This past weekend was a life-changing experience. I attended the SDSU Writers’ Conference – two full days of opportunities to learn about the craft and business of writing, and to network with authors, agents, and publishers.
Based on past (non-writing) conference experience, I almost skipped the opening keynote speaker, Jonathan Maberry. Typically, those addresses are uneventful and boring. His was in my top three most useful sessions of the whole conference. From it I found about a local writers’ group, which is exactly what I was looking for. Within the first hour I’d already gotten my money’s worth!
Of course some presentations were better than others. I found the sessions with the poorest attendance had more useful information than the overflowing ones. I felt bad for the agent giving the beginning writers session – it was an outstanding overview of the business of writing, and only a handful of seats were filled. I was not too proud to announce my newbie status and ask questions that would help make me better.
I learned how many of the technique rules I was following instinctively. That is not to say I don’t have a lot I don’t know. I was surprised to learn that the protagonist in my novel is not who I thought it was. It made total sense when I figured out who it was. What a light bulb moment.
Before the conference, what I was most excited about was my advanced reading appointment. I was able to submit the first ten pages of my novel to a publisher before the conference, and then I had a ten-minute-long appointment with him on Saturday. I sat at his table at the opening night dinner, so my nerves of meeting him were already out of my system.
My novel has an unusual structure – traditional narrative from multiple points of view plus numerous epistolary elements: letters, articles, transcripts, lab reports. I’d had some negative feedback about that being confusing, so I was VERY interested in the publisher’s take. Before I had a chance to even tell him the synopsis of my story (yes, he went in blind to a book that has five cuts in the first ten pages!), he told me how much he liked the structure.
I didn’t need the next nine minutes (I really just wanted to happy dance my time away), but I used them well. He liked my flippant comparison – “It’s like Station 11 … with power and running water” – and he agreed with it based on the first ten pages. He also gave me a new way of describing my work. He said he was intrigued by my concept of a post-apocalyptic, pastoral novel. I felt my eyes get big when he said that. I’d never thought of it in those terms, but it was perfect.
The meeting ended with him saying that when my book was done, he wants to read it. Holy crap! That is the best possible outcome from any of these meetings. It doesn’t mean he wants to buy it, but it is a HUGE first step.
Although the move threw me out of my writing routine for a while, this conference was the best inspiration I could have had to get back on the wagon. It came at the perfect time in the process for me.