(My daughter Delaney and I)
After a full year's worth of work, the 2008 Northern Colorado Writers Conference finally happened. Overall, I was really pleased with the whole event. I already have big plans for next year. This year is the first year I brought in agents and editors for pitch sessions:Kristin Nelson, Rachelle Gardner, Jessica Regel, Matthew Davis, Faith Marcvecchio and Chuck Sambuchino.
I had some time to spend with them away from the hustle and bustle of the conference and I learned a tremendous amount of valuable information.I will highlight some of the points they brought up.
They are all looking for writing that has a strong voice. Just like our speaking voice, our writing voice should distinguish us from others. Think about Stephen King, Maya Angelou and Dave Barry. Do you think you would be able to tell identify their work, even if their name was not on it? Of course-they each have a definitive voice. That is what you want. You want your voice, not someone else's to shine through in all your writing.
If you are pitching to an agent/editor at a conference, you need to do your homework. Find out the types of books they each represent and don't waste their time pitching to them if you know your project isn't a good fit. Just like you are hoping to find an agent or editor, they are their to get clients. If you are pitching a non-fiction book, you should have the book proposal and at 3 chapters complete so if they ask you to send it, you are ready to go. If you are pitching fiction, your book needs to be complete before you pitch. To quote Kristin Nelson,
"Writers with “ideas” for a great novel are a dime a dozen. It’s that one in a hundred writer who actually has the perseverance and stamina to sit down and write the entire thing (which is a huge achievement all in itself since the majority of aspiring writers never even make it that far)."
Start with the Action
One of the things that came across crystal clear in the "Agents Reads the Slush Pile," the query letter read and critique and from talking with the agents/editors is that the hook is so important. For novels, it needs to open with some action. Developing the characters for the first few pages, is not going to catch the attention of anyone. For query letters-same basic idea-start with a hook. Catch the editors/agents attention right off the bat.
As writers, it is difficult for us to let go of parts of our writing, but the truth is, if a paragraph, page, even a chapter, does nothing to move the story along, then it needs to be taken out-no matter how well it is written.
Believe it or not, the agents/editors do care how you look. I am not talking about whether or not you have blond hair, smooth skin, bleached white smile--not that--I am talking about how you dress. One agent was telling me that she wished writers would dress more professional. She didn't want to see business suits, but she wanted to see clean cut, professional attire. For her, that set the tone--it let her know that you understand that this is a business and that your are serious about being a professional writer.
They all want to work with authors who have a good, strong work ethic, but who are also easy to work with. They don't want high maintenance writers. The success of agents and editors depends on the success of their writers, so once they have taken you on as a client, they will work hard to make your project the best it can be. Each editor/agent at the conference had a horror story about an author who was demanding and difficult. They did not keep those clients for very long. What we need to understand as writers, is that agents and editors do talk to one another, so if you are difficult to work with, the word will get out and you may have a hard time finding another agent/editor to represent you.
If there is something you learned at this conference or from other experiences, please share.