I attended my first writer’s conference this last weekend, in San Francisco. It was a step that I hadn’t taken before because I was intimidated by the cost and time commitment. But last summer I realized I was ready. I chose the San Francisco Writer’s Conference (SFWC) because it has a special session where you can pitch your book to a room full of agents. And although I wasn’t going to be ready to submit my manuscript to anyone I wanted to see how the story pitched so I will be ready when the time comes. The conference also offers craft classes and the opportunity to network. Here are the highlights.
Learning to Pitch
The first day began with a session on prepping your pitch and then a chance to workshop your pitch aloud in category specific groups (Novel & Memoir, Non-Fiction, and Middle Grade/YA). I had done some homework beforehand and drafted both a logline and pitch, but seeing people get up and give their pitches (brave souls) and hearing the feedback was valuable. Top take-aways – avoid sitting verbs (things you can do while sitting down, i.e. discover) which aren’t as strong, include the “oh shit” moment, and make sure the stakes are clear.
Writing a pitch is hard. Boiling down your story, which as the creator you love in all its detailed glory, to the core conflict requires a lot of thought. Or it did for me. This is where writer friends, or critique partners are a godsend. I think I went back and forth with my friends six times before the conference and then another three or four during.
This year’s conference offered the opportunity for participants to pay for a private 15 minute session with a literary agent. I signed up and spent my session practicing my pitch and getting feedback. Talking the story out with someone who hadn’t read it and hears pitches all the time was invaluable. I rewrote my pitch another two or three times after that meeting and each time it got better.
By the last day I was incredibly nervous for the pitch session. We were given one hour to pitch as many agents as we could for three minutes each. With a room full of people pitching that meant anywhere from three to six pitches depending on the lines for each agent. Even though I was practicing pitching and not actually trying to get agents to ask for pages it was a terrifying leap. All the agents I talked to were very kind and gave me useful feedback. I walked out feeling good.
Bottom line – I have work to do. I already knew that, but the feedback I got gave me some direction. I think feedback, unless it is all positive in which case it is not very useful, is always difficult to hear. I will admit to internally crying for a few minutes after the adrenaline died down, but then I knew I had a choice. I could sulk or I could take the feedback as a gift and use it to make something better. I was already going to be making major changes to my book in the next draft. I’m going to incorporate the feedback into those changes.
Meeting Other Writers
This was the other great thing about the conference. Everyone’s badges listed the category and/or genre that they write in. It was self determined so some people were more specific than others, but it made it easy to find people who write YA and those that write YA Fantasy. Although I’m outgoing with my friends, meeting new people is not something I am very good at. Even in an environment like a conference where you spend four days with the same people. But I met a bunch of great people that also write YA that I had a great time with. I can’t wait to share book recommendations and writing with them.
Attending with a Friend
My conference experience would not have been the same if I had not attended with a good friend of mine. She had been to SFWC before and was able to give me valuable advice on what to expect, and what parts to prioritize. We were able to offer each other moral support whenever one of us started to waiver in our confidence. Publishing is a competitive and hard business to get into, and selling your work is a different beast than writing. You hear things like – the YA Fantasy market is so crowded you really have to stand out if you want to get published, or YA Steampunk is dead – and it’s easy to crumble, thinking your work will never be good enough. Staying grounded in reality and realizing that what you are hearing is the current trend, which will probably change before you are ready to sell, can be incredibly hard if you don’t have someone to tug on your arm and bring you back to earth. Having someone who has your back is invaluable in a situation like this and I am so grateful to have had that support.
So that’s it. My first writer’s conference. Have you attended writing conferences? If so which ones did you go to and what did you like about them?