Last weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York and I have to say that it left me quite speechless. Let me give you the background for the conference before I tell you my thoughts.
I first found out about the conference through one of my writer friends and she asked if I wanted to go. I had just been to a small writer’s conference in Philadelphia and I had an amazing time so I was definitely interested in an even bigger experience. However, it was pricey. Before I got a hotel room, it was $499 just to attend the conference for three days (they did add some things on Thursday so it would have been four days total). Plus, there were all of these add ons that you could purchase. The first, PITCH SLAM. We will get into details for that later but it’s a chance to pitch your ideas to agents.
This is a little expensive but I figured this is the time to invest in myself. My husband, bless his soul, always encourages me and he thought it was a good idea. So I shelled out the money and we cashed in some hotel points for a free room near the conference. The only add on I can vouch for is the pitch slam but there were two other options. The first is called DIY MFA and this is supposed to be a do it yourself master’s in fine arts, basically in creative writing. This is a program outside the conference and if you want to look into it (you don’t really earn a degree) then the link is here.
The last add on is called an Agent One On One. This is where you get to spend fifteen uninterrupted minutes with an agent. The time is yours. People had them go over a query letter, they talked about their pitch, I know a few people who talked about their plot. I decided not to do this because the industry is so subjective and I didn’t think talking to one agent would help me. However, I know people who did it and they found it supremely helpful.
Here are some of the big things that I took away from the conference.
Starting in the middle- A lot of writer’s like to info dump or provide an excessive amount of back story early on. This is usually, there are always exceptions, frowned upon and one of the ways to fix this is to start right as something is happening. Then provide tidbits of backstory as the book goes on.
Senses- A good way to show instead of tell is to use the senses to describe a scene or a moment. Sound is a great way to increase suspense. Smell is a great way to draw someone into a scene. But these details need to be believable.
Women’s Fiction vs Romance- So, not gonna lie, I really did not know the difference between these two genres. A romance novel focuses on the relationship as the central plot. Women’s fiction can have romance but there is something bigger driving the story.
Promotion- Look for random ways to promote your book. If your main character loves ice cream, maybe there is a small ice cream shop you can partner with. You use their name in the book and some of your advertising and maybe they have some flavors named after your main characters. Think outside of the box and don’t just rely on social media. Facebook isn’t a marketing plan. A lot of people had questions about marketing and mostly they said marketing depends on you. There is a book, 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, that everyone said was helpful.
Query letters- I cannot write a query letter to save my soul. I hate them and I’d rather clean my entire house and put away all of the laundry before sitting down to write one. Naturally, I went to one of these sessions. Write your summary like you would explain to your friend what is happening. How would you convince your friend that it was a good book? You wouldn’t be abstract or try to be goofy funny. Try to describe your book in about 100 words.
You’re a writer- One of my favorite things about this conference is how nice everyone was. The published and best selling authors who ran the panels or did the keynote speeches were all unbelievably considerate. They kept reminding us that we are writers. If you take the time to put words to a page then you’re a writer. No more of this aspiring writer crap. Be proud of what you are and embrace it.
Pitch Slam- I will just say that there were some agents interested in my work. It’s only been a week so I haven’t heard from them. But I am skipping the slush pile so I feel like it was worth it. You had three minutes to pitch your story to an agent and get their information if they wanted your work. It was intense, scary, and exhilarating all at the same time. I went in there with a plan, a ranking of agents who may be interested in my work, a seating chart, and highlighted notes for each agent. In the end, I did a lot of winging it. But I was able to speak to a lot of different agents and hopefully that will work out for me.
This conference was worth the price, the time, the heat, and the sleepless nights. I am being published in Spring of 2017 but I have since written a new book in the young adult genre so I was eager to learn about that. I discovered so much and heard answers to questions I never even thought of.
There were writers there who had eight books already published and writers who were still working on their first. The levels of experience all varied but everyone I spoke to found something worth learning. Almost all of the panels I sat through were amazing and I know that I will definitely be going back next year. Plus, a lot of the sessions were recorded so I will be able to go back and listen to a session I missed or maybe replay a session (cough query letters cough cough) if I can’t understand my notes or maybe to just get a refresher.
Invest in yourself because you are worth it.