The writer’s workshop/conference 2020 came and went. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this since I was young. In actuality, I’ve been actively involved, for the last three or four years, in the art-making process of novel writing. Growing up, writing was something I did each day as an escape. Now, it’s my lifestyle and livelihood and something I do each day. I write up to 5,000 words each morning before the sun rises and that has greatly impacted me.
Within the last few years, I had begun writing for many national journals including Arianna Huffington’s, Thrive Global, whom personally invited me to write for her national science journal, The Mighty which is a sister site of Yahoo! World News, The Huff Post and msn.com. My articles were all published onto those sites. Once these publications signed me on as an author, I was reminded of what writing brings to my world and life.
A writer’s conference or workshop is a golden opportunity to get face-to-face with literary agents and pitch your books or writing projects. While querying agents in person can seem intimidating, it helps to remember that they are people who are eager to read your work (if they’re interested in doing so, of course). A query is merely a brief three paragraph letter summarizing your book, your credentials and platform. It’s the most important letter a writer will ever write in their literary careers, even more than the book its self. I went to the Chicago Writer’s Workshop a few years ago to learn all the facets of the publishing industry between fiction and nonfiction that I possibly could. Last year, in 2019, it was my plan to attend the conference but had to cancel for personal reasons.
Then, 2020 rolled around and so did this Coronavirus pandemic. I caught a virus, it wasn’t Covid-19 but equally as brutal. When a doctor ordered me to quarantine, I actually laughed in disbelief that she had used that term. I found myself quarantined for more than four months, when the spread of Covid-19 worsened in March, April, May and June. Clearly, the pandemic still hasn’t improved and now everything is being conducted online, reminding me of how amazing the Internet can be.A lot of people have been asking me why I wrote more than one novel before the conference that occurred this weekend, the last weekend in June. The answer is: because I’m utterly dead serious about making this a full-time career, which I already pretty much have. I wanted to get all my ducks in a row beforehand: develop a writing portfolio and profile–write for several national journals, connect with industry professionals and get more eyes on my work. I don’t want to tell you that getting published is easy, that a monkey could do it and the process is a breeze. Writing is something you’ve got to love as people have said to me, a lot: “I had to write a nine-page paper for school once and it felt like a punishment.”
For me, writing is so enjoyable and I get lost in the creativity for hours. One year ago, in April of 2019 when people were encouraged to attend social events, I got the pleasure of meeting Emily St. John Mandel, a bestselling author of numerous books including Station Eleven, The Singer’s Gun, and now I’m reading The Glass Hotel (OK, I’ve read ALL of her books)! She spoke on stage at the Arcada Theatre in my hometown just west of Chicago, and gave me the best advice I’m still so grateful for.Sorry about the blurry photo above. Emily St. John Mandel is the one signing autographs in the gray blazer. She told me to have more than one novel written before approaching agents. She said that it shows you are, in fact, serious about your work. During her live interview, she shared other interesting tips, including how she uses Excel spreadsheets to plot her novels, and wow, does that help! Excel was how I plotted my most recent (two) novels and it gave me a clear view of pacing, character development and organization in general. This process of logging every event onto Excel prevented me from getting confused in the time sequence of the plotting as well.
Preparing For A Writer’s Conference Online: Three Things You Should Do Before Your Online PitchThe entire conference was held at GoToWebinar and was broken into various topics relating to the book publishing industry. They covered fiction and nonfiction, offering tips for querying agents; do’s and don’t’s. There are three things you should prepare for before pitching agents and doing everything online:
- Make sure your WiFi or whatever wireless connection you’re using is functional and not being problematic.
- The agent pitches were done on both Skype and Zoom. Before the conference, I created profiles and watched YouTube videos on how to use those platforms so I’d get the most out of my pitches. Still, my second pitch, Skype wouldn’t allow me to log on and my internet caused me a bit of a hiccup but I quickly bounced back.
- Have your notes in front of you and take notes during the webinars. As the agents and authors spoke, throughout all the presentations, I not only wrote everything down, I did mental note-taking to ensure that I was, in fact, on the right track. Thankfully, I was!
Tips For a Smooth Pitch Session Online With A Literary Agent
In pitch sessions with agents, you only have five to ten minutes to wow them. The brief period is an opportunity to sell your book and yourself. You must have a solid pitch and a fantastic logline. Think of a logline as though you’re in an elevator with someone and only have a few seconds to tell them about your novel. Two or three sentences should encapsulate the core of the story.
The best loglines, from what I’ve gathered, are ones with mixtures of intrigue and irony. If you write crime fiction, browse other books in your category and research how those authors enticed people to read. What also helped me write mine was browsing all the loglines under films on Netflix. Sometimes, it takes getting inspired by all the ways you can write a single compelling sentence that makes someone say, “I want to read that!”
During the online pitch session, the agent will ask you to send a query letter afterwards and maybe a partial or full manuscript if your logline succeeded in enticing them. In your query, the three paragraph letter is supposed to sell your book and yourself. You’ll want to use that logline again to get them to ask for more. A query is essentially a question that you’re asking a literary agent about the book you’ve written–if they’ll take a look at it and consider representing it and you.
To get there and have an easy breezy online pitch session, what helped me was taping the logline I crafted to the rim of my laptop. I didn’t want to find myself rambling on and on about my story plot when I only had ten minutes to get an agent interested and hooked. And the quickest way to hook an agent is with a grabbing logline; a quick, one-to-two sentence summary of your novel. Hooks are crucial in fiction AND nonfiction, but mostly fiction. These loglines should make you WANT to read and finish a 400-page, 80,000-word manuscript.
Other Ways to Prepare For An Online Writer’s Conference
We may be in this pandemic for a while. Other writer’s conferences or workshops going on this year will most likely also be online. You may think that everything being done on the Internet is less formal than in person but it’s not. When I set up the stage in my home, I placed my laptop in an area that had a plain background with no distractions.
As for conference attire, you want to wear something professional or business casual. And no, I wouldn’t recommend professional on the top and party on the bottom. Not a good idea. I wore a neutral outfit, omitting small and busy prints. Stick to neutral colors and nothing to showy or flashy. Plain and simple.
What To Take Away After Your Online Pitch Sessions
I was looking forward to pitching literary agents in person but online is equally as beneficial. It’s face-time with an agent. Nothing beats that. Responses I got left me assured that I am heading in the right direction with my novel and getting published. Understand, though, that an in-person pitch session doesn’t mean the agent will sign you during the interview. You still have to follow the agent’s submission guidelines on their site and query them afterwards with whatever they requested from you. I got partial manuscript requests for my novel and am so excited! When that happens, you’re half way there.
What I also took away after the conference ended: I’m on the right track. I’ve got this.
My Winning Logline That Intrigued Agents To Ask For My Partial Manuscript
This experience was incredible and a huge success, I’d say. I can also say I am half way to publishing my novel. I’m sure you’ve all been itching to read my winning logline. The responses I received from agents about this logline tells me that I am well on my way. Here is the winning logline:
“Assigned to catching the man who killed her sister and a young actress, a detective finds herself in grave danger as she unravels a scandalous secret in the weeks leading to her sister’s death.” More details will come, guys! I love feedback as it helps tremendously so feel free to drop a line in the comments below and let me know what you think about my pitch. Thank you for reading and stopping by. Stay tuned for more updates as I embark on this incredible journey towards getting my novel published!