Thoughts on a Recent Writers’ Conference

I just returned from the University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute conference in Madison, WI over the past weekend. This was my second year attending. I went back for three reasons: First, I got great value for what I spent in time and money.

Second, I vowed to pitch my novel to agents. I felt wasn’t ready to pitch last year, which turned out to be good intuition on my part. After querying about 30 agents early last year, the request rate for partial or full manuscripts was low. I had a few positive responses, but nothing came of those. Deep down I knew my story wasn’t ready, so I went to work on revisions and tightened it up. I’m proud of my work now, and get excited when I talk to people about it. I didn’t have that passion with the previous draft.

I ended up practicing my pitch with two instructors, which was very helpful and well worth the cost. The next day, I pitched to two agents and received a request for 25 pages and a short synopsis. Yay for me! I don’t know if the agent will follow up, but that’s okay. Submissions are rejected most of the time. The repetition brings the results.

The third reason I attended was to do some networking. I’m a Class A Introvert, and making small talk with anyone, even my parents, stresses me out. But in the Internet Age, networking and marketing are fast becoming required skills to achieve monetary success, which, after all, is the overwhelming reason most writers write.

Oh sure, we say we want to leave a legacy, express ourselves, write the story that has infected our minds and won’t stop until we let it out, but bottom line, most writers care about the bottom line. The implied dream is that every book becomes a NY Times bestseller, and soon after that, the movie gets made starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

I’d love that, except my leads will be more along the lines of Nicholas Cage or Matt Damon; and a female such as Robin Wright, Michelle Pfeiffer, or Charlize Theron. My antagonist will have to be Stanley Tucci, and his hit man would be someone like Mickey Rourke or Charles Bronson—only bald (well, maybe that’s not crucial). But I digress.

I did make a quantum leap in my networking efforts this time, thanks to an acquaintance who remembered me from a critique session last fall and got me circulating. I actually introduced myself to strangers, offered to help people with research and practice pitching, got to chatting with a few of the presenters, and collected several business cards and hopefully made some connections that will endure in the business.

So if you’re introverted like me, try introducing yourself to at least one person the next time you attend a conference with networking opportunities. You might surprise yourself. Tell me about a recent conference you’ve been to and what did you do to surprise yourself.

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