“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it."
In yet another step on my writing journey, I attended my first writing conference last weekend. A few weeks ago, I told you I was nervous about attending, but my misgivings were unfounded. The high energy of conference participants, the professional and encouraging presentations, and meeting up with fellow MN-NICE author, KaLyn, made the day not just educational, but enjoyable.
The sessions were packed with so much helpful information that I haven't had a chance to process everything yet. I took over 20 pages of notes, and am looking forward to going back over them in small doses, as they are relevant to my work.
However, I want to tell you about the two sessions I found most helpful. The first was a flurry of impromptu pitch rehearsals offered by editor and publisher Madeline Smoot, before she began her presentation on writing young adult and middle grade fiction. I have read about pitches, and talked to other writers about how to pitch, but it was much more helpful to actually see authors give a pitch. Madeline's feedback was kind and encouraging, but also specific. The brave authors who volunteered helped me see how fun and creative pitches can be, and Madeline's suggestions offered an inside perspective into what agents and editors are looking for.
The second session I found immensely valuable was the Page 1 Critique Fest. Perhaps you have been to a session like this before, but in case you haven't, let me explain. Authors were encouraged to bring several copies of the first page of their manuscript. The facilitator distributed a copy of a page to each of the six literary agents on the panel. Then, our facilitator would read the submission aloud. Each agent would raise their hand at the point they would have stopped reading. Once four hands had gone up, an audience member would call "Four" and the facilitator would stop reading. At this point, each agent detailed why they would have stopped reading.
My stomach dropped every time they passed out pages. I am still not sure whether I was hoping the words read would or wouldn't be mine. Despite the fact my page wasn't selected, the feedback was fascinating. Overall, the agents were looking for energy and adrenaline on the first page. Even if they thought the descriptions were beautiful, they wanted to see action hook the reader first. There is always time to describe later. Also, agents tended to be disappointed if a great first line didn't deliver through the rest of the paragraph or page. Errors in grammar and point of view were distracting, and cliche tropes (new kid in town) and openings (waking up, looking in a mirror, having a dream) didn't hold the agents' attention.
I could probably write an entire series on all the lessons I learned at #mnww, but I have a long list of edits, cuts and revisions to work on. Instead, may I recommend you sign up for a writer's conference near you? Whether it is your first or your fifteenth, I am sure you will learn something you can apply to your work.