Friday, May 2, 2014

The Fantastical Otherworld of Writers' Conferences

Check out what happened when I went back in 2015: The Conference Recap.

Wow. Just...wow.

I got struck by lightning. And survived.

Or that's what it feels like. What actually happened is I spent 7 hours flying across two time zones, entered a fictional world where dreams come true, then hopped on a plane again, somehow landing back in the real world with my dreams in tow.

I'm talking about the Pike's Peak Writers' Conference. Four days of meeting other writers just as nerdy as I am, rubbing shoulders with real bestselling authors, running into agents I fangirlishly follow, and getting my manuscript gloriously torn apart by experts.

The number one thing about PPWC was the community. I was surrounded by peers and fellows who've all struggled through thousands of words to find the right ones. People who are nerdy, bookish, gun-shy, and bold all at once. People I can relate to, whom I trustI can't express how amazing it was for all of us to find others like ourselves.

A group of us who write speculative fiction and watch Doctor Who found ourselves friends. It's like when novels write their own endings; it just happens, but it's always right. Obeying fate, we created an online critique group so we can stay connected, help each other, and cheer each other on through both the requests and the rejections. I've never had something like that before, with serious writers in it for the long haul.

My writer buddies! We call ourselves the Speculators because we all write speculative fiction.
I think it's also because we're all speculating on when we'll get published...

PPWC didn't just make community real; it made demigods real too. That is, the agents and editors who control our fate. I got to chat human-to-human with the people I'll be querying. I even received their encouragement. They stopped being names on agency webpages and became human beings.

I got to pitch my work to them in-person. And not just any agents: two from my A-list! If I could pick anyone to represent me...

Now, I'm not a big emotional puddle where my work is concerned. I know it has potential and also that it's flawed. I know I can be good enough for an acceptance, but I'm not upset with rejection. I'm not going to stop writing just because someone doesn't like it.*

Most authors continue to get rejections even if they have a bestseller or three. C'est la vie littéraire. I decided early on rejections wouldn't stop me.

So I wasn't dying of nervousness when I pitched to agents at the conference. The woman I was signed up to pitch to heard my logline in a workshop and told me she wanted to see pages. Woah! So my "pitch appointment" was really a chance to chat for 8 minutes and get a little bit more info from her.

Goodbye, nervousness! Somebody wants me!

Later, I had my first two pages shredded by another agent. In this workshop, she reads as much of your first two pages as can hold her interest, then stops and tells you why she wouldn't read more. She might get through one sentence and say, "This is too wordy and boring; I'd assume you're a bad writer and stop." Or she might get through a page before saying, "There's lots of action, but I don't care about your character." Like I said, shreds.

For a lot of people, this was hard to take. I know some who didn't submit their pages for review because they know they suck. I know mine suck too, despite two hours' frantic editing the night before. But I still loved it. Shred my pages? Yes please! Tell me how to grab your attention and keep it! Workshops like this one gave me 1001 things to do to my manuscript. Good! I want this manuscript polished!

While some seminars were the rip-apart-your-book type, others were more informative. I went to one on diversity (speaking of, it's Day 2 of #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign!). Afterward, I and a group of my new friends got in conversation with another of my A-list agents. We talked for three hours. We may or may not have covered the topics of dinosaur fiction, automobile erotica, and children poop stories. I love bookish nerdy people.

This is where a lack of fear about my novel's fate came in handy. As the conversation broke up (to get in costume for the steampunk-themed dinner; writers have too much fun), I baldly asked the agent if I could pitch to her. It's not what people normally do--because they're quaking scared. But it paid off: she said yes! I snagged her away from her entourage (agents are the popular crowd at lit conventions) and gave my pitch. Guess what! She asked for pages too!

I floated.

I spent the rest of the conference alternating between, holy crap, I got two requests for pages isthisreal??? and continued love for all the amazing people I was getting to know better and better. We all came out of our little shells and bloomed. One summed it up nicely:

"I got drunk on people! Peers are better than wine for letting down inhibitions."

When you're around people like you, the hidden people-lover comes out. I have a 3-hour limit for groups larger than 2, but somehow I was energized at PPWC.

The conference, of course, had to end eventually. But then! My ride to the airport included three new friends and one of the keynote speakers. It was fun to catch him in the informal setting of the airport. Better still, the agent I pitched to was standing in front of us in security. I can now say I've taken off my shoes and pulled out my ziplocked toiletries alongside a favorite agent and favorite author.

The surprises weren't over. I got to my gate and the other agent I pitched to walked up and said hi. She's a delight to chat with. We boarded the flight and discovered we weren't next to each other; that'd be too crazy. No, actually, my life is that crazy! We were in the same row!

What a small, wonderful world this is.

Have you written a novel you keep tucked under the bed where no one can see it? PLEASE bring it out of solitary and come to the next conference! My advice:

-Don't be afraid. You write, ergo you're a writer. You're not there because you're stellar, but to become stellar.
-Sign up for everything. Pitching. Critiques. There's no person at PPWC who will tell you that you shouldn't be there.
-Bring business cards with your genre(s) and social media info. Trade with everyone. Keep in touch. Even with the bigshots who terrified you with awe. They're actually human.


Word count: 1,067.

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* For those interested in the stats: When an author sends query letters to agents, they get an average of one "send" request for every 52 rejections. A send is where the agent agrees to read your book to see if you're worth representing. They might, after reading, dislike the book and tell you, "try someone else." The word in the author business is query, query, query...and query some more.