Miscellaneous Musings of a Self-Proclaimed Scribe AKA Writers’ Conference EEE!

Good Monday morning! I have my monstrous Red Bull by my side, how about you?

*YAWWWWWWN!*

And clam chowder. Yes, clam chowder for breakfast. Because I can, that’s why.

So, I don’t officially start graduate classes today — that will happen next Monday — but I am starting the week-long orientation. So instead of actually doing the work, I get to spend this week learning just exactly how hard said work will be.

Yayness.

But enough about school. For now anyway. I have a conference to tell you about!

What can I say about the writer’s conference I attended this weekend? I mean, where do I even begin? Well, first of all, and I can’t stress this nearly enough, go to a conference! Beg or borrow to get to one if you need to. Whatever it takes short of larceny. I am seriously considering the New York one in February, even though I have no idea how I’ll even come close to making it. It doesn’t matter. Before this weekend I knew conferences were important to a successful writing career. Now I know they are vital.

I’ll tell you my personal highlights the same way I told Mike (my fiance, for those of you who don’t know): from least OMGAWESOME to most OMGAWESOME. Because really, it was all awesome to some degree.

  • OMGAWESOME #1: The RaffleDoor Prizes

They were originally going to have a raffle, but then were told that it was gambling and they couldn’t. So everyone got a door prize ticket instead. I won a book on writing while juggling a family, which was pretty apropos. So that was pretty OMGAWESOME, if not the most OMGAWESOME of the day.

  • OMGAWESOME #2: The Presentations

There were a lot of subjects the presenters spoke on that I thought I knew, such as the nuts and bolts of publication, how an agent decides what to accept and what to reject, and what, exactly, an editor does. I was right in that I knew some things, but far from all. The presentations were entirely useful and interesting. I’ll quite probably do some blogs on  specific highlights  in the near future. For now, let me say that learning from those who have come before is useful in every industry, and publication is no different. I already know that I’m a better writer for the lessons I learned on Saturday, even though I haven’t put down one sentence of fiction since… yet.

  • OMGAWESOME #3: Blind Critiques

A blind critique is pretty much what it sounds like. They took three copies of an unnamed manuscript page from those willing to go through the gauntlet (yes, I was one of those brave souls), and gave them to the industry speakers, Associate Editor Pamela Glauber from Holiday House Publishers and Literary Agent Kerry Sparks from Levine-Greenberg Literary Agency. After our (wonderful) Regional SCBWI Director Mary Cronk Farrell read each out loud, these two great ladies gave their unbiased and candid opinions, focusing mostly on whether they would be interested in reading more if the manuscripts had crossed their desks as queries. My page, the first from Escape from Igh Schoo, went third and I was way more nervous than I expected to be as Mary read it to the room. But as you know, this is an OMGAWESOME not an OMGIWANNADIE, so it went well… to say the least. Both ladies said they would very much be interested in reading more, though they agreed that my first paragraph was too heavy. I took two very important lessons from that. One, I’m good at action scenes (better than I thought… yay!) and two, I need to jump right into said action at the beginning. I will be editing Escape From Igh Schoo now to that end.

  • OMGAWESOME #4: My Full Critique

This was one of the things I looked forward to the most and I wasn’t disappointed. When I registered way back in June I sent the first ten pages of The Crows’ Nest, (which, you’ll remember, I still intend on getting published by a real House) to be red-penned by one of our speakers with whom I would then sit down for 15 minutes at the conference to discuss my work.

I was given the privilege of working with Kelly Milner Halls who is a hugely prolific local writer and editor, with thousands of editing credits to her name and plenty of her own published works as well. She was extremely supportive, knowledgeable and encouraging. Above and beyond that, she was helpful, which you will see in a moment is everything at this juncture of my career. She told me exactly what I already knew, that I was too wordy, but then she added what I didn’t know and badly needed to: how I was wordy and what words, exactly, needed to go! I was ecstatic! Now I can finally fix the underlying frustration I get every time I read my manuscript!

Another thing that made me feel very happy was she said I HAVE THE VOICE! Now, those who have read my blog for a while (and those who have at all researched Middle Grade writing recently… that too), know that the Voice is everything in MG today. Without the Voice (which both Kerry and Pamela reiterated in their presentations), you can’t make it. You just can’t. It also happens to be the very hardest thing to nail down. Of course. I have obsessed over my Voice horribly lately. (Which, it turns out, is a large reason why I’m so wordy… but I digress.) Kelly told me that I already have a great Voice and that I don’t need all the extra words to make it work! YAY! I HAVE THE VOICE! I could have seriously gone home happy right then and there, but then… this happened…

  • OMGAWESOME #5 AKA OMGAWESOMEEEEBBQ*dies*: The Greatest Conference Hope… Realized

I wanted to talk to Kerry and/or Pamela but every time I was free, they weren’t. Of course, I was far from the only one there that wanted a bit of their time, and the last thing I needed to do was rudely break into one of their other conversations. Bad first impressions are bad, mmkay? So I bid my time, thinking maybe I’d get a chance after the conference was over. Then Kerry presented and I realized I needed to speak with Pamela, as Kerry said she didn’t represent scifi at all. That was a very important piece of information, since I had a very short window to talk to either of them.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but the conference was almost over when I went downstairs to use the bathroom and saw Pamela sitting alone at the critique table. I was more nervous than I had been in a very long time, but I knew if I didn’t take this chance I might not get another one. So swallowing my butterflies, I asked her if she had a moment to talk. Turned out, she had just finished her last critique. She told me to sit down (I hadn’t even thought of it; I’m amazed I remembered to breathe), and I asked her the question I had planned beforehand to start our conversation (as opposed to “OMGPLEASEPUBLISHMEEEE”):  “How do I market ‘Guts and Glory’?” Considering that it’s science fiction/dystopian/post-apocalyptic/steampunk-like, I truly did need a little help in this area and it was a good, safe subject to start on.

She said what I expected “Well, that’s a lot to take on.” And asked me to describe the plot to her. As I spoke, she seemed very interested… more than I had expected to be honest… and when I was finished she said I should market it as just scifi and let the professional marketers do the rest. Then she asked me if I was finished with the manuscript. I told her it was self-published to build my platform (which she nodded at… apparently I’m not the only one doing this; big surprise), and then… she asked the question every writer wants to hear an editor ask:

“Are you looking for a publisher?”

EEE! I almost threw up. I swear. It was as much as I could do not to scream “YES!” in her face… which wouldn’t have been a good idea (at least, I don’t recommend it). But somehow I was able to hold myself together and say “yes, absolutely” in a pretty normal tone of voice. She took my card and asked me to send her the whole manuscript and remind her in the cover letter about our conversation. I thanked her and floated away on cloud nine. I even almost forgot to use the bathroom!

WHEW!

Now, I am fully aware that this doesn’t mean she has decided to contract me. Not at all. In fact, I know it’s not entirely up to her in the end, and she herself hasn’t even read enough of my work to make a decision. That said, I’m cautiously optimistic right now because this is the first time I have ever been requested to send my work to an editor, and for someone who has been rejected by agents more times than I can count, this is in and of itself a great victory.

Now… to edit The Crows’ Nest based on Kelly’s critique and send it to Pamela. Did I say EEE yet?

EEE!

All this was made possible only by my attending the conference. So yeah, it was everything I wanted, needed and hoped. Worth every bit of stress, work and waiting. I’m telling you, if you’re serious about your writing, go to a conference! Both Pamela and Kerry said they get a large percentage of their clients from conferences. As in 90% +! Also, join a writer’s group. I highly recommend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They are wonderfully supportive, knowledgeable and just an amazing group of children’s literary professionals whom I am proud to be a part of.

I’ll keep you all updated on my progress with Holiday House. This is just the beginning…

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