This weekend was the first EVER Gateway Con, or Gateway to Publishing Conference and Convention. We (because I'm affiliated with the St. Louis Writers Guild and helped plan/advertise) called it a Conference and Convention because it was a Writers CONFERENCE but also a (FREE to the public) CONVENTION.
This made us special times ten, a very unique event because we were both. Plus, agents, authors, and speakers from around the country came to this VERY FIRST EVER event based solely on how hard the St. Louis Writers Guild worked toward making this a rockstar event.
Just to summarize Gateway Con's perks:
Writers/Agent Panels ALL weekend
Workshops ALL weekend
Master Classes ALL weekend
Cocktail Buffet Friday Night/Gala Dinner Saturday Night
Agents, Best-selling Authors, Publishers speaking about how to engage an agent with your query, first chapter dos and don'ts, and the publishing industry.
So in one weekend, writers of all levels were given the tools on how to perfect their first chapters and get feedback, edit their novels, research/query agents, get hip to how the publishing world works, meet and greet their fave authors, and peruse a Book Fair. Plus, a cocktail party with all the freaking t-ravs and spinach pies you could eat. A dinner/talk on Saturday Night with a chocolate dessert, I don't know what, but it was yummy. I don't think any of us ended up "genre table-talking" because we were too full.
And I'm not just bragging because I helped plan it. I knew there would be lectures about stuff I already knew, but let me tell you, I realized how much I need to learn. For instance, did you know that when you query to an agent, they HAVE THE POWER to submit your novel to all sorts of publishing houses, including the BIG FIVE?
Agents have He-Man power.
After a weekend of getting fired up with the help of authors in the industry who made it happen, we were gung-ho to tackle our weaknesses and pat ourselves on the back, because, well, you can plan and talk about "making it," but if you have no strategy, you're competing with a lot of talented people on the road toward sticking their books on the shelves. And yes, this is entirely possible.
LESSONS I LEARNED AT GATEWAY CON:
- Do your research. And I don't mean just writing your novel. Learn which agents to pitch to. Learn what they represent. Agent Paige Turner might enjoy reading sci-fi in her spare time, but she may not enjoy selling sci-fi to a publisher. Each Agent Reps certain things and it's your job to find this out. (Actually, I learned this a long time ago, but I needed reminding).
- Read your pitch and first chapter (and full novel) out loud. Print it out. You have no idea how many mistakes you'll catch when it's printed in front of you.
- Make info-dumps exciting and funny. Most agents dislike info dumps, so if you need to explain your world/character in super-duper detail, find a way to make the info-dump so thoroughly engaging, the agent/reader has no idea you just heaped a pile of stuff on top of them. Score!
- Start your story when your characters' lives change forever. Courtesy of Eileen Dreyer. I have affinity with her because I was her fill-in Speaker Shepherd. In other words, start at the action. Hook them and reel them in. "Get in late, get out early." Sit your readers' into the environment ASAP. Be aware of what Eileen calls the Indiana Jones Rule: how did Raiders of the Lost Ark begin? On an adventure with Indy, of course. We didn't actually find out he was a professor of archeology (and admired by many a pupil) until 20 minutes into the film. If the movie had started in the classroom, we wouldn't have cared about him.
- Let agents and readers know that you are not like everyone else. You are unique. You might be writing an adventure about spy parachuters from Mars, and so could someone else. But your two stories will be different. Find a way to stand out from the crowd by using your writing voice, a new POV, or a character no one expects.
But you know what was the best thing about Gateway Con (and this isn't a plug)? How hard the St. Louis Writers Guild worked with everyone affiliated, sitting with writers I'd never met before, attending for the same reason as me. The frantic jotting down of ideas during a talk. Walking down the hall and seeing someone reading over their pitch, or scrawling over their first chapter. Anyone who goes to any kind of conference cannot help but see the passion and dedication of those around them, all striving for the same thing, but also excited to help each other out.
For a list of upcoming conferences, here is a handy-dandy guide courtesy of Writermag.com.
For more info about queries and agents, here is Chuck Sambuchino's website.
And here is the bible of the writing industry, Writer's Digest. Here you will find out about agents, conferences, and lit magazines to submit your short stories.