My First Writer’s Conference

A week ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Writing Conference of Los Angeles and since it was my first writer’s conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I read a lot of articles about what I needed to prepare and tips for making the most of my time and I probably stressed WAY more than necessary. Here’s how the day played out.

8:45 a.m. Checked in at the venue and bought a peppermint hot chocolate from a hotel barista who added like half-a-cup of peppermint flavoring. Avoided eye-contact with the other attendees and studied my pitch. Kept sipping at said hot chocolate and immediately remembering that it was nasty.

9:30 a.m. Attended my first class: “Writing Awesome Young Adult and Middle Grade” by Livia Blackburne. This was a great class and I learned a lot. My notes include questions like:

  • What lies are your characters telling themselves?
  • How do your characters change?
  • What do they want vs. need?
  • Does the scene advance the plot or build character? Is there conflict?

11:00 a.m. Time to pitch an agent. Since I’m your typical introverted author, this was the main reason I’d spent so much time fretting. All for nothing, of course. The agent I met with was kind and engaging and listened to me rambling off my query letter almost word-for-word. Once the recitation was over, we chatted back and forth about the story and my background, and then she gave me her card and asked for the full manuscript!!

11:15 a.m. After my pitch, I ducked into a class that was already halfway through. It was a class on writing romance and while I did appreciate the information, it was geared more toward category romance than young adult romance.

12:00 p.m. Again, since I’m an introvert and hadn’t made any lifelong writer friends, I hobbled down the street in my heels to the nearby Chick-Fil-A, ate a salad, and hobbled back to the hotel (note to self: don’t wear heels to a writer’s conference). Then I sat in my car and charged my phone while reading a book.

1:15 p.m. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. They called it “Writers Got Talent”–a Page 1 Critique Fest. Basically, they lined up all the agents on a panel and gave them each a stack of anonymous first pages that writers submitted upon registering. Agents were instructed to raise their hand at the point when they would set that particular submission aside. Then a moderator read each first page aloud and when five agents had raised their hands, the panel would provide feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about the first page, or why they raised their hand. Here were some of the common complaints:

  • Too much telling, not enough showing
  • Don’t start a story with the main character waking up
  • Identify the main character within the first page or else readers are confused
  • Start the story at a point of action, not necessarily a car chase, but with the character doing something that launches readers into the story and the MC’s goals and obstacles
  • Avoid purple prose. There was one submission that had some of the purplest writing I’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure my ears started bleeding.

I was disappointed that my first page wasn’t read aloud because I’m truly curious what kind of feedback I’d receive.

2:45 p.m. “Create Your Writer Platform” by Chuck Sambuchino. This was a very informative class. Chuck explained that author bios (while still used in some situations) represent the past, and that author platforms are our future. He described a platform in the simplest of terms, yet it really struck me. He said, “Imagine a room filled with hundreds of people, so many people that you can’t see above their heads. Then someone builds a platform and is now three feet above everyone else. Because of their platform, they stand out. Who are you going to look to?” He went over various ways to build a platform (newsletter, vlog, podcast, social media, public speaking) and suggested we find a subject we can be an authority on to provide value for others. This really got me thinking about what I can be an authority on and how I can provide value to others, and I got a great idea for a project that combines two of my interests: traveling and reading. More on that later.

4:00 p.m. Another class by Chuck Sambuchino about the “Ten Keys to Writing Success.” I didn’t write the ten keys down, unfortunately, but this was kind of a wrap-up of the entire day.

Overall, I’m glad I went to the writer’s conference. I learned a lot and thought it was a great resources for querying writers. I do wish I’d worn more comfortable shoes and maybe attended with a friend (is it possible to be introverted and lonely at the same time?). I do love being around likeminded folks and publishing experts. Maybe one day I’ll go to a larger conference (I’m having some major envy over those at StoryMakers right now) and be brave enough to reach out and make friends.

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