I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) writer’s conference in Seattle last weekend. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as a writer. I handed out a lot of business cards and met some fun people, none of them writing anything I usually read which has gotten me way off on a tangent on my reading list.
Aside from that, the conference was amazing because of the energy from all those writers in one place. I think lots of us first timers have been writing for a while but not knowing so many others with the affliction. Being a writer working on a book is a lot like being a vampire – a little secret most of the time, often most active at night, but way cool once you accept it. Btw, I didn’t realize so many people wrote about vampires until now. Also cool.
I had fully intended to write about “how to attend a writer’s conference, with bonus: how to impress the agents and editors.” That’s not really twin-mom.com material but you know I googled it and there was surprisingly little practical information. I really did try but what I’m actually left with is that this experience is personal. I am itching to call it a “journey” but that’s my pet peeve cliché (we all have one). So what do you really need to know about a writer’s conference? You have to go.
But I shouldn’t be too airy-fairy (fairies: also very popular) about this, right? I did do some deep undercover work to try to get the best recon on the what to do and not to do. In case you’re interested, here’s what I found:
1. Never, ever talk to anyone in the bathroom.
I enjoyed four days of talks and workshops at this conference. The #1 most repeated advice? Don’t bother the agents and editors in the bathroom. As a mom of twins I haven’t gone to the bathroom alone in about 4 years, but I do get it: no bathroom pitches. I’d say break this rule entirely though when it comes to your fellow attendees and the conference volunteers. It added a lot to my experience to meet new people and the touch-up mirror was a great place to do that.
2. DO fall in with the wrong crowd, especially while you’re pitching.
Most writers at the conference were there to pitch completed manuscripts or book proposals. How does that happen? You start by immediately meeting the gal who has her pitch memorized with facial and hand gesture cues and everything. This may cause some internal conflict. But then after a few helpful and encouraging workshops you decide to have faith that the universe has a plan for you, and it most definitely involves being a writer.
So you head into this big pitch room, line up, and thrust your hand or your business card at the agent or editor who possibly holds the keys to all your hopes and dreams. No biggie. And you get a whopping 4 minutes to pitch to her, including “ums,” fumbling with the chair, and “I lost my train of thought omg whyyyy?…”
Even though the noise of all that cued up gesturing and hopeful handshaking is almost deafening, pitching is supposed to be a no-talking affair while you’re waiting. Yeah, right. I enjoyed my pitch session because I did what I always do when I’m nervous – I talked over it. So I met some great writers, got hair tips, some who’s who, and a critique of my business card. My pitches? No word yet but I’m proud I did it. I got through it because before, after, and during the pitches I connected with writers who were feeling just like me.
3. You can recover from telling an agent that your book proposal “isn’t that good.”
So here is where I share my vulnerable side. I learned from the fiction writers that this is a good way to create believable characters. I wish some of this was fiction.
On my very first pitch I sat down and gave some kind of fumbling explanation of myself and my book proposal. About 2 minutes in the encouraging agent asks me, “Do you have a book proposal? Can I see it?” Well I had been working on my book proposal for a while and even had the to-be-expected snafu at the printer on the morning of the conference. I thought it was pretty good (I’ve since learned it’s not really) so what did I say when she asked for my proposal?
“Are you sure? It’s not that good…”
What??? I don’t know where that voice came from but she can just lumber back to some pubescent corner in the recesses of my mind please. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life and definitely don’t recall ever shooting myself in the foot so cleanly. Ever.
But here’s what I heard from her next. “Are you sure? This is your one chance.” And that’s what stuck with me the rest of the conference and even now. Not that any 4-minute pitch is my one chance at happiness, but that every moment, everything I say about myself and do to nurture my writing career should be done as if it’s my one chance. Like truffles in a little box, I should enjoy these opportunities.
Pretty cool save, right?
4. And finally, get out of the fish bowl for a while and have fun.
I ran into a number of people who pitched with me and many said the same thing about the hours after the pitch – bubbled up feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and “why am I doing this to myself” angst which led to a number of behaviors. I probably went through those too, and it manifested in a bear of a headache followed by a raging nap and a trip to the mall. I needed to do it, even though I probably missed that workshop that was going to change my writing life forever and elevate me to the bestseller of our collective dreams. Oh well. After the angst I had a great rest of the conference.
Here’s the unofficial results of my poll of post-pitch session options, in order of popularity. I did A, B, and C. D was probably a lot of fun — drinking with creative people usually is.
A. Sweat it out. B. Sleep it off. C. Get your shop on. D. Drink.
So your takeaway is that yes, I loved my first conference and yes, if you’re wondering if you should go to a writer’s conference, just go! And if you want to trade Tweets while you’re there, or any time, I’m @2win_mom.
How about you? Did you go to a conference this summer? What tips can you share with us?
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