1600 miles in 4 days. 3 pitches in one morning. Lots of panels, authors, networking opportunities, and endless talk about writing. All of those are part of my GatewayCon experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better first writer’s conference to attend, it was wonderful. So here are my overall thoughts about the experience –
- Pitching: folks, please… prep for this. Practice ahead of time. I wrote a query blurb that I honed and had critiqued and felt was solid. So I used that as my basis for the verbal pitch, practiced reciting it, tweaking it, until I could do it cold in two minutes flat. That would leave three minutes to ask questions and give answers. Of the three agents I pitched, two seemed very open and responsive to the blurb, laughing and reacting as I expected at the right places. One said it was good and said it sounded like a query letter, which I acknowledged it was. All three gave advice on the work, and asked for pages, so it was the result I hoped for, no more or less. No one asked for the whole work, which would have been the “ultimate” result, but I focus on the positive of the chance. I even had a second chance to impress the two agents I was most interested in pitching (they were #1 and #2 on my list) when they sat at our table during the networking lunch. Hopefully that didn’t change their minds about pages! 🙂 I know now the length is still a bit long for a debut author, but fingers crossed they like the pages well enough to request the whole manuscript. Cutting it down won’t be terribly hard, though I’d prefer to work with an editor to determine where best to make those choices. I’ve already identified a potential 6,000 words worth of cuts that won’t greatly impact the overall story, though for now I’m leaving them in until I get replies to the pages.
- Special guests and panel discussions: I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to meet Ann Leckie, author of the Ancillary science fiction series. Not only do I love her work, but she is a very articulate, thoughtful, and fun speaker to listen to. She was on the panel on Saturday morning, then did two separate presentations, one of which was part of her book signing event. I can’t say either were very well attended, which leads me to wonder if there were more mystery writers or writers in other genres than science fiction, but I fan-boyed hard the whole time. Eileen Dryer was also amazing, what a great speaker and what good advice she gave. Every single speaker had something useful to offer, and I think they did a fabulous job getting authors in who could speak eloquently about their experiences as writers. The panels were fun to listen to, although I missed parts of several due to my pitch schedule.
- Networking events: as mentioned above, there were several of these. While I was a little disappointed that the Friday “genre talk” cocktail event didn’t actually split out into separate genres, we still had a wonderful time with the writers we sat with, getting to know them and swapping stories. And of course the networking lunch gave me the bonus of my top two agents sitting next to us at our table, so nothing but positive thoughts about that one. The formal Saturday dinner was also wonderful, and all the food provided by the hotel was excellent.
- First page readings: we had a chance to submit two pages to be read aloud and get critiques from agents/authors. I submitted my first two pages from the noir Fantasy and got really actionable and fantastic feedback, which I’ve already implemented. Anything to help improve that intro will help sell that book, which I feel really does break out of the mold of the usual noir urban fantasy genre with a unique setting and protagonist (and no werewolves or love stories shoehorned in on the backend). Unfortunately not all got read, which left my wife feeling sad because she had submitted her first pages for “Don’t Fuck with Fairy” and had psyched herself up for that. So it was a bit of a letdown from that perspective. They need more time for this event, and to give authors the option to read their pages themselves (because they know better how it should sound than someone reading it cold).
The upshot is, if you have the chance and can afford to attend one of these events, I highly recommend it. It’s worthwhile purely from the inspiration you get being with other writers who are struggling to get published. You get to meet great folks, experience things from the eyes of those who have been there/done that, and you’ll walk away feeling incredibly positive about your goals.
To Ned, Sherri, Cheri, Stephanie, Larry, and all the others (and I’m sorry if I met you and forgot your name, I’m TERRIBLE at names!)… good luck with your works! And we hope to see you all at the next GatewayCon! And thanks to David, Brad and everyone else who assisted them in putting on the event, I know it was a lot of work, and you folks did a fabulous job.