some of the things that went absolutely right, and while some of it was right place/right time, most of it could be duplicated.
Saturday, 22 June 2013: The official start of the conference. The purpose of this day was to have one-on-one meetings with agents and editors. If you recall, I was a late admission, so I couldn’t schedule any said meetings; I would have to find a way to find, stalk, and engage these agents and editors in a nonthreatening way. I’d already had some success the night before, so I was pretty confident.
The conference was set to start at 8:00 with submissions to the Wild Pitch box. I was still holding off because I wanted something polished, and I was up too late and had too many drinks to put a good product out (know your limitations – this is a business trip, not a vacation).
Things I had on my side: I was staying at the hotel the conference was being held at and I had my outfits staged (for day 2: blue button up shirt, tan slacks, gold tie). Again, dress the part. At breakfast I sat across from three writers in their early to mid twenties, all having an “I don’t care” hair cut and wearing plaid shirts – they hadn’t come together, just coincidence – and I’m just glad that someone at the table got it when I called them Larry, Darrell, and Darrell. I really don’t remember what any of them were writing, I just remember that they looked like a quarter of the hundreds of other writers there. I was dressed and presented myself in a professional manner well enough that I was asked a few times which panels I was sitting on.
By this time, I should have picked through the program and game planned the workshops I’d be attending, but I hadn’t, so I used the light breakfast time to make notes in my program and decide which workshops were going to benefit me. I chose: Market Trends; Writing for Teens and Tweens; How to Write a Love Scene that Doesn’t Make People Cringe; Writing Speculative Fiction; and Build Your Audience: Using Blogs and Twitter Effectively.
On the subject of breakfast, I am a complete caffeine addict. If I don’t get a couple cups of coffee in the morning, I am an irritable mess. BUT, I am also aware that coffee gives you fairly bad breath, and being that this is all about networking and meeting industry professionals, I was hell-bent on not having my impression on them be the guy with rank breath. No coffee or anything with onions, garlic, etc, passed my lips. Eventually I did have to have coffee, but I also ran to my room to brush my teeth after.
Market Trends: I learned that cultural anxieties not only sell, but endure. Romance is always trendy. Westerns are dead on the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble (yet agents seemed overly excited about Westerns). And consider backlash. Fads come and go, and if you want to ride that rollercoaster, counter the trends in your writing so you’ll be ahead of the game when the pendulum swings the other way.
I noticed that some of the agents were also tasked to sit on workshop panels, and that they hang out for a few minutes afterwards. This was my in. I found where one of my top two target agents (Becca Stumpf, an agent from Prospect Agency) was going to be and almost ran to where she was going to be.
I shook her hand and she asked if I had an appointment; I explained that they were sold out, but I wanted to meet her. She let me give her my pitch for the YA novel I’ve been working on and she seemed to love it, kept asking for more about it, and gave me her card and instructions to send the first 30 pages. SUCCESS!
NOTE: There is a difference between an agent asking for more about your story and asking you to explain what the hell you are talking about. If you have to explain, you are behind the curve; but at least they are interested enough to ask. Don’t badger the agent if they say it’s not for them; you will not convince them to take it.
From there I went to the Key Note Luncheon. DO THIS. What I leaned: Always write the best thing you can – content is king; investigate your publishing options – traditional verses self publishing; build and nurture your platform; keep moving forward; don’t put all of your eggs in one basket; you will not always write what you love for money; don’t believe everything you hear; editors are looking for reasons to say “no,” don’t give them any; recognize the value of your writing – maximize your ideas; put down the remote control and write the book.
Also, ask yourself if you can give up what you like to do what you love. You have to be committed or you will fail.
After lunch, I headed off to How to Write a Love Scene That Doesn’t Make People Cringe. Since I am writing YA at the moment, I figured this would be a worthwhile class. I didn’t expect a class on Erotica. In any case, what I learned was a sex scene needs to have a purpose for being there, not just filler. I had a good conversation with the instructor afterwards about how I wrote a graphic scene in my book ‘Immolate’ that was kind of disturbing, and how my dad gave the book to my grandmother to read.
NOTE: Your family WILL buy your books, and probably read them too.
I didn’t get much from the Speculative Writing workshop, aside from make your made-up worlds realistic.
In the last workshop, I learned: Promotion starts as early as two years before publication; start targeting your audience through social media ahead of time – write articles and get involved with anthologies of a related genre; and use social media to reach out to professionals in the areas you are writing about.
When you meet new people, especially in crowds, everyone gets excited and will make plans to hang out after the conference. This was no different for me, however, when it came to it; everyone else had better things to do, leaving me by myself in the lobby. So I struck up a conversation with one of the WLT volunteers.
This is when my big right place/right time moment happened.
The WLT President (Mick Normington) stopped as he was walking by and asked which agency I worked for or if I was an editor. I told him I was a writer attending the conference, and he invited me to the agents and editors private dinner down the street.
Luck favors the prepared.
You do not pass up opportunities like this. I got to make connections and socialize with industry professionals on a personal basis. I even got a very good idea for a historical fiction novel during a conversation with Molly Lindley, an editor from Simon and Schuster.
I did NOT talk about anything I was working on. My goal was to blend in, not point out that I was a novice writer, or ruin their one chance to get away from the constant pandering. It just seemed rude to me.
After dinner, I went out and listened to some live music with some of the agents, where Emmanuelle Morgen, an agent from Stonesong, asked me what I was working on and for the first 30 pages.
It was an incredible night.