Tuesday, February 20, 2007

San Francisco Writers Conference

I volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year. Kate Farrell, Tyler Stanley, Pat Tyler, as well as Marlene Cullen and Ransom Stephens were all volunteers as well. I felt proud to be in such company, and know were all a part of the Sonoma County writing community.

This was the fourth annual San Francisco Writers Conference and it was sold out. Three hundred and fifty writers of varying levels of experience came from thirty one states and Canada.

I had several assigned tasks, but it was the impromptu interactions with attendees that I enjoyed the most. There were times when I felt like a roving ambassador, giving directions, answering questions and engaging people in conversation when people were waiting. I felt that my experience and knowledge gleaned from going to other conferences and being a CWC member bore fruit. I networked with writers, extolled the virtues of belonging to the nation’s oldest professional writers club and told them various places to find information they sought. I had printed up 20 business cards, but should have made more as I ran out before the conference was over giving them out to writers.

The conference had forty workshop sessions to attend and opportunities to talk with agents and editors. Part of the conference dealt with creating the perfect pitch. There was a morning session devoted to this subject as well as an after hours session where people were invited to practice their pitch and compete against one another. This led to a debate as to whether the ideal pitch should be 25 words or 25 seconds. I had not attended that competition, and I’m glad I hadn’t. That’s way too much pressure to put on people.

Yes, a pitch is important, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all of how to interest someone in your writing. I understand that by describing your project succinctly it might become the description an agent uses with an editor, which might later be used by the editor to sell the idea to the acquisitions team, then in a further incarnation it might wind up being used on a back cover to tempt the book buyer. So, while a pitch is important I don’t think you need to sweat the exact number of words nor the exact number of seconds it takes to say it. Egads, talk about performance anxiety.

I had read several agent blogs in the last few weeks discussing their viewpoint on the “speed date” sessions. Agents generally cringe at the mere thought of these events because they are bombarded by nervous writers desperate to make a good impression in less than three minutes. As if an entire life’s work and self-worth could be boiled down and encapsulated into three stress-filled minutes. Of course it can’t, and therein lies the rub.

The nervousness over meeting with agents and editors seemed pervasive and I did my part to try and alleviate some of the stress. I told people that they would be better served to relax, smile and show your human side first before launching into a spring loaded pitch that you’ve been obsessing over. Because not only are agents interested in your writing project, but they’re also interested in knowing whether or not you’ll be a client from hell. Being nervous or tetchy if you didn’t get your exact full three minutes will not play in your favor.

So I tried to be as relaxed as possible. Two of the three agents I met at the Speed Date session I had met several times over the weekend in my volunteer capacity, so when I sat down at their table I was a familiar friendly face. I exchanged some pleasantries before giving my pitch.

The third agent I had not met before. I had researched the different agents the weekend prior to the conference and saw a mention on her agency’s website that she liked damp castles. That description was not in the conference blurb about her, nor did she say anything about it when she introduced herself. So I started my time with her by saying that I was approaching her because of her stated fondness for damp castles.

Then I gave her my pitch.

As it turned out, I received three requests for partials. Three for three. That’s a lot better than my batting average at previous conferences.

By Sunday afternoon, I said goodbye to many of the writers that I had met and talked with over the weekend. They all said they felt it was worth their time, expense and travel to come to the conference. They were grateful for the advice and encouragement that they had gotten along the way.

And that, made me feel good.


Anyone who was interested but unable to attend the conference – you can listen to the various workshops either by CD or MP3 file. Each session was recorded and available on www.vwtapes.com That website also has recordings from other writers conferences as well.


Martha Alderson said...

Hard to believe that all that energy and fun is already receding what with all the other excitement constantly bombarding us! Seeing you and your flawless face and calm spirit was a joy.

Thank you for having my blog on your list. I've got to do that, too, and your blog will be first to go up!

Congratulations on all the great interest in your project. Great good luck!!


L.C.McCabe said...


It was a pleasure to talk with you and this time to properly introduce myself to you.

I had seen you speak at a previous conference (the Jack London Conference two years ago? I think), but I hadn't stopped to schmooze after the workshop ended.

Then we had a nice lovely phone chat, but you didn't have a face to connect with the my name.

I feel great that we have now properly met and had the chance to talk. It was a pleasure.

Thank you for the good wishes for my project. I have just a little more polishing to do before I send it out to those agents and have to practice the art of patience.

Have a great week!