Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Recap of Willamette Writer’s Conference 2007

[Back story]

First off, when I moved to Organ, I looked up the local writer’s group. This stemmed from the fact that I had done that a few years too late right before I left Ohio. The only Ohio writers meeting I went to was a discussion of “Bird by bird,” a book on writing that a lot of people had read. The moderator was completely taken over by the crazy published author in the room who spent the whole time trying to “blow our minds” with his offhand comments and observations. The other lady in the room just wanted to talk about the book she was writing and I; I was just geeked up to be among people who agreed that everyone has an idea for a story – it’s the putting it down on paper that’s the hard part.

But I digress…

The 38th Annual Willamette Writer’s Conference was held Aug 3-5 this year. I registered for just one day at the second tier of pricing (not the most expensive and not the least) and it was $225. I do think it was a good investment.

Things started off with me picking up my badge on Thursday. Little did I realize some of the best stuff was offered for free this night! I had looked through the nice brochure they had made and picked out three editors / agents to pitch stories to. That is one of the main purposes of this conference – to learn about and practice your pitching. I had chose to pitch in a group setting and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I just knew I wasn’t sure enough of myself or my stories to be locked in a room for 10 minutes and asked to sell my book to some stranger from the industry!

I had looked up a few resources online to find out what pitching was and how to do it. Mostly you break your story down into tiny parts and expand. Start with explaining your story in two sentences. Note the genre, main character, world, goal and flaw. Then mention he hook. It’s okay to say “its ____ meets ___” – “its Gladiator set on Mars.” Don’t say you’re the next Harry Potter, but you can compare your character to him. The next step is to expand and tell the “trailer” – 5 minutes as if you were telling your friend about a great story.

Back to Thursday night – so, I got my badge. On he back they write who your pitches are with and when. You just hope that they are opposite from the sessions you want to attend (sessions being panels put on by authors – I attended one about Fantasy After Harry Potter and another on Breaking Into the Children’s Magazine Market.) Then, there was an “authors fair” – where all the panelists and guests sit in the room wanting to sell their books and awkwardly make small-talk until you ask them to sign the sheet you have in your hand that you turn in at the end to try to win a laptop. That was probably the most cumbersome part of the whole experience, but it did force me to talk to people, and I meet a lady very early on who gave me some good tips on how to learn to speak your pitch (she asked me if I was a writer, I said yes, she asked me what I was pitching and after I stumbled my way through an explanations, she told me I should get it down to 2 sentences.)

Then I went into the “Pitch to the Pros” session. The room was packed and three editors and agents sat on a stage at the front. People would throw them pitches and they would rip them apart. It was great! They gave tips like “why should I care?” “why are you the right person to write this?” (in other words, stuff you would put in a press release.) “Convince me your story is one people will spend money on.” “I want to feel your passion and love for your story.”

One poor sop got up and started with “My story doesn’t have a genre.” And the pros shot back, “is it fiction, non-fiction, comic, drama?” You have a genre – you have to tell the people where to put it in the bookstore! They are not making a new shelf just for your book!

There were two really good pitches (out of 25+!) One was “It’s’Left Behind’ in reverse. The Rapture happens, but it’s all a government creation.” Another lady who was a rocket scientist and engineer told about her lady detective who has to solve a computer crime that will cause all cars with antilock-breaks to crash if she doesn’t figure it out.

The rest of the conference was good. The Life After Harry Potter panel was okay – just fun to be among other children’s fantasy writers. Also, a point was made that because of HP, not people understand what young adult books are. The magazine panel was good too – told me most of what I already knew which was it’s a lot of damn work for not a lot of money.

The pitchings were interesting (my new favorite word, by the way. As descriptive as “unique”.) The first was with the fantasy editor from TOR. I pitched my Ambrosia story -and she sounded interested (in my two-sentence explanation which went something like “Fifteen-year-old Emma wants nothing more than to escape reality for many of the same reasons other lonely, awkward teenagers do. When one night she confronts a demon in a cow pasture and ends up riding a giant dog up a beam of moonlight, she finds she is completely and utterly unprepared for her trip to the other side of the rainbow. Emma possesses an oracle sacred to the people of Ambrosia, and must find who is stealing magic from the land. When she finally finds the thief, she is horrified to find she actually sides with the villain.” The editor said that she would point me towards the YA editor if I wanted to send something.

Mermaid Money was pitched to the Andrea Brown Agency, to Ms. Brown herself. I was told to remove all poetry and cut it down to around 1000 words (1,300 words is too long for a traditional picture book.) Also, word to the wise, no agent or editor buys illustrated books,. They buy manuscripts and hire an illustrator. The book I have is already illustrated so my best option is a small press (which doesn’t usually do picture books since they are too expensive) or self publishing. My pitch went something like, “Pippin Peck, the young heroine of Mermaid Money, uses a little pluck and a lot of luck to escape a seemingly endless series of life threatening events. After fleeing a ghost and stowing away aboard a pirate ship, Pippin finds herself about to be turned into a jellyfish unless she can convince a merman of her worth.”

Finally, I realized that there is a huge call for “chick lit” – fun quick reads that are usually romantic and mystery oriented. I have the idea for a series of books about a lady zoo detective which just might get to see the light of day.

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