What I Learned in DFW and #ROW80

NYT Bestseller James Rollins & Me

If you did not attend the DFW Writers’ Conference, you may be tired of hearing those of us who did talking about how AWESOME it was. Rather than go on and on about how everything is bigger and better in Texas, even writers’ conferences¬†ūüėČ , how about some general take-aways?

  • As long as you aren’t stalking or incredibly annoying, you can strike up conversations with agents because they are real people, at a conference to meet writers, and like talking about what they do (see Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference). At the 2011 conference, I spoke to one agent — the one I had a pitch appointment with. This time, I walked away with six different agent names to send my work to after personal contact at the pitch session and agent/writer reception. So chat it up! What have you got to lose?
  • When you attend a conference, you are paying for it. Don’t feel obligated to attend a workshop you don’t need or to stay in one that wasn’t at all what you expected. I attended a class that was titled one thing and ended up being something else. (That was not common, by the way.)¬†Ten minutes in, I gathered my stuff and left the room as quietly as possible. The teacher has no idea why someone leaves early — a pitch? a phone call from home? sickness? I wasn’t dissing her; the class simply wasn’t a topic I needed after all. I walked into a class next door and was SOOOO glad I did.
  • You can learn as much from chatting with other writers as you can get from the conference classes. I gleaned so much knowledge from conversations with Jenny Hansen, Donna Newton, Kristen Lamb, Tiffany A. White, Nigel Blackwell, David N. Walker, Jess Witkins, Kait Nolan, Jillian Dodd, Piper Bayard, and others that my brain was tingling with electricity by Saturday night. Asking others about their writing process, publishing plans, and life in general enlightened me in ways that made my trip to Big D well-worth all those hours and money.
  • No matter who you are, you can always learn more. It was marvelous to step into a workshop and see several published authors in the class as well. Taking notes. Learning more. Improving their craft.

What workshops did I attend? In case you’re interested, here’s a quick rundown: How to Pitch to an Agent (Rosemary Clement-Moore); The Changing Face of Publishing (an expert¬†panel); Writing Love Scenes¬†(Roni Loren – incredible); Anatomy of a Book Launch¬†(Laurie McLean-agent, Kristen Lamb, Kait Nolan); Fast Draft (Candace Havens); Inside Publishing¬†(Jill Marsal-agent); Revision Hell (Candace Havens); Writing Emotion (Lori Wilde); Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction (Laurie McLean-agent).

Bayard/Lamb 2012: Foxie with (literal) Moxie

Links to some FABULOUS posts about the conference from fellow speakers/attendees:

Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb encourages writers to push themselves in The Comfort Zone is for Pets, Not Professionals.

Romance author Roni Loren summarizes what agents like and don’t like in queries and first pages with What Will Make an Agent Gong Your Pages.

Writer (and my awesome conference roommate!) Jess Witkins discusses lessons learned in Celebrating My Writing Slump.

Jenny Hansen reports progress on her conference goals and teases us about Fast Draft (thanks, Candace Havens) with Bestselling Authors, DFWcon, and the Flu…Oh My!

Donna Newton makes me kick myself in How to Hook an Agent…The ‘SOO’ Publishing Way. How has this Brit managed to shoot so much stuff when I (a born-and-bred Texan) have yet to meet my goal of firing a real gun?!!

Jess Witkins, Me & Donna Newton

I also posted on Friday about What’s Next? The Hybrid Author, which was partially culled from my conference experience.

(I guarantee I forgot someone else’s wonderful post; I may update this later.)

One last pic: Me & Tiffany White

Enough already. Here are my ROW80 goals and progress report!

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. DONE.
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER. I started revising, using the notes from my class with editor Tiffany Lawson Inman and tips from Candace Havens’s Revision Hell workshop.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 19-20). Did it! Pitched. Need to send my queries.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Waiting on 3 tasks above.
  • Read one writing craft book. My choice this round is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Took a break from this goal until after the DFW Writers’ Conference.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. I can’t find the March/April issue, so I started working through the issue that just arrived in the mail.
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. Slowly catching up!
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. On track. I have read six books so far: The Killer Inside Me; Getting Rid of Bradley; Graceling; The Man Who Was Thursday; The Heart-Shaped Box; One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. Keeping up.
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. Skipped Zumba. May I count the four hours of helping with our church youth’s group car wash on Saturday? I know I burned some calories there.

So how’s your ROW80 week? Be sure to cheer on fellow writers HERE.

And if you are interested in attending the DFW Writers’ Conference¬†in 2013, they are offering a super early-bird¬†registration price of $225 (early-bird is $295) until June 1. The conference will be held May 4-5, 2013 at the Hurst Conference Center. I will be there!

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Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference

Within a couple of hours of this post going up, I’ll be driving up to Dallas to attend the DFW Writers’ Conference. Talk about a Deep-Fried Friday for me.¬†I expect this weekend to be better than a plate of beer-battered shrimp!

I attended last year and got my feet nice and wet at that conference. However, being the introvert I am, I approached the event as an information-gatherer and only talked to a few people. When I returned, I sent in my synopsis and chapters to the agent who requested them and received a lovely rejection letter.

But then I started this blog, began reading craft books, and connected with some fabulous writers. So this go-around, I am approaching the conference a little differently. Here are my Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference (in no particular order):

1. Turn cyberfriends into real-life friends. You know that person you’ve traded tweets and blog comments and even emails with — dishing about the writer’s life and life in general? You might actually get to meet¬†them! Thus far, you’ve imagined your friend as the 1×2-inch profile photo on their Twitter account. But your friend is not Flat Stanley: She is three-dimensional with a real-live voice! I for one am eager to finally meet in person great writer friends like Jenny Hansen, Tiffany A. White, Roni Loren, and many, many¬†more.

2. Hang out with agents. Note that I didn’t say, “Convince an agent to rep my book.” Since my rookie experience, I have discovered that agents are real people.¬†Of course I knew that before, but I care less this year whether they want my book. I simply want to get to know them. They are an interesting bunch of people who get to read for living, have their fingers on the pulse of book sales, and come to conferences to hang out with us writers. Why not make a few friends of agents? If we get along great and they like my book idea, oh yeah, I’ll send them a manuscript, pronto. But if they don’t, we can still have a drink and chat.

3. Hand out business cards. You’ve got 250 cards in that box, and there are only so many restaurants with that fish bowl where you leave your business card and they draw for a free lunch. You have to hand them out somewhere! What better place than a writers’ conference, where people might look at your card later and connect with you?

4. Be an author groupie. Last year, Sandra Brown was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference. This year, it’s James Rollins. Um, hello! These¬†authors have a string of bestsellers and a truckload of wisdom about writing. Instead of spending their Saturday working on their next brilliant novel, bestselling authors often come to conferences to tell us what they’ve learned, sign books, pose for pictures, and converse with us future¬†bestsellers. While we must remember not to stalk them, it’s okay to be a groupie of a great author. Squeee a bit when you see them, get your book autographed, and have your friend snap a picture of you leaning in close like you and James are best friends.

5. Trade pitches. Of course, you may be pitching your book to agents, and that’s wonderful. However, this is also an opportunity to bounce story ideas off people who love to hear them — other writers. Ask “What’s your book about?” and then listen. You’ll hear¬†some amazing tales and get excited about what’s being written out there. You can also gauge interest in your own novel or in the way you’re pitching it based on others’ reactions, which can help you hone your story or presentation of it.

6. Get book recommendations. What to know what to read next? Ask writers what they¬†loved. Peruse the book tables. Check out the titles from the authors who teach a class.¬†After last year’s conference, I concluded that the much-touted Save the Cat by Blake Snyder had to be on my reading list, began reading Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Maggie Quinn, Girl vs. Evil¬†series, and downloaded Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.

7. Show off your fashion sense. One of the most-often asked questions of conference planners is “What do I wear?” The answer is essentially “Whatever you want.” From my limited experience, it seems that writers run the gamut regarding personal presentation. You’ll find the business man in a suit; the pierced, tattooed biker girl with blue hair; and everything in between. Whatever brand is you, comb your closet and put together something that shows off your fashion sense. Then again, you might simply grab whatever’s comfortable and go with that.

8. Shop the tables. There will likely be product booths at the conference. See what goodies you can find. It might be a book, a t-shirt, a writing resource, or a trinket, but you might discover a treasure. Last year, I entered a contest to get a slogan put on a t-shirt. I was one of three winners, and my t-shirt idea was sold at the Penguin Promo table. That was kind of cool.

9. Make new friends. I started to write “make new connections,” but if you approach the conference as an opportunity to make friends, you will have more fun and be more fun. Of course, your friends are connections, so if you focus on engaging with people personally, they are likely to want to help you professionally.¬†That said, even if they never recommend you to their publisher or agent, this is a chance to make friends. Much of our writing lives are spent alone with our notebooks or laptops, and conference time is an opportunity to hob-nob with people who “get” us.

10. Fill in your knowledge gaps. Wherever you are in your writing career, there is more to know. Last year, I focused on querying and synopsis writing, since I knew how to write and just wanted some help landing my book deal. (Stop giggling.) This year, I have a broader focus because I know where my knowledge gaps truly are and plan to fill them by taking workshops that address those areas. You are at this conference to learn something! Go forth and learn it.

So are you planning to attend any writing conferences this year? What are your reasons for going? What goals do you have in mind as you attend?

And will you be at DFW Con? Be sure to look for me there! I look exactly like my 1×2-inch profile photo. ūüėČ