Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Is a writing conference something to mention in a query?

I'm planning on attending the Big Sur writing workshop, and (as with anything) have been digging online to see the pros and cons. If I were to query the project I bring to Big Sur, (1) should I mention the event to agents? (2) Would they even care? (3) Do you have any tips for events like this?

(1) No
(2) No
(3) I have opinions on EVERYTHING!

But let's dig in

(1 and 2) 
Attending a writing conference is often a very good use of your resources, both time and money. But it's like many other aspects of becoming a published writer in that it's not something agents consider when they have your query in hand. The first thing they're looking for is "can I sell this?" and second "is this someone I want to work with?"

That you attended any writing conference doesn't really contribute to either of those questions.

The exception is a writing workshop that is application based. Clarion is the best known example. Lots of people want to attend, few are chosen. If you've been selected for Clarion, that's worth mentioning.

(3) Attending a writing conference can do a lot of things for you including getting time with an editor or an agent, and meeting other writers. You'll pick up some good ideas and tips at the panels and workshops and maybe get a chance to ask a question.

If you get time with an editor or agent, bring your written query and ask for feedback. Don't pitch. Ask for help.

Then pay attention to what you hear.
I've had more than one author shut down in cold silence (ie this agent is an idiot but I'm not going to tell her) when I've mentioned their work isn't immediately submitable.  When do I get that most often? Word count. For some reason, people who write 250Kword novels all think they are GRRM.

When you go to a panel or workshop, sit in front.
You're more likely to get "picked on" which is GREAT for you cause you're the demo, and it's much more likely the presenter will remember you.

Take notes.
Get the handouts.
Take photos of the slides with your phone.

If the slide is the answer, make sure you note the questions:

SLIDE answer: 120K
Presenter's question: what's the max word count on debut SF novels given you are not GRRM?


Alyssa R said...

Thank you so much for this! I'm going to my first conference next month, and if not for this advice I'd probably just hide in the crowd the entire time. Now, I might be able to work up the courage to actually talk to people! :) We'll see.

(I'm very glad my novel never reached 250k!)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So I actually have a tangent question, one that is niggling me. I am actively querying (which is probably why I feel so nauseous today).

I pitched to the next agent on my list back in 2017 at the Writer's Digest Conference.

OP, even if attending is not worth a mention in a query, it is so worth doing.

Anyhow, this agent who adored my pitch made a full request at the conference. Great. Well, sort of. This was for the book I started querying yesterday (please note it is 2020). I did tell him at the time it was not finished. I had delusions of grandeur and thought the book would be ready in early 2018 (I am so funny).

I was wrong. So I am going to get back in line and just query this agent following the guidelines on the agency's website. This agent has also moved agencies since that conference (not sure that is relevant information.)

Should I mention in the query to this agent that they requested a full at WDC in 2017? Or does that me look like a terrible slacker? I have put off querying this agent because I am not sure what to do in this situation.

I also engage with this agent on twitter - they are kind and answer my questions regarding publishing all the time. Should I ask them via twitter? That seems wrong to me for some reason in that I am not sure I want to air my slowness in a public forum. Please help.

Mister Furkles said...

Is GRRM George Martin?

Also, two hundred fifty thousand novels is a lot of novels. My fingers ache as I think of all that typing.

Janet Reid said...

Thank you Mister Furkles for noting the missing word in that line!

And EM Goldsmith yes, you do mention the 2017 request. One thing we know: good writing takes a while to fully cook.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thank you, Janet. I can now finish that query letter with less hyperventilating.

Katja said...

My first novel was 269K after the first draft and I didn't even know it was just a first draft. It is now 99,727 words, after about 10 drafts.

I wish I was going to a writing conference, too. I've never experienced one.
But this week I can't even get to my writing group in town. Half the town is under water, we're kind of drowning in the floods - lots of buildings under water; I've only seen things like this on TV before.
You might not even get a pint of milk today cause your local shop couldn't receive a delivery.
So weird!

Android Astronomer said...

The first query I ever sent out was to an agent whose guidelines specified that queriers mention what their mothers think of their novels.

I never heard back.

I remain convinced to this day that the agent put that guideline in place to help her weed out the stupid queriers (like me) who believed that agents cared about what aspiring novelists' parents put on their refrigerators because they were just so proud.

A shrewd bunch, these agents, let me tell ya. (At least that's what I tell myself so I don't feel so dumb.)

"Can I sell it? Do I want to work with this person?" - That pretty much covers everything there is to it. Thanks, Janet.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

so I'd never heard of it and googled it, and it would seem that the Big Sur Writing Workshop is a writing workshop, run by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. "for picture books through young adult books." So I guess it might be query-relevant?

Versus my trips to Robercon, which is a tiny two-day con at a museum down the road from me in Binghamton and that I would not mention, unless I met the agent that I was querying at that event. Or unless I was writing a cover letter to an editor I met there, who was editing an anthology I was submitting to (Which I did.)

AJ Blythe said...

Mister Furkles, thank you for clarifying GRRM. I've not watched nor read any GoT, so didn't make the connection and was wondering what I'd missed.

Jennifer, I think (and correct me if I'm off the mark, Janet), that Janet means writing workshops where there is a selection process.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

AJ that probably is what Janet means, which makes sense!

The Big Sur Writing Workshop does seem to have a selection process: "These workshops are designed for writers whose works are nearly ready for publication. Therefore, to be accepted for a workshop, we require advance submission of a sample of your writing. Hands-on editorial work is the focus of these workshops, and there are break out sessions on various important aspects of the publishing industry." (from the site I linked)