Yes, it is finally here: the tales from the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.
One of the reasons why it took me so long to write this post is that I have been looking for an angle. Don’t get me wrong: the conference went super well and I’m not above the occasionnal bragging, but I wanted this post to actually bring you something.
So instead of name dropping and forcing you to be happy for me, I want to focus on the factors that played into what I consider to be a personal success.
Onward with the advice!
Go to a Conference
It might seem silly of me to write this, but if you are serious about writing, find a way to attend a conference. Pick one that is close to your home, volunteer instead of paying the entrance fee, put money aside over several years if you have to. I don’t care how you do it, I don’t care how shy you are: just go!
Obviously, there’s a lot to learn from the talks. It’s also a great occasion to network with a bunch of like-minded people.
But here is a little secret I heard from several agents I met at SiWC: a writer attending a conference looks more serious about his/her career. Dedicated, even. Because it is harder than sending a query by email, showing up at a conference puts you instantaneously on top of the slush pile (may be out of it altogether!).
Also, the agents showing up at a conference are actively looking for clients.
Last point, contrary to a query, a live pitch gives the agent an occasion to ask you questions if they’re not sure about the project. It gives you a chance to realize what interests them and what you should have really mentionned in your pitch. You can course-correct on the spot and adapt for the next one.
So it’s not just more forgiving way to pitch, it’s also a good way to learn how to rewrite your query.
I just dropped “live pitches” and “more forgiving” together in the same paragraph, and that sounds completely false to a whole bunch of people. I pitch video games for a living so that part didn’t worry me much because I know how to tackle it.
To prepare for a pitch, I:
- Find a line that creates sparks. For Oil and Boiling Water, it’s “The Three Musketeers meet Pirates of the Carribean.” For Killing Time OST, it’s “Lorelei times her murders on a soundtrack played by the music chip in her head.” Anything that brings up more questions than it answers, and that is easy to remember.
- List the points I want to hit. Genre, theme(s), target audience, similar stories/writers/voices, main plot points, etc.
- Think about other questions that may arise but that I don’t feel I have to talk about. I have answers ready, just in case.
DO NOT OVER-PREPARE.
Personally, I don’t write down the pitch so I won’t be tempted to learn it and then recite it. There are three reasons for that. First, with the nerves, there are chances I’ll get lost in the recital, stumble and not be able to finish in a coherent/elegant fashion because I’ll try to remember what I had planned. Second, reciting a text sounds robotic. Third, it turns my concentration toward the inside of my head instead of toward my interlocutor whose reaction to what I’m saying can provide priceless information on how to handle the rest of my pitch.
The agents/editors are people like you and me. Ask yourself how you would prefer spending your day: listening to a bunch of people stiffly reciting the pitch they memorized or engaging in passionate conversations about stories?
You know your story. You can prepare yourself by summing it up in a couple of high points. Then, just let the conversation flow.
The fact that I have blue hair made me easily recognizable. People would hear about me (either through the SiWC “good news” announcement or by talking to people who met me) and then know who I was if I happened to walk by. From “you’re the girl from Quebec!” to “you wrote that steampunk/pirate story, right?”, word traveled and gave strangers tools to start a conversation with me.
“Strangers” included some of the agents.
And agents also talk among themselves so part of my pitch reached their ears before I reached their pitch table.
I’m not saying that you need blue hair.
What I’m saying is that you should find something that people you’ll meet can associate with you. The girl with the Maleficent t-shirt: I can’t remember her name but she wore a different Malificent t-shirt the two days I saw her at SiWC. Anything that is a wearable and appropriate “conversation piece” works from jewelry to nail art.
I’ll close with a list of the highlights of my conference because, as I’ve said before, I’m not above a little bragging, and I know some of you really want to know. But you have to remember that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t shown, if I hadn’t been prepared, and if being easily identifiable hadn’t created momentum.
And all this may never amount to anything but awesome memories.
Anyway, without further ado and besides the whole lot of interesting talks, the highlights of my first conference:
- Talked about traveling and couch surfing with Robert J. Sawyer. Four hours into the conference.
- Had a script critiqued by Jane Espenson. She giggled at the first joke!
- Met with agents Nephele Tempest, Laura Bradford, Vickie Motter, Michael Carr, April Aberhardt and Donald Maass, and senior editor Claire Eddy. They either requested partials, fulls or referred me to other agents.
- Discussed video games with Boyd Morrison during lunch. He used to work at Microsoft.
- Had a couple of drinks with Luke Ryan, consultant for TV and film production from Hollywood. We’re facing the same challenges regarding transmedia, but from different sides!
- Sat with Sam Sykes for a critique of Oil and Boiling Water. He apologized for not having any comment, which I only gave me a huge confidence boost.
- Chatted about computers and other stuff with Diana Gabaldon. Sam Sykes introduced us saying I was one to watch out for.
- Laughed, met awesome attendees and volunteers and a whole bunch of other great memories.
So, signed up for a conference yet?