Friday, August 27, 2010

Chapter Nine: State and Regional Conferences

During lunch a few months ago with Nancy Sales Cash, published novelist and friend in North Carolina, we talked about the importance of attending state and regional writers' conferences. We're both members of the North Carolina Writers Network and, in fact, we met at an NCNW conference several years ago. We've kept in touch and get together when I'm in NC. Not only do Nancy and I share our mountain heritage and love of writing but we both had the unique experience of living in Australia.

Agents and publishers like writers who join state and regional writing groups and attend conferences. Writers who invest time and expense improving their skills and learning about the publishing business show they're committed to writing - a major step beyond the folks who talk about writing but never get around to putting anything on paper. Being active in the writing community is a big plus.

Writing conferences offer a variety of services for writers. Workshops, catering to the needs of different kinds of writers, continue throughout the conference. Attendees make workshop choices at the time of registration. My most helpful workshop was about using details in writing. The suggestions of the instructor stuck in my head and influence many of the word choices in my work. My least favorite workshops were those in which the instructor threw out a topic for a short paragraph to be written in a few minutes. Since I write deliberately and edit things into the ground, this hurry-up stuff made me edgy. It doesn't suit me and I wouldn't do it again.

Before the conference began, I submitted a few pages to a literary agent for a manuscript critique. Then I had a brief one-on-one meeting with her during which she gave me suggestions for improvements and submission. A similar service, speed-pitching, gives writers a few minutes to present something like a verbal query to a literary agent. I went to a preparation workshop for speed-pitching but I'm not sure I'd be good at it.

I think I got more out of meeting and networking with other writers than anything else at the conference. Talking to so many talented and enthusiastic writers about their work, the dreaded query letter, and publishing was a great experience.

I went to this conference without knowing anyone or even much about how it worked. Unknowingly but very lucky for me, the first person I approached was Glenda Beall, Netwest Coordinator at the time. Netwest is the western division of the NCNW and covers the mountain area of the state where I grew up. Hooking up with this group made the conference so much better. I met a lot of people and made several friends - not bad for a weekend.

By all means, if you go to a conference, start meeting people the minute you arrive. Take business cards to pass out and ask new acquaintances for their cards.

Let's get published!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Eight: Record of Queries

During my research for ideas to make my query letter more intriguing, I've come across a few interesting bits of information. I can't vouch for their accuracy but they make sense so I'm passing them along.

One point is that almost everybody wants to write a novel and talks about it every chance they get. I'm definitely inclined to agree with this observation because it seems every time I mention to someone I'm a writer, I immediately hear a story about how that person's always thought about writing a book. An acquaintance of mine talked for years about writing a children's book. I suggested, half-joking and half-tired of hearing her talk about it, that she type the words "Once upon a time..." into her computer. Then she would have something to add on to, revise, and edit. Of course, those four words never got put down on a page and her book never got beyond the talking stage. According to one of the online sites I visited, only 2% of talkers actually finish a novel. So, I'm pleased that I've done what 98% of wanna-be writers don't do - I finished a manuscript. Congratulate yourself if you're in that elite 2% who started out with an idea, a couple of words, and persevered.

The other bit of information I came across is really worth considering as I go through the process of querying agents. Taking into account all the reasons agents reject query letters, one online source suggested sending out at least 50 queries - and 100-150 queries if I can find that many agents who work in my genre. I've always wondered how many queries are enough so this puts a number on it. Finally, I know. Since I prefer "overkill" in pretty much everything I do, sending out the max number definitely appeals to me!

Looking at this level of querying as a major bookkeeping issue, I have a plan for keeping records of info about agents I'm contacting. Searching for 100-150 agents is going to take a while so I'm sending out my e-queries in batches of 15-20. Being careful about whether I'm addressing Ms. or Mr. correctly and double-checking the name spellings take time too. Every site says to get the name right - apparently agents don't like their gender or names garbled. For that matter, neither do I.

I'm making a simple chart - nothing fancy - to help me organize all the info generated by my query process. My columns have the following info:

*Agent's full name and date e-query submitted
*Agency name
*Agent's response and date - form rejection, personal note, request for more material (the ideal response!)
*If requested by agent, date and description of material sent (# of pages, chapters, outline, synopsis, or full manuscript
*Agent's response to the material and date - rejection, request for more material, or that coveted offer of representation!

I can't tell you what a time-saver it is to have all this info handy. I'm using multiple online agent directories so I'll need to be able to check quickly if I've already queried an agent since some agents appear on all the lists.

Last time I sent out queries, I did so in several batches and kept "batch lists" - big mistake - the responses came back in random order so I had to check several lists to find a particular agent. I should've made a master list and arranged the names in alphabetical order.

On a more personal note, my nineteen year old daughter and I are leaving Saturday for a trip to Helsinki, Finland and Tallin, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. Our primary destinations are the Hermitage Museum and the palaces of Catherine and Peter. I'll be living my favorite quote - "The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page." I'm expecting quite a few pages out of this trip...

Just so you know, I'm taking a copy of my query letter in case I have a flash of inspiration on the plane! As always, I'll have a legal pad handy for notes and ideas sparked by new sights.

Let's get published!