Chasing The Dream: My Experience With Writer’s Conferences

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Writer's Conference
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I’ve been MIA because I was writing so much for a contract. Let’s just say I pumped out over 80 articles, most being almost 1,000 words long. Add those up and you get 80,000 words, which is roughly the length of an average novel.

As a result, my blog(s) took a back seat for a while. Three blogs is a lot to maintain, and I warn like-minded aspiring writers to realize the amount of upkeep, so many sites require. This is especially true if you’re also trying to write or complete manuscripts and finalize revisions. You also wind up feeling guilty when your accumulated blogs begin to acquire digital dust. Two out of my three blogs I haven’t updated in at least a year. I do plan on getting back to them, but may only write entries once a month.

Anyway, I just returned from a writer’s conference a little over a week ago and walked away feeling a flood of emotions. For the most part, I felt encouraged by the camaraderie of the other writers, but other times I grew frustrated. In the end, I wondered if it was worth shelling out hundreds of dollars? Don’t forget the cost of the hotel stay or the food and drinks. You can’t go wrong with a little wine during evening networking hours. When it comes to writer’s conferences, there are a few myths that I might as well bust right now.

Myth #1: You need your full manuscript printed out and on standby.

False: I did my research and found a bunch of articles stating you must have a hard copy of your full manuscript on you. Personally, I don’t believe this to be true. In fact, none of the writers I met, and I met a ton, have had an agent ask for a hard copy of their novel in person. It rarely happens in today’s digital age. Honestly, even if an agent is interested in your novel, they’re going to ask you to email it. If you’ve experienced otherwise, please comment below. But, I think it’s a waste walking around with your full manuscript. So, save some trees.

Then how much of my manuscript should I bring?

  • The first 10 pages of your manuscript. If you want to bring more, then bring the first 3 chapters max. But honestly, you won’t need that many because most “read and critique” groups only allow for the first 5 pages to be read out loud.

What else should I bring to a writer’s conference?

(Aside from the obvious laptop, pen, notepad…anything to help you take notes.)

  • Business cards. They don’t have to be overly fancy or complicated. But, something with your name, phone number, and email on it. If you have a personal website with your blog or writing samples, include that, too. You’re not trying to act like a hot shot, it’s mainly to keep things stress-free. It’s way easier handing someone your business card then trying to scrounge around for a pen. The easiest way to network is when you can calmly and coolly pass along a business card.

Myth #2: Submitting pages to agents in advance will guarantee thoughtful feedback, the kind that demonstrates they didn’t rush through your pages.

False: I’ve had two opposing experiences attending two different writing conferences. I had an agent last January at one writer’s conference take a lot of time to write down notes. In fact, she turned in two different hand written notes that were both two-pages long from her assistants. While the notes indicated a pass for the novel, she did ask me the magic question, “What else do you have?” That’s when I was able to pitch her my other novel, my first manuscript. Most importantly, she cared and took the time to tell me why she didn’t connect with my second manuscript.

She wasn’t rushed or sloppy. She came prepared and on time.

However, at this latest writer’s conference I attended an agent turned in notes that demonstrated he was extremely rushed. So rushed, that I’m speculating that he might have read my pages while he was at the bar. The entire short critique he turned in had 6 spelling errors, not including grammatical errors.

Oh, did I mention that this agent is also a published author?

The agent who will remain anonymous is also very green, very new. While agents don’t have to turn in notes, they almost always do when you turn in pages at a conference. That’s a given, and if notes are provided, handwritten is fine and best. But, turning in a typed garble of notes full of errors…huh? Also, did I mention the agent was late to our meeting? So, not only did his tardiness eat into the 15 minutes of review time that I paid for, his feedback looked like it was typed by a 3rd grader. He even got some elements of my story wrong, which showed me he didn’t pay attention.

He didn’t take the time. He didn’t care.

If he didn’t connect with the material, that’s fine. At the very least he could have been more professional. Anyone at a job is expected to write grammatically correct and show up on time. That’s any industry.

Professional Standards

Writers are held to a very high standard. We can’t turn in anything that is not formatted correctly, not grammatically correct, etc. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t those who represent writers be held to the same standard?

If you don’t have the time to write it out professionally, then don’t. Give it to me verbally. I would have preferred a verbal critique without the sloppy typed response. Yes, we aspiring writer are in need of an agent to represent us, but we also shouldn’t be so desperate as to accept such shoddy work. We should vet agents and pay close attention to how they treat our work.

Some conferences only allow verbal pitches to agents. Other conferences will allow you to pick an agent and submit 5 or 10 pages. Not all agents will take the time to give you helpful feedback. They may be rushed for personal reasons, or they could have read the first paragraph and immediately judged your work without careful consideration. Who knows what turns one person off and turns another on?

Rejection & Differences In Agent Styles

The conference last January after submitting just 10 pages, the agent requested my full manuscript. I didn’t have the entire manuscript polished, so I turned in my first 100 edited pages. To the unprepared agent at this February conference, I only turned in 8.5 pages when the limit was supposed to be 10 pages. It wasn’t like he had to read a bunch of pages. Both passed on my second manuscript, but one took the time to really read it and provide a professional critique. The other didn’t.

Learning From Critiques

Setting aside my personal impressions of agents I’ve met at conferences, whether prepared or not, I walk away learning something. I’m not allergic to improvements. I’m not too prideful and am willing to make changes. Due to the notes I was given at the writer’s conference—regardless of the condition the notes were in—I was inspired to rewrite. Hopefully, the changes I made are for the better. My gut says so, but it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

This writing business is so subjective.

Writer’s Conference Take Away: ‘Read & Critiques’

Pros: “Read and critiques” are valuable. In some cases, if you read your work out loud, the staff at the conference will take a vote, and you can win their “outstanding writer’s award.” I had a hard time reading my own work aloud, but had someone else read it for me. While, I didn’t win this award I recall one of the individuals that did win. One of the winners went to a lot of these “read and critique” groups to have his pages read. Regardless, what is most important is that you understand what’s working and not working with your manuscript. So, critiques are super vital to improve as a writer.

Cons: It can be nerve-wracking to read your pages in front of a group. Depending upon the group, sometimes the instructor or the group leader will read your pages, which I prefer. Another negative is that these conferences can go on for a very long time. When I say long, the daily schedule can run from 8 in the morning to well past midnight. The group I was in ended up going until 1:30 a.m. So in order to “win” these awards, you have to have the stamina to go to a bunch of these plus attend classes and get time in for your one-on-one with the agent(s) you selected. The groups go on very long because everyone in the group has to read 5 pages of their manuscript.

Note: Many writer’s conferences have “read and critique” groups without any writing awards presented to discovered talent. Generally, the purpose of the group is to help writers flush out their story and provide constructive input.

One-On-Ones With Agents: Don’t Get Your Hopes Up…Even With A Request For A Full

Many writers go to these conferences hoping to land an agent, but many conferences like the one I just attended are less pitchy and more about craft. However, you can still pitch your work and turn in pages to your selected agent. None the less, there are other conferences that are more pitch heavy, like one in San Francisco and another in New York City. Talk about expensive, those two conferences would run you thousands of dollars not just for registration, but the cost for hotel stay.

Myth #3: A full manuscript request is a good sign and indicates you will get signed with that agent.

False: I’ve known a few writers including myself that have had agents requesting a full manuscript and honestly, it doesn’t mean you are signed. Don’t get your hopes up until you’re officially signed with an agent.


The Bottom Line:

Writer’s conferences aren’t cheap. You come to make networking contacts with other writers, hopefully, discover new beta readers and also form a potential writer’s group. Taking a lot of notes never hurts, even if you think you already know a ton. The professional editor I work with has attended classes at many conferences, and he still takes notes. This is man who’s published over 25 novels, and he has an agent.

The moral of the story is you’re never too wise to learn a thing or two as a writer. The ultimate goal is publication, of course, which requires obtaining an agent. This is a must if you’re gunning for the traditional publishing route. Getting an agent isn’t easy. You just have to keep trying and putting yourself out there. That’s all any of us can do.

And when it comes to rejection or not being the writer that won the “outstanding writer’s award,” remember that writing is subjective. It is art that resonates with some but not others. Awards might guarantee notoriety, but they don’t guarantee an agent. Even if you do get an agent, you’re not guaranteed book sales.

There are no guarantees. Period. We just keep pushing forward and onward. We take each rejection as another reason to get up off the ground and try harder, write better.



kage-baker



 

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5 thoughts on “Chasing The Dream: My Experience With Writer’s Conferences

    wells baum aka bombtune said:
    February 28, 2018 at 6:59 AM

    Great takeaways. Welcome back!

    Liked by 1 person

      Sonyo Estavillo responded:
      February 28, 2018 at 8:55 AM

      Thank you, I’m glad to be back. It’s hard being consistent with blogs and also finding time to work on long form stuff. 🙂

      Like

    D!vY@ng Sh@h said:
    March 7, 2018 at 7:50 PM

    Thanks for sharing your experience Sonyo..

    Liked by 1 person

    Meow said:
    April 9, 2018 at 7:03 PM

    I hope you keep at the writing!

    Liked by 1 person

      Sonyo Estavillo responded:
      April 9, 2018 at 7:25 PM

      I have been trying, revising now mostly. I might start a new novel- a third one soon. It hasn’t been easy. I’m still trying to obtain an agent. It’s hard keeping your hope up and remaining tenacious when getting published is so rejection centered.

      Like

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