Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lessons Learned from My First Writer's Conference - Part 1

To sum up what I learned at the South Carolina Writer's Workshop annual conference would be that this? This business? Of writing? Yeah, it's TOTALLY subjective. What one person might LOVE another person might HATE.

I sat through one particular class called a slush-fest, which basically boils down to a real-time critique of the first 2 pages of your manuscript (or some people chose their query letter and first page of their ms). They collected everyone's submissions as they walked through the door and then placed them up on an overhead projector to rip them to shreds. Or at least, that's what I THOUGHT would happen, seeing as how that's what I had heard happened in those sorts of situations.


Not so with this one. The editor* was totally gracious to her audience, saying mostly what she liked about everyone's work with a small suggestion here or there about what could improve. There was no yelling, no "What were they thinking?", no "Wow, that was awful." None of that. That is, until she got to the very last submission, and guess whose it was?


She read it aloud, as she did the twenty or so before it, and when she got to the end (we were running short on time) she said, "I like the voice, good idea, but THESE BOOKS AREN'T SELLING."

I'm sorry, WHAT? Could you repeat that?

Needless to say, I was a little bit depressed. I didn't have time to ask her if she could expound on the subject, because I was late for a pitch session. Ha. Yeah, I was supposed to go pitch a book that WILL NOT SELL to a literary agent after that. That pitch session did not go well.


My mama raised me to get back on the horse after I've been thrown, and gosh darn it, I did. I marched into my next pitch session (which was literally ten minutes after I bombed the first) and I nailed it. Said exactly what I wanted to say and got a full manuscript request.

*On a side note, I was able to pull that editor aside after dinner to ask her for a little more info (prettyprettyplease) about what she had said earlier. And what I got was a chance to send her some of my pages to get some feedback. Feedback. From an editor. At a huge publishing company. It pays to get back on the horse!!!

What has been your experience? Have some loved your work? Some hated? Do you agree that the industry is subjective?

Come back next Wednesday for Part 2.


  1. this is exactly why I want to go to conferences and congratulations on the request for a full manuscript.
    There are different kinds of people and as a result different opinions all I can hope for is to find a match in literary heaven. Or tweak it till I make a match:)

  2. Yes really, congrats on the requests, that's great.

    I agree this business is totally subjective. Last year while querying, the feedback I received on my requests was so wide and varied, I couldn't revise it even if I wanted to. I had no idea who to listen to.

    Thanks Beth and Good Luck.

  3. Proud of you for not giving up! Way to make the most of that time!!! :O)

  4. Congratulations on the requests. And feedback from and editor is amazing! It sounds like, even with that small part of the conference you told us about (not that pitch sessions are small :D), you learned a lot. I've only been to one conference but it was worth every penny!

  5. As a fellow aspiring writer, I am finding this fascinating! Keep it up Beth!

  6. Sounds like a very successful conference for you, girl. You did your thing and I love that you got back up on that horse. That's the way to go in this business!

    Told you they'd love you!
    ~ Wendy

  7. Oh wow! I needed to read this today! You did awesome going back at it!!!

  8. You go girl! I can imagine it would have been super easy to go crawl in a hole somewhere after hearing that those books arent selling, then bombing (your words, not mine) a pitch session. Good for you for picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting right back up. That's what you have to do in this crazy publishing world. Congrats on a successful conference.

  9. Congrats on the full request!

    And you're right, the business is so subjective! I don't have much experience with conferences, but I've had experience as a member of the editorial board of a magazine. I don't think we ever managed to be unanimous ;-)

    Nice to have found your blog, btw! Will be following! :D

  10. Giddy Up! Yea! Congrats on the full manuscript request at the second pitch and on the editor wanting another look. You are awesome!

    I was sick to my stomach for you when you reached your MS up there on the screen and then said you had to go pitch. EEP! Jeez, that's right out of a comedy script!

    Congrats again!

  11. I was so glad to be right there with you, experiencing those ups and downs in "real-time." :)

  12. It is SO subjective!! I pitched my new novel to two editors at the ACFW conference. One said it might be a tricky sell because my main character is a model, which is hard to relate to - she was much more interested in my previous two books. The other LOVED the idea of my new one and wanted to see more, but wasn't interested in my previous two books. So subjective!

  13. Yippee! That's great and your first conference! Yay!

  14. Your mama taught you well!! So good to hear about your weekend. Sounds like it was really profitable for you. Aren't conferences the greatest?

    Kudos to you, Beth!

  15. I love that story...the long version. I'd just heard the short of it. I wonder why wine books aren't selling.

  16. That is absolutely wonderful. Congratulations. And thank you for sharing; that was very helpful.

  17. How silly, to say that certain books don't sell. If it is well written it will always get an audience. Hugs...

  18. So proud of you!! Go get em Beffy!!