I had a great time last weekend at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. To anyone who likes to write, you feel a special connection with the other people there. It's hard for non-writers to understand what it really takes to put together a book: endless hours planning, writing, revising, critiquing, and for those looking to be traditionally published, the difficulties with attracting an agent and ultimately getting accepted into publication. And kudos to those who have done it not just once but many times.
I don't intend to write an exhaustive rundown of the weekend, but briefly (okay, who am I kidding?) some things that pop into my mind:
I actually finally recently purchased a laser printer, a compact one, and brought it with me to the conference. This turned out to be a great thing, because although I wasted a ton of paper, I did reprint some things that were looked at later, and were useful. I know the hotel had its own business office but I would not be surprised if it was overwhelmed with writers needing to print. That said, this is my second conference and I should not have bothered printing more than a generic query letter for critique purposes. You really do not use a query letter at all in person; not when pitching, not over meals, and probably not even if you convince an agent to talk with you. They want you to talk about your book if at all.
The hotel is very nicely arranged for a conference of over 400 people. My room was the most electronics-friendly I've ever seen, with a PDU built into the desk and a charging station to boot. You can't beat that. And the bed was decent. However the train noise at night (a large airport shuttle) kept me from getting a good night's rest.
Sign up for every critique session you can if you have concerns about your work. I had a session on openings that included a short critique, as well as a round table with a longer critique (done in advance by all the participants). I had a mentor session in which we discussed my pitch and my query letter, and even a few pages of my opening. And I had a one-on-one with a freelance agent who helped reveal some pacing issues with my book, which I had begun to suspect myself even though only one other critique had touched on them.
A very nice author, L.F. Patten, gave me one of her pitch sessions because she had nothing to pitch. She did ask me to listen to her read from The Talent Sinistral, a fantasy novel in which the left-handed are reviled but also have magic. Unfortunately, although I did listen, it kept me up very late Saturday night because readings didn't even begin until after 9 PM.
Robert J. Sawyer gave a keynote speech that was even more depressing than I had even realized this industry is. Make no mistake, publishing has become cheaper and more efficient over the decades, but none of those efficiencies have been passed onto traditionally published authors. Agents and publishers make more, but not authors. The real money is in screenwriting, which has guilds. But for books, a small number of publishers have great power, and fiction writers, who are not guilded, have little power. It's a shame, and Amazon is likely to make matters worse as they continue to dominate online book sales and ebook sales.
Ann Hood gave another keynote speech, and she had some very interesting things in her background, though I must confess that by Sunday my brain had melted. Information overload, and my head was full of funny notions (keep reading).
Loved the classes here. Great presenters overall; you even saw authors published a dozen times over attending, to brush up on their craft.
So many smart folks. I was reminded that I need to be a much better reader as well as writer, as well. My wife, who reads much more than I do, would fit in better than me, in many respects.
I was glad to have two pitch sessions. The first one dug into details, asking a lot of intricate plot questions, for which I had answers, but the agent didn't seem taken by the concept. The second one was more high-concept, asking for some general bits, asking about comps, and she really liked it. I got my first page request--and while I want to be hopeful that it will sail straight through to publication, if not then I hope this means I'm in the zone to attract other agents. Just the fact that an agent was drawn to my concept was great to know, because as an author you often feel as though just about anyone else will lie to you to be nice. Even now, two and a half days later, I'm still sort of floating on a cloud of renewed hope (and for the rest of Sunday I couldn't concentrate on much else, I confess). I'd love for people to be able to read this book, and to really get going on the rest of the series. But first I need to make some important changes, and send off those pages.
Over a hundred volunteers helped pull off this conference, which included about a hundred hours of recorded classes and a ton of great content.
I do wish that like PPWC they offered MP3 recordings on USB key; instead they are doing CD-audio and mail delivery.
And I still wish my simile had won the contest, despite the awful prizes, but it was too inappropriate to post it here. (The winners were no better in this regard!)
My congrats to all the finalists and winners in the contest. My entry didn't place, but I got back awesome critique feedback in the process.
Definitely want to attend next year. Even if I get to the level of publication, this would be a blast to attend again. So many wonderful writers there.