All week before the actual conference, I went about my day thinking about it. I lay awake at night thinking of plot, structure, synopsis and query. Then a day before I decided to chuck it all and just go as an attendee. I vented on twitter tagging my posts with #phillyww and before I knew it, there were a bunch of us sharing nerves and making plans to meet before we got to the venue.
I was up early, drinking my coffee with a nervous energy that had nothing to do with caffeine. I arrived at the train station twenty minutes before time and sat in the cold, my fingers freezing, my mind numb.
I saw my new friends before they boarded. We spent the next forty-five minutes getting to know each other, talking about our book babies and real babies and walking to the Sonesta in downtown Philadelphia in the cold morning air. One of them has a book coming out in May (Scottish historical romance anyone) and the other is pitching a young adult fantasy (trilogy in this case).
I looked around for my sponsor, the rockstar publishing agent Eric Smith and could not find him. So, I networked instead. The sessions started on time and the first one I sat through was one on writing memoirs. The presenter Anne Kaier knew what she was talking about and the hour sped by before I knew it. I took copious notes, exchanged contacts with my neighbors and trooped out to find my new friends had already pitched to their target agents and had been requested to send in their material. After whoops of joy we separated again for the next session.
This one was by Chuck Sambuchino who broke down the process of querying in such simple terms that for a moment, I felt like even I could do it! The presentation was sharp, witty, chockfull of relevant examples and practical advice. If his website was a lifesaver when I was first getting to understand the US publishing industry, his presentation was even better.
We broke for lunch even as I was ready to faint with hunger. A sandwich at Potbelly, my new acquaintances already feeling like friends, I returned fortified. The first session of the afternoon was a panel of agents critiquing anonymous first pages in front of an audience. I had submitted a page and by the time they were done, I was wiping tears of joy that my page had not been pulled. They were incisive, brutal and extremely honest.
It worked this way. One person read the page, if three agents raised they hand, the material was stopped. Most pages had at least one raised hand by the time the first paragraph was done. Top comments? Opening not gripping enough, too much backstory, not enough focus on the protagonist, too much setting, not revised or edited enough for submission. Each agent brought a fresh perspective to the submission. By the time the hour was up, I walked away knowing a lot more about what agents saw when authors submitted than I could have gleaned from the web. For this session alone, the workshop was worth it.
After this, I opted for a session on craft and revision. I think I took about three pages of notes for this alone. The speed was slow, the material not as showy but it was solid. Definitely much needed for me. I popped into the last session of the day on social media and blogging and left mid way as it did not say anything I did not know. The bonus of that session was I got to see an author I liked in person.
On the way home, I felt tired. The good kind of tired that happens when you have packed more into a day than it can hold. I only hope the next time I do go to an event like this, I will be one of the throngs waiting to pitch to agents with stars in my eyes and dreams of book offers in my head.