Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Catch 22 of Conferences

Last weekend I attended the New Jersey SCBWI Conference. I took the two-day option with a sleepover in the seminary. For real. The conference began with a lovely luncheon and discussion with Jerry and Eileen Spinelli and ended with the speed-pitch of death. I was dog-tired to start with. It had been a busy week, but I had cleared the decks and set aside Thursday night to put all my stuff together. Then my refrigerator died and my dog had a major poop-attack all over her bedding. I took the trip to Princeton on four hours sleep.

I got there in time to help set up and enjoyed the lunch chatter. Jerry and Eileen Spinelli were really terrific. Funny, encouraging and helpful. There is nothing like sitting opposite hugely successful writers who tell you their rejection stories. It makes you believe published writers are simply writers who didn't give up.

Cheryl Klein's workshop on character was really well done. And something I needed to hear. Coupled with the editor critique on my WIP, I realize my writing will be more effective if I create in-depth character sketches before plunging into drafts.

At the Saturday morning panel, all attending agents and managers introduced themselves and mentioned what they were looking for or what they generally liked. Following that, I had a first page session. I used that anonymous opportunity to hear comments on my PB.

Next up was a session with Regina Griffin from Egmont. There is real opportunity here for writers as it's a start-up, but with great support from the British parent company and Random House sales connection.

The afternoon workshops were okay. They offered comprehensive handouts that almost negated the need to hold them.

And finally--speed-pitching. What a riot. They had about eight rows of editors and agents, grouped three to a row. A chair faced each one. Writers were assigned a row and had two minutes with each editor to pitch a project. Not to blow my own horn here, but after years in PR, I know how to pitch. One editor already had my MG, but confirmed she's still looking at it, so we talked about my WIP. The other two editors invited me to send fulls.

But here's the rub. I want an agent. I most certainly lessen my chances with an agent if the book has already been seen by a number of editors. It's the great Catch-22 of conferences. You meet lots of editors but that doesn't necessarily help if you want to go the agent route. Which I do.


  1. "...published writers are simply writers who didn't give up." I think that should be cross-stitched on a pillow or put in a fortune cookie! Well said.

  2. And here's one from John Jakes...

    Be persistent. Editors change; tastes change; editorial markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.

  3. Glad to hear the conference went well. The catch-22 of conferences is that it's as hard to get an agent as it is to get an editor. And even though a writer has an agent, she/he still needs to attend conferences to network, brainstorm, and learn.

  4. And from Eleanor Roosevelt ...

    "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

  5. Jerry Spinelli spoke a lot about not giving up. His first four novels were not published. He wrote "Eggs" more than ten years ago and received a lengthy revision letter from an editor. He said he worked through about a third of the revisions, got discouraged and put it away. Ten years later, he thought about it, dug out the manuscript, still liked it as it was, submitted it, and received--as he said--a much larger advance than he would have when he wrote it.

    His message was to always believe in your own writing.