Even though I've been writing for years and dreaming of having books published, before 2015, I had never gone to a writers' conference. But last year, I changed all that, and it really changed everything.
Because it was my first conference, I decided to start small and to start local. The ANWA writer's conference was the best option, especially since it was right here in Mesa, Arizona. In fact, it was only 5 minutes from my house.
But, really, the main reason I decided to pull the trigger is because Brandon Mull, one of my favorite authors, was the keynote speaker. That was all I needed to see before I demanded they take my money.
The 2 1/2 day conference had a variety of classes and workshops. Let's just say I was in heaven. My favorites were, of course, Brandon's Mull's classes and John Rudolph's "How to Get Out of the Slush Pile." Rudolph is an agent out of New York, and he gave fantastic insight on how to customize and personalize a query letter. I can't say query letters are a strength, but from his class alone, I have improved dramatically.
I'm not an overtly social person, and it was amusing that I was in a giant room with a ton of people who were just like me. But I found that socializing and participating in small-talk had never been so easy as it was talking with fellow writers about writing. I was 100% comfortable and confident going to classes and participating in workshops that included sharing my own writing.
The Pitch Session
The older I get, the more of a pull I feel toward getting my books published. I have to keep reminding myself that I will never get there unless I put myself out there. With that in mind, I signed up for a pitch session with a real literary agent. I have never pitched my work before, and I was so nervous about it that I was even asked if I was going to pass out while I waited for my turn.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I tried to research online about what to expect, but I couldn't find much. I prepared a tiny pitch, just a little taste of what my novel involved. I practiced it until I had it memorized, and the rest of the time I focused on breathing and not throwing up all over the floor.
I got in there, and he was perfectly polite and professional. I just wished I could breathe while I spoke. It sounded like I had just worked out, and let's not even talk about the heat coming off of my face. I just hope that he didn't feel it.
I got through my short pitch, and then we both sat there in silence. He finally asked me to continue. I silently cursed myself because I hadn't even prepared myself to talk about the rest of my book. As I continued awkwardly, I felt that I wasn't explaining myself well at all. He asked a lot of clarifying questions, but in the end, he asked for me to send him my full manuscript to review.
In that moment, happiness and relief washed over me. I couldn't believe it. All the tension, heat from my face, and nerves that were upsetting my stomach went away. I felt nothing but joy and excitement.
I could hardly pay attention to the rest of the conference that day. All I could think about was how awesome it would be if he loved my manuscript and became my agent. That same weekend, I sent him my full manuscript, and then I waited.
And waited a little bit more.
I followed up a few times, and then I finally got a response a few months later. It was a no-thank-you, and I was devastated. It was the furthest I had ever gotten in the process, and it killed me knowing I'd have to start all over again, at the very bottom of the slush pile.
The Overall Experience
I loved every minute of the writers' conference. I left feeling inspired and I left knowing this - writing - was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Everyone was incredibly nice and helpful, and I didn't regret a single moment of the time I gave to attend.
I'm sad ANWA pushed the 2016 conference to September instead of keeping it in February, but I'm already planning on attending, and this time, I'm going to sign up for pitch sessions with all the agents who represent my genre. Go big or go home unpublished, right? You can learn more about the upcoming conference here: http://anwa-lds.org/events/conference
It took me about 8 months to start sending out queries to agents again. Looking back, I wish it wouldn't have taken me so long to get back to it. Because now I feel like I could've been 8 months ahead of where I am now, and that could've made all the difference.
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.