Authors write in a vacuum, with very little input on their progress until they are ready to submit their manuscript to agents. They go from being the sole inhabitant of their lonely universe to one of the teeming masses of aspirants seeking the representation of an agent. The likelihood of capturing the attention of said agents, let alone surviving the piles of submissions they wade through on a daily basis, is excruciatingly low. So how, then, is an author to proceed?
The answers, in my opinion, are to submit manuscripts to competitions and to attend Writer’s Conferences. If you can accomplish both at the same time, you have a bonus. There are many competitions and conferences to choose from across the country. The competitions will give authors some much needed feedback on their writing and conferences provide the fledgling author with opportunities to meet and pitch agents. They also provide the invaluable connections with others swimming up the same busy stream.
Writer’s Conferences are packed with classes, usually with specific tracks, to accommodate the writers in their journey, wherever they may be in the process. There are tracks on the essentials of writing; how to craft a plot, creating characters your audiences will love, etc. There is usually a track for those seeking an agent and traditional publishing contract, with classes and panels similar to: meet the agents, how to land an agent, crafting the perfect pitch and more. The final, and usually most popular track, is the one dedicated to authors seeking a non-traditional publishing route. This can include anything from self-publishing to signing with a smaller house. These classes are largely about marketing and publicity. Classes like: how to approach independent bookstores, creating a website, Twitter for Dummies, creating a platform, and the like.
My conference of choice has always been the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. It is the largest on the west coast and boasts a huge number of agents, speakers and attendees. You never know who you are going to meet or where that meeting will take you. This conference also offers writing competitions that often involves meetings with agents or editors as part of their award. The San Francisco Writer’s Conference is hugely popular, in large part, because it offers Speed Dating with Agents. They attract representatives from some of the biggest publishing houses and imprints in addition to offering several opportunities to meet with editors. While the thought of speed dating with agents and meeting with editors is exciting, it is also often a source of terror for the first-time attendee.
Getting up the nerve to pitch an agent with a manuscript or submitting to a competition are both daunting. Many of us struggle with some semblance of the fear; what if I suck? However, the old adage, nothing ventured, nothing gained is true. Both will give the author an opportunity to showcase their skills and charm both reviewers and agents. I had the good fortune to have won first place in the writing competition at my first conference, opening doors to top-notch agents like Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary and Michael Larsen of Larson-Pomada Literary Agents. Although I ultimately signed with independent press Not A Pipe Publishing for a variety of reasons, being able to hold my own in such esteemed company was a huge burst of confidence for me. That confidence, and the knowledge that I really didn’t suck, has propelled me forward in my writing career and I haven’t looked back. I encourage you to do the same!