The OMG-There-Can’t-Be-This-Many-Writers-in-the-World Writers’ Conference

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.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The OMG-There-Can’t-Be-This-Many-Writers-in-the-World Writers’ Conference

  1. What a cool experience. Thanks for sharing. And good for you for getting out there to get your work noticed.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, both the ups and the downs. I missed that Marshall Cook session so I appreciate a recap. The toughest part of the writers institute for me has been ruminating over the experience and trying to put it in words understandable to other people. When people ask me about it, I’m starting to respond, “I learned HOW TO GO TO A WRITER’S CONFERENCE!”

  3. Congrats on the ms request! Sounds like you did a good job ad-libbing. 🙂

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