A bevy of writers descended upon to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the center of Austin this past weekend to attend the 2011 Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference, and I was one of them.
Only just, mind. A good friend and fellow writer had been badgering me to go for months, pushing me to do something about the fantasy novel of mine that has been languishing in a Heisenbergesque “almost done” state for longer than I care to admit. I managed to studiously ignore his entreaties until the weekend before the conference, when the wily folks at the Writers’ League ensnared me by appealing to the inner Yorkshireman in me (see Wikipedia for the reason why Yorkshire Pudding was invented), by offering up a 20% discount.
Thus it was I found myself walking into the Hyatt Regency Hotel a little before 4pm on Friday afternoon, bringing with me a memorized two sentence pitch and a 250 word written synopsis for my first novel. That was when I realized my mistake. Since I had signed up so late for the conference, an agent consultation was not included in the price, and they were no longer offering them via the website. I had read that some slots might be available upon arrival but, of course, they had already been snapped up soon after registration had opened, a couple of hours earlier. The same went for all the editor consultations and the keynote lunch. First lesson of the weekend–get there early if you want to sign up for conference add-ons.
Ah well, not to worry. I was assured that agents would be available for informal chats throughout the weekend, though one fellow writer who had attended last years’ conference advised me to get my pitches in early since by the end of the weekend the agents are somewhat punch-drunk from the number of pitches they’ve had listened to.
And that opportunity soon arose as the conference got underway with the Welcome Reception Cocktail Party. Now, if there is any social setting that fills me with apprehension, it’s having to schmooze a large gathering of people, none of whom I know. Add on to that the prospect of pitching my novel to an assortment of agents for the first time in that setting, and it felt more like my first day of infant school (that’s kindergarten to you Americans) again.
As it turned out, the schmoozing part was a doddle. I quickly realized that virtually everyone in the room was in the same boat–from the show of hands in the first formal session on Saturday, I would estimate that at least three-quarters of the writers there were attending their first WLT Agents’ Conference–and that the other writers were more than happy to introduce themselves and exchange views and experiences with me. As for pitching, well, let’s just say that I found myself woefully unprepared. It didn’t help that there wasn’t an agent present (that I saw) who had an interest in adult fantasy, but I certainly didn’t help myself when my carefully memorized two sentence pitch came out as though it had been passed through a meat grinder… twice.
Still, the evening certainly wasn’t a complete loss–I met a lot of interesting people, and I did get one bite from an agent, though unfortunately it was for a young adult fantasy novel I haven’t even started yet. At least now I know what my next writing project is going to be!
I also spent some time talking to the owner of a web development company that builds websites for authors. Later, after the reception was over, I realized that during that particular conversation I was far more confident in selling my skills as an experience software developer than I was selling my book.
That might seem like a trivial observation since I’ve been a programmer my whole career, but I have been living with my novel for several years and–obviously–know it intimately, inside and out. Yet when it came to pitching it I was all at sea. Why was that? I can only conclude that the business of writing is very different from the business of selling your writing. Knowing your book just isn’t enough. Knowing how to sell your book is the key, and the second lesson I learned over the weekend was that I still have a long way to go in that regard.
But then, what better way is there to learn the art of selling your writing than attending a conference on that very subject, right?