I'm Back from Denver! A Report from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Conference
The very interesting thing about getting out among writers—not just sitting behind my desk (a hazard with this profession)—is that I always have revelations. This particular conference was extremely satisfying, with a great level of talent, and some of my favorite clients—Robin Owens, Cassie Miles—attending. I really enjoyed this group; everyone was extremely friendly, savvy about publishing, and respectful. Every writers’ conference has its own mood, and I would rate the RMFW at the very top of the scale.
One great experience at the conference was that I participated in a “workshop” with six writers, where we all gave input and feedback--and of course I gave the agent's opinion. I had two and a half hours with this small, intimate groups of writers, and it was very satisfying to have that kind of hands-on time with writers who truly want to improve. Normally at writers’ conferences, we get pitches or the “speed date”, but I’ve never once had this kind of time to just brainstorm and feedback—I loved it. I may also have discovered a new client out of this small group, but of course the final truth remains to be seen once I read this writer’s full manuscript. But I do have that great sense of expectation of this woman’s partial. I’ll keep you posted.
Another great moment was that Kristin Nelson and I presented a query workshop. Now let me just tell you: I was color commentary. Kristin had put the hard work in, prepping an amazing power point presentation, but again, what made this particular two hour workshop so satisfying was the “hands on” element. We spent time helping various writers hone their high concept pitches, and there is just something amazing—having spent months behind your desk—about digging into the trenches and having personal face-time with writers. This pitch work also caused me to think about my own pitching: Even when we teach, we are not immune to examining ourselves. I thought about my clients’ books, my own series. It was a great exercise in delving into what makes a pitch truly work. Some thoughts? In creating your one sentence high-concept statement:
--Go for simple and hard-hitting.
--avoid vague words, like “pain” or “emotion”
--Less detail, more core plot
--be as specific as possible
--focus on your main character, not “extraneous” elements like setting or time period (unless they impact the core story.)
I think writers try too much to summarize the plot, not come up with the basic concept of a book. Kristin used some amazing examples from recently published books, such as THE LOVELY BONES (“A dead girl describes her view from heaven to her family and loved ones who are left behind.”) She even made me want to read books that I haven’t, such as THE DOGS OF BABEL (“a man decides to teach his dog how to talk so he can unravel the details of his wife’s murder.”)
Kristin is an amazing teacher, and she definitely challenged me.
I think it’s good for all of us—agents and writers, alike—to spend time thinking about the most basic concept of stories, whether we’re shopping or writing them. It’s easy to fall into the rambling description. The challenge is coming up with a compelling, exciting core concept, one that makes the reader or listener hungry to hear more.
It was a wonderful conference, and as always it was fabulous to get out among writers, as always.