I must admit, I’m addicted to writers conferences.
Just this past weekend, I attended my second full conference in Indianapolis: the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) annual conference. I’ve been to 3 mini-conferences already with two more to go before the end of the year. The difference between those mini conferences and a full one is that craft sessions aren’t usually offered. It’s mostly informational panels of published writers, agents or editors. Full conferences offer craft sessions and sometimes appointments to meet with editors and agents. But minis do have value. They are far cheaper. Most times they are local one-day sessions. Last October (and this one coming up, too) I attended the Rochester Writers Conference at Oakland University in Michigan. Dr. Stanley Williams gave the keynote address and discussed how screenplays can help make for a well-structured novel by using a moral premise. All attendees even received copies of his book The Moral Premise.
One thing I learned at ACFW last weekend was about pitching a manuscript. I didn’t sign up for any appointments with an agent or editor. I just wanted to relax and absorb everything. Some participants had as many as four 15-minute appointments with agents and editors. A few of them that I talked to even had requests for full manuscripts after each appointment. One benefit to attending a conference is being blessed to have meals with agents, editors and published writers who gladly answered questions and made small talk. I’m glad I chose not to pitch my manuscript because I wasn’t nearly as stressed as others when we found out who we were sitting next to.
Another thing I learned was why pitch to an editor and/or an agent. I didn’t understand the difference. But during breakfast I sat with an editor and a marketing director. So I asked. Well, according to them, agents get you to the editors. But if an editor is interested, it’s wise at that point to get an agent or an attorney to handle the contract. Agents will also be more likely to take on new writers if an editor wants the project.
But why conference? Why not by a book and surf the web to learn the craft. Why spend all that money on conference fees, hotel and travel accommodations?
It’s the face time. Face time with agents, editors, marketing experts and published writers makes a huge difference. Though we undiscovered writers may toil over crafting the perfect query letter and send them out with a wish and a prayer, agent Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary broke it down with a an honest truth I didn’t want to hear: Agents don’t owe you a read. While they are always on the lookout for new talent, literary agents also have existing clients, book deals to make and contracts to negotiate. They’d never get anything done if all they did was go through the slush pile of all the unsolicited manuscripts they receive. But seeing them at a conference, talking with them, getting a dedicated amount of time to tell them about yourself and your project makes all the difference. That way, agents are expecting your manuscript, essentially raising it out of the slush pile.
Prayerfully, I’ll be blessed enough to afford to attend as many conferences as I did this year. I’m currently fleshing out a new piece set in ancient Egypt (post-Civil northwest Indiana to ancient Egypt, go figure). My goal is to have that completed and my first manuscript Striving After Wind polished enough to pitch to agents AND editors who might be a good fit.
You never know. Next year, just might be my year!