Day two of the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference dawned early and got underway in earnest with a warm welcome from the WLT Executive Director Cyndi Hughes, and then the first panel session of the day, the Taco Tweetup Q&A.

I must say at this point that the breakfast tacos were excellent, and made me regret not having much of an appetite for cooked food at 8:30am in the morning. Ah well.

The Tweetup portion of the Taco Tweetup involved attendees tweeting their questions tagged with the #WLTcon hash tag, and having a selection of them read out to be answered by an illustrious panel of agents. While  much of the Q&A was very interesting, I did feel that they spent a little too much time discussing social networking–extolling the virtues of Facebook and Twitter as the means to forming relationships within the publishing industry and publicizing your own work. I have absolutely no doubt as to the importance of these things, and perhaps it’s because my background is in the computer industry, but I just felt that they devoted more than its fair share of the session to the nuts and bolts of social networking.

After a quick coffee break, the rest of the morning was given over to break out sessions and consultations, if you had one (not I). Given there were six breakout session tracks to choose from, three of which I was especially interested in, it was hard to choose between them. In the end, since I am interested in writing a middle-grade fantasy novel, I plumped for Kid Lit: One Sizzling Market, featuring literary agent Laura Rennert and a couple of published children’s authors whose names, I’m ashamed to say, escape me.

It was a very interesting session, with lots of useful and intelligent questions posed by the WLT host before questions were opened to the floor. The difference between writing for the “young adult” market and the “middle grade” market (a term I had just learned hours before) were explored, as well as the difficulty of catching a trend, and how to go about selling your children’s book once you have written it. Given the number of covers she propped up on the table in front of her, Laura has had plenty of experience in “kid lit” and it was a very education experience for a complete rookie like me. The two children’s authors on the panel also talked about the whole process of being published from their perspective, and what to expect should you be lucky enough to be picked up by an agent.

Then it was time for lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a ticket for the Keynote, but I had a good time having lunch with several other writers attending the conference. We talked about our books, our experiences with agents, and exchanged views and opinions on writing and the business of selling our writing.

After lunch, there were more breakout sessions on offer. First up, I attended the popular  Sum It Up: Writing a Killer Synopsis, led by Amy Burkhardt, where we learned the dos and don’ts of writing a synopsis for your novel. This was the only session I went to that was more of a class than a discussion, and while the information was useful, and Amy was clearly very knowledgeable, it didn’t have quite the same immediacy or impact as the others sessions I attended.

Next it was on to standing room only Next Steps: Preparing Submissions for Agents with Amy Burkhardt, Susanna Einstein, and Jim McCarthy on the panel. Again, the WLT host asked a lot of excellent questions which covered most of the major issues, and solicited plenty of good information about getting your house in order before submitting from the panelists. One specific work item I took away from this session what that I’m going to have to lop some pages of the beginning of my novel. Apparently, Jim McCarthy has read enough submissions that begin with characters waking up to last a lifetime, and I’ll give you one guess as to what happens at the beginning of my novel. Yep — and not just one character, but five of them! Yikes!

The final breakout session of the day for me was Being a Kid Again: Writing Believable Fiction for Younger Audiences with panelists Amy Burkhardt, Victoria Marini, and another children’s author I cannot recall the name of (sorry). Again, the WLT host led the way with questions, though this time (and it was the only time during the weekend) I think she went on too long without opening the questions to the floor. That might have been as a result of the session being lightly attended, but by the time she had finished posing the questions there was little time left for others to ask theirs. However, there was some useful information about pitching the novel to the right age group (the protagonists should be about 1-3 years older than the target age group), more discussion of trends and why it might be futile to chase them, the recommendation to read, read, and read some more of books in the same genre and aimed at the same age group that you are writing for, and a discussion on how to write believable dialog between child characters (hint: don’t go overboard with the slang).

I asked a question about something that was concerning me. My novel would be set in England and have English children as the protagonists. Would that be a problem when trying to sell the book in the American market? The answer was a categorical “No”, which is a relief since having never been an American kid, I doubt I would have been able to pull off a novel set in the States and starring American children.

The last event of the day was the general session called First Pitch. This was a fun session–for most people anyway. A panel of agents (nicely lubricated it would seem!) listened to a succession of written pitches that had been submitted by the attendees as they were drawn, at random, from a box. They then had to make a snap judgement about each one and explain why the pitch either did or didn’t work for them. It was very interesting (and more than a little intimidating) to see just how quickly the agents could make up their mind about a pitch. I guess since they sometimes have to read dozens of these a day, it’s not surprising that they can identify the flaws so quickly. But it was a very instructive session overall, and though some of the critiques were pointed (which probably left their writers a little sore), they were always constructive and should help the writers who attended get their own pitches sharpened up, ready for submission.

Phew! That was it for the day.A long day, for sure, but a very instructive one overall, at least it was for me.

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