Tuesday, October 29, 2013

7 Tips for Attending Your First Writer's Conference

A week ago I attended my first writer's conference, held by SCBWI-Iowa. I had many expectations prior to attending and some nervousness as well. My advice for newbies to get the most from your first conference:

1. Think through what you want to get from the conference ahead of time. Meeting other authors? Getting a critique partner? Rubbing elbows with editors and agents? Learning more about writing craft? Deciding beforehand what your priorities are can help make the experience more satisfying.

2. Get familiar with the schedule and speakers prior to the conference. Knowing the schedule means you can focus on the sessions that have the most relevant information for you, and look for opportunities to network. Even though the conference I attended was small, I missed out on an opportunity to introduce myself to an agent because I didn't realize her talk was last on the schedule. Had I realized that before her session, I would have looked for a chance to say hello sooner.

3. Be friendly and willing to introduce yourself. Like many (most?) writers, I am an introvert and find it difficult to initiate conversations. A smile and greeting along with a question about what the other person is working on is a pretty simple way for anyone to enjoy small talk between sessions, and might lead to finding a real live critique partner or writer friend.

4. Participate in extra sessions if possible. At my conference for an extra fee, attendees could get an editor or agent to critique their first 10 pages. Though you may not get the glowing feedback you hope for, you can get some ideas about what in a professional's opinion works or doesn't work in your story (and they may love it!). This is also a way to rise above the slushpile as editors and agents will look more carefully at work submitted post-conference by attendees.

5. Do peer critiquing if offered. In addition to the editor/agent sessions, I had the opportunity to participate in a peer review session and received comments and notes on my first 10 pages of another work from three other writers-invaluable feedback for planning revisions to my WIP. If you hit it off with your group, you can continue to critique each others' work beyond the conference.

6. Enjoy the chance to learn something new. The sessions on writing MG/YA were helpful, but I was fascinated by the sessions I attended on writing and illustrating picture books. Even though I have no plans to venture into that market, I gained a lot of insight and respect for process of publishing for younger readers. Ironically, the best contact I had with one of the speakers was my conversation with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's art director, Christine Kettner, when I thanked her for a great session after her first talk.

7.  Attend the social events! The most fun session I attended was an optional trivia night event planned for evening entertainment. I got to know some wonderfully funny ladies in my SCBWI group and laughed more than I have in a long time.

If anyone has more tips for those considering going to a writer's conference, please feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My True Life Horror Story

Monday morning it was still dark when I awoke to what sounded like rain hitting the ledge outside my bedroom window. Since it was only 5:10 I wasn't planning to get up, but I realized I couldn't hear rain outside the other window. Then the noise sounded more like a bag rustling than rain pattering. A mouse?

I didn't want to get up, and seriously thought about ignoring the sound and trying to snooze some more, but I pried myself up and flipped on the light. Not seeing anything by the window with my sleep-encrusted eyes, I went to take a closer look and imagined that a very large moth flew past me. At least once every summer one sneaks in through the window where the AC sits, but I had finally had my man pull the unit last week so the window was shut tight. I looked up above my bed  and wished I was still asleep.

With wickedly creepy outstretched wings, a BAT circled the overhead light. I stood frozen, thinking my spray that knocks the moths right out of the air was useless. Now, I could have panicked and called my man to come over to deal with it, but that would mean WAITING and WATCHING that thing fly around for who knows how many minutes first. So I ran to the kitchen, closing the bedroom door behind me to keep him trapped. I pulled on a pair of plastic gloves, grabbed a cookie sheet, and ran back to my room. No bat. What?

Fortunately, my winded entrance must have scared him out of his hiding spot because he resumed circling the light. On his next go-round I wacked him as hard as I could and he smashed into the floorboard near the corner, narrowly missing the shoes I had piled up nearby. Now the hard part--I needed to dispose of him. I pulled all the shoes away, grateful that I wouldn't have to throw any out (no I would not, could not wear them after a bat did). Then I crept close, shaking almost in time with the furious pounding of my heart, but could not, not, NOT force myself to grab a corner of one wing and plop him in the grocery sack I had brought. What if it's just stunned and it bites me? I decided to go the safer route of trying to scoop it up inside the bag. Right when I had the bag hovering above it (arms length away, of course), the bat flew up over the bag toward me.

I have always maintained I can't scream and my children are deaf. Now I know I am right because the very loud noise I made resembled a cross between a caveman's shriek and a cow dying. None of the four girls woke up to investigate Mom's possible demise, either. I dropped the cookie sheet that was still clasped in one hand. It landed upside down with the bat on top of it. I grabbed a shoe and wacked him again. Not hard, just to stun. Because I am so NOT cut out for killing and, honestly, I didn't  want guts on the carpet. A quick tip of the cookie sheet and tie of the bag ended the struggle with the bat, but my heart felt like a supernova. Ten minutes later the bat was out in the garbage and I was back in the house, hearing my still-pounding pulse throb in my ears and lamenting what a wimp I am.

As if that weren't awful enough, my man came over later to do an inspection of the attic and crawl spaces. No bats, no guano. No evidence of bats anywhere. So, I am left with hoping the darn thing flew in through an open door and nobody noticed. Because the alternative (I think with an insomnia-inducing shudder) is that there is a bat-sized hole somewhere in my bedroom just waiting to admit the next flying rodent to terrorize my sleep.