This past weekend I attended the Writers’ Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. It was my first writers’ conference so naturally I had pre-conceived notions of what I would encounter–some of them realized; some of them not so much.
Preparation: Before hitting the road, I read every article I could find on “How to Attend a Writers’ Conference.” I researched the two agents I planned to pitch my commercial fiction to (Katharine Sands and Molly Lyons), and I set up my navigation system in my car so I wouldn’t get lost. Four hours later, I was in Madison and in my hotel room, watching Escape to Witch Mountain (the original).
First Impressions: When I arrived at the Pyle Center on Friday morning, my first thought was, Oh my God there CAN’T be this many writers in the upper midwest. Why I ever thought I was special . . . let’s just say MAJOR REALITY CHECK! Well, at least they looked like nice people if only a little bit crazed. Maybe I looked the same to them.
Surprises and Disappointments Along the Way: The day started great. Marshall J. Cook gave an entertaining Top Ten of what to do at a writers’ conference. The most important tip for me was “Embrace Your Anxiety” and turn it into energy. Got it! Energy! I turned to the man next to me and made my first friend of the day.
Marshall’s introduction led into the Contest Winners announcement, and I was thrilled to take Second Place in “Best First Page” in the mainstream novel category. Okay! Great! I can do this! I belong here!
Then came a bit of a disappointment. I met with Agent Katharine Sands (Sarah Jane Freymann Agency). I don’t mean to suggest that she was a disappointment. She was lovely and professional and easy to talk to. But she also challenged me on whether my commercial fiction was applicable to a woman of 2010. I’m thinking, I’m a woman of 2010. I enjoy this kind of story. But regardless of her lack of interest, meeting her gave me valuable insight into the mind of an agent and for that reason alone, a good experience.
Next I met with Agent Jacqueline Flynn (Joelle Delbourgo & Associates). Jacqui was filling in for Molly Lyons, who had to pull out at the last minute. Jacqui reps non-fiction, so I knew she wasn’t going to be interested in anything I wrote. So why not have fun? We talked about our kids’ hockey teams, and I pitched her my middle grade novel (total whim–I hadn’t prepared a pitch for this novel at all). It was a very natural and fun conversation. At the end, she asked me to submit my manuscript! Still a long shot–but a nice end to a nice day.
So to Recap–LESSONS LEARNED:
1. Be Prepared, but Be Ready to Ad Lib;
2. Do What You Can to Stand Out Above the Crowd: In other words, don’t hesitate to enter the contests; and
3. The original Escape to Witch Mountain has terrible special effects.