The write stuff

Next month, I’m going to the Pennwriters’ annual Writing Conference. It’s a fairly big deal, some 450 writers, editors and others, our keynote speaker being Joyce Carol Oates, and agents and editors falling out the cracks to find their Next Big Thing.

Of course, I’ve signed up to pitch an editor, attend the critique sessions for opening pages, and meet and greet at cocktail hour. I’ve decided not to sell my book at the Author Tea and Book Signing–no one really wants to be seen buying a book on divorce. I’m also passing the Published Authors’ luncheon, even though I’m entitled to attend. I want to manage my time well, as there’s a lot of ground to cover. I was accepted (one of only 15) in the special fiction intensive workshop on Thursday, so I expect my head will be reeling with all sorts of advice and new ideas.

This will be my second Pennwriters’ event; I also attended in 2004. I’ve been to a dozen smaller conferences over the years, those mostly focused on writing and publishing from the technical point of view, i.e., how to improve your work. These big conferences, according to their promoters’ hype, are for The Purpose of networking and pitching your manuscript to an agent. Many of the people supposedly in the know jabber on about this raison d’etre at great length, and name-drop and practice their pitches incessantly.

Last time, I bought into the hype, terrified that I would do something “wrong.” I was a Pennwriters newbie and only knew a few people from the northwestern Pennsylvania region. I’m not what you call shy, but I’m just not good at professional schmoozing, unlike several of my blogroll comradettes. (Jane and Daisy, you know who you are.) I practiced my pitch, got in with the agent, who sat back, coolly disinterested, and asked me to send the manuscript to one of her fellow agents in her office. Blown away, I did–and of course got a polite rejection letter in eight weeks.

Since entering the blogosphere, I have done extensive reading on the subject of agents, at the Writer’s Digest site, and others, and what I’ve discovered is that although conferences are the place where most would-be novelists may have their only opportunity to meet an agent or editor face-to-face, that most agents and editors are not using that interface to select manuscripts and clients. Editors are reading blogs. Agents are reading synopses by email, saving time and paper. While networking is always important–you never know what connection will click in the future–the conference pitch is not the be-all and end-all some believe it to be.

So, I’m spending my energy looking over the delicious workshop list, choosing what will be valuable to my development as a writer, and what will refresh my spark. My critique partner Jean and I are traveling and bunking together, so we’ll probably divide and conquer, gathering twice as much information for our time.

I found, last time, I received as much valuable information from nameless writers sitting at the bar or those casually eating boxed lunches, and from speakers who didn’t remotely write the same genre as I, as I did from the so-called “big guys.” I hope I can return the favor for others.

Wayne Dyer says, “Just as we’re all students throughout life, we’re all teachers. In fact, we learn best by offering what we desire for ourselves to as many individuals as we can, as frequently as we can…..Following this line of thinking, it’s imperative that we make deliberate effort to increase our inspirational energy, as this will lead us to being both a spiritual learner and teacher simultaneously.” Here’s hoping that by working together, we free our spirits to express those stories within us.

6 thoughts on “The write stuff

  1. hi, how are you? i really wanted to be a writer. can you give me some tips how to start? do you know a website which give you some basic knowledge? just prefer to learn it from the internet than in the university. are you a rhetorician? thanks ahead. good day!

    Pick up your pen! 🙂 Really, that’s the most important lesson. Start writing. Write a lot, read a lot, and learn from your favorite authors what works, what doesn’t. Read Stephen King’s ON WRITING, or BIRD BY BIRD, or hundreds of others. And –no. I’m not a rhetorician. But thank you for teaching me a new word today!! Good luck with your writing!

  2. Best of luck at the conference – I’m learning a lot about the writing bjusiness just by reading blogs like yours. In fact, the “Parade” magazine this week (yes, high brow reading, I know) listed internet writing/publishing as a growing field, for those who can write/edit AND master the technoglogy. So, I tell myself – and my husband – that I am mastering marketable skills by doing my blog – yeah!

    • I asked my son, 12, what autism means to him. Dylan was diseaongd several years ago with high functioning autism. He gave a very long and passionate response. Among his comments:* Autistic kids may not talk a lot, but they are probably the smartest people in the world.* Just because someone is different, that doesn’t mean you should pick on them.* Some really famous people are/were autistic.What does autism mean to ME, Dylan’s mom? It means I found some answers to a lot of questions. It means I know where to look for information to help me understand the things about my son that very few other people understand. It means I have found a group of incredibly supportive, active people who actually get it and have children who provide the only social group where my son isn’t nervous about fitting in.Sometimes autism means looking at particular autistic behaviors in my son and realizing that some of those behavior exist in all of us, even those of us considered neurotypical. The more I learn about autism, the more I wonder what typical really means.Autism does not define my son any more than it defines any one person. But knowing that he is on that spectrum provides us with some powerful tools to help him navigate his way through life in ways that previous generations never could. Imagine what the future holds as we share knowledge and continue to broaden acceptance!

  3. Hey,
    I stumbled on your blog and hope to see you at the conference.

    Your assessment of what agents and editors are in search of, is absolutely correct. If a writer does make a connection with an agent or an editor at a conference, it is usually done via informal channels, not the formalized pitches. The real value of the pitch sessions is to give you an opportunity to hone what your book is about. It allows you to learn how to succinctly communicate why someone would want to read/buy your book.

    I hope you enjoy this year’s conference. We have a ton of great offerings.

    Lisa D. Kastner
    VP, Pennwriters

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