I’ve mentioned previously that I attended the DFW Writers Conference earlier this month and today I wanted to pass along some of my insights during that weekend. I learned some things about the publishing industry, my family, and myself over the span of those two and a half days. And as we all do out here in the blogosphere, it’s time to share.
DFW was my first MAJOR conference. I’ve attended a couple local conferences here in my home state, but none of them could compare to the size and scope of DFW. After playing with the big boys, I’m not sure I could ever go back to our small events. DFW hosted fourteen literary agents, two editors, and countless other industry professionals all there to both teach classes and receive pitches. I found value in every single session I attended. Unlike genre specific conferences (i.e. romance writers, thriller writers, children writers, etc.), this one was a mixture of everyone, which I found appealing.
Once I figured out the layout of the facility (there wasn’t a map), it was easy to get around and I liked how there were plenty of spots to sit down and just chat with fellow attendees. I did miss the opening remarks and most of the information about the door prizes and contests being held throughout the weekend because the printed schedule they provided left certain things out, but I believe that’s a result of growing pains due to the conferences recent expansion. There were also a couple of logistical things that could have been improved (i.e. panel presentations didn’t have microphones for all the agents and those in the back of the room couldn’t hear), and I included those on my feedback form they had us fill out. I’m sure they’ll see my name and get right on those!
One of my takeaways was the general impression that the stigma surrounding self-publishing seemed to be eroding fast. Sure, there were some agents that issued warnings about how a less than successful (<10,000 books) self-published book would ruin any hope of a traditional contract, but there were just as many who now saw it as a viable alternative to get around the stringent gatekeepers and the slow to market book machine.
Some of the other things I gleamed:
· Publishers are really looking for stories involving strong female protagonist.
· Although blogging is the number one way to build brand recognition, Twitter is second most effective ahead of Facebook.
· I also learned that having your books sold in mass marketers like Walmart or Costco could actually hurt your royalties, unless you have a savvy agent who understands the fine print in some contracts
Part of the conference, during the late afternoons, involved a Query Letter and First Page Gong Show. The way it worked was those who wished participate would turn in their anonymous query letter or first page, and then it would be read aloud until it was gonged by three agents. There was a panel of six agents all together, but only it took only three of them chiming in to end the reading. Query letters were done on Saturday afternoon and first pages on Sunday afternoon. Yes, I submitted to both. I have to say that these agents were brutal! Most query letters made it just a couple of sentences. I understood most of the reasons for gongs, but there were some where I felt the agents were being REALLY picky! I had re-written my query letter specifically for this contest, keeping how the contest works in mind. I found that it was a great exercise for thinking how you wanted to structure a letter. Ultimately, I was gonged before the end of the first paragraph, but there was a bright spot. An agent who was not on the panel, but rather listening with the rest of the audience, came forward just after I was gonged and expressed an interest in the concept and recommended the author send her pages. YAY!!! (I've already sent them off) They didn’t read my first page, but at that point I didn’t care!
I also had a pitch session scheduled during the conference, and that’s where I discovered something about my family. I drove to the conference with my wife and daughter, and no sooner were we on the road that I admitted I had no pitch. Nada. I had put it off and put it off for so long, that here I was on the eve of the conference with zip. What did we do? My family spent the next 7 hours while we drove piecing together my pitch, and when I presented it to the agent the next day…I was rewarded with a request for pages! My family rocks! And they really…really believe in my book!
So what did I learn about myself at DFW? That I belong. I felt at home amongst my peers and found it easier to open up to perfect strangers there because we shared the same interests. There were so many others in the same boat I was, and I didn’t have to communicate with them through a blog. In fact, the only thing I found disappointing was that I didn’t run into more of my blogging buddies, which would have been totally awesome. I was recognized by one blogger who visited me during the A to Z Challenge, and that was kind of cool.
Will I be going back next year? If I haven’t been grabbed up by an agent before then (and maybe even if I am), most likely! It was well worth the $ investment, and if I can entice a few of my blogging buddies to show up, it will be perfect!