Backspace Writers Conference – Notes

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a little while.  The conference was extremely helpful!  I highly recommend you attend it whenever possible.  There were plenty of panels, plenty of advice from agents, and the writer camaraderie gives you that extra boost of motivation to really take your novel to the next level.  Despite thinking I was finished, I realized there was a lot more work to be done.  But we can choose to be mediocre, hoping some agent will overlook that mediocrity, or we can push ourselves to better writing and eventually have agents climbing all over themselves to get to us.  I intend to aim for the latter.

Now on to the notes.  There’s quite a few–this did go on for three days after all.  They’re not exhaustive by any means, more a takeaway of what caught my attention during the conference.  I’ve decided to organize them into specific posts so you get notes on each topic, even if it came from multiple forums or specific advice from agents.  I’ll post them separately, but you can always refer back to this page if needed and the topics will become linked as they’re posted.

The topics:

Below I’ve included notes from a forum called “Beyond the First 2 Pages.”  There were several agents on the panel, so I combined their thoughts together.

It’s important to spend a lot of time polishing up the first chapter, let alone the first 2 pages.  You are auditioning for the agent, so polish, polish, polish!  Agents read fast, so it needs to read smoothly.  They receive many more queries than they have time for, so if you are able to catch their eye with your idea, don’t ruin it by accompanying the query with a poorly edited first draft chapter.  Create a reason to read in your query.  As long as that reason remains, most agents will keep reading.  However, they will stop reading once your writing problems outweigh what the story promises (whether your stakes aren’t clearly presented, or it lacks tension, etc.)  For one agent, plot is secondary, voice is primary.  What she meant was if she can see you have a good writing voice but your plot is a little weak she may overlook that.

(I’d probably still polish.)

When is it time to submit?  When you submit you are saying this it the BEST I can offer you.  If you don’t feel that’s quite true, hold off.  Make it the best you can.  Have it read by honest friends, people who will tell you the truth, writer’s groups, etc.  As one put it, “make sure your beta readers have an editorial eye.”  When you do submit it, don’t put in weird recommendations, like that Sammy Sosa thinks it’s awesome, even though it’s a book about being a carpenter (and not baseball).  Don’t say your family or mom loves it.  And definitely don’t imply that the agent will probably reject it anyway (because it will set them up to do that even if your idea is fabulous).

More to come.  In the meantime, enjoy a sketch I did while taking notes.

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2 thoughts on “Backspace Writers Conference – Notes

  1. What really bothers me is when agents suggest that everything sent should be your BEST. Often times our best isn’t immediately publishable. Every novel has been edited, and edited again, then edited some more. If it was the BEST, it wouldn’t need editing in the first place and we wouldn’t need an agent. We could deal with publishers directly. I find that statement to be slightly exaggerated.

    The thing to remember is each agent has a different set of tastes and values for what they are willing to accept. Sometimes you have to jump out of the nest to see if you can fly. Sure, you may crash, but at least you’ll know, for certain, you can/can’t do it.

    I hired a feelance editor and did everything an agent recommended, and still she rejected me. She stated that while she was very, very interested, she could only work with the very best that crossed her desk. Keep in mind her client list is at around forty, and I suspect that had something to do with it. I don’t know about anybody else, but I give everything I do my best. In this case, my best was close but not good enough. You know what? I’m okay with that because I learned many valuable lessons along the way. I’m better becasuse of the experience and have grown as a writer as a result. Plus, I know which agent is at the top of my list for future submissions.

    BTW, love the sketches! What is that thing chasing you? Great notes, can’t wait to see the rest.

  2. I don’t know, I often like to draw monsters and try and monster them up as much as possible.

    My feel from these agents at this panel was make sure you send in your “best.” There are, apparently, those that finish their novel’s first draft and immediately open a composer window to email it off to agents. I agree with you, it comes down to preference. (In fact I had one agent say they thought my idea was intriguing, another really hated it.) I think what they’re addressing here is make sure you’ve actually spent time polishing it before sending it out.

    I think the rest of the notes will build on this concept. I really thought my novel was the best I could make it, but after this conference I’ve got new direction to improve it. But, like you said, there’s still each agent’s particular tastes too.

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