Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Writer's Conference in a Nutshell

A lot of you asked for more details about what the Conference was like, so here's a brief (Ha! I'll try...) rundown of what the three days were like and what I did:


Check-In: I finally got my schedule and found out which agents I was meeting with and when (and yes, there was a LOT of panicking and OMG-ing and calling/texting/tweeting/emailing my friends, family, and CP's to say "AHHHH!!!!! I have to pitch to X, Y, and Z amazing agents and what if they hate me?") I also got the list of speakers and topics to choose from, and my handy dandy Conference ID badge--which I totally kept as a memento even thought they tried to get everyone to recycle them (so sue me!). 

Mixer: Okay, the mixer was actually most terrifying part of the conference. I didn't know ANYONE, and no one said "hi." No one even noticed me. And just when I'd finally found two women who weren't too scary to sit with, they came around and decreed the table a "Mystery Writers" table, so I had to move to the "Middle Grade" table. (Why they didn't have the signs out in the first place still escapes me.) So I got to start all over again with a whole new set of strangers and just when I'd gotten used to them the woman in charge of the Conference came up to the stage and said, "Excuse me, will Shannon Messenger please come to the front--we need to talk to you." (I swear, these are the kind of things that only happen to me.)

So once my brain finally connected the fact that they were calling my name, that no, there was no other Shannon Messenger coming forward to rescue me, and that yes, they expected me to come up there in front of everyone, the lady had probably said "Is Shannon Messenger here? We need to talk to you" like 5 more times. Then I finally made my way up there and she probably noticed the look of panic on my face because she said, "don't worry--she's not in trouble" into the mic and everyone laughed.

And do you know what they needed me for?

They wanted to let me know they had to change the time of one of my appointments because they double booked it!

They couldn't have found a less humiliating way of doing that????????????

And for those of you who think it was no big deal, let me tell you, there were QUITE a few people who said, "Oh, you were the one they called forward, what was wrong?" when I introduced myself after that. Including an agent. *facepalm*


Keynote Speaker: Very good, very inspirational--but WAY too early. (8:30 on a Saturday? Really?)

Break-out Sessions: There were tons of interesting sessions to choose from, but I chose Laura Rennert's picture book session because I've always wanted to write a picture book and because I was meeting with her later that day and I wanted to see how scary she was (for the record, she's not scary at all, but I'll talk more about that in another post). 

First Consult:  My first meeting with an agent and oh boy was I nervous. Fastest ten minutes of my life. Again--the agent wasn't scary at all, but I still talked a bit too fast and too much. At the end she said she liked the idea and would be happy to read my query whenever I'm ready. So, not a slam dunk, but not bad for my first try.

Networking Lunch: Rubber chicken. Mystery cream sauce with way too much salt. Pasta that was so overcooked I barely had to chew it. But that was okay--I was WAY too nervous to eat because Laura Rennert and Caryn Wiseman were sitting at the table answering questions!!!!!!!!!!!! It turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the conference--they were SO nice, and I really learned a lot. But wow--eating lunch with two agents from Andrea Brown. My brain still doesn't want to believe it (and yes, I think of agents as celebrities. Come on, these people can change your life!)

Breakout Sessions: The next few sessions I attended were agent panels. I was determined to get over my fear of agents at this Conference, so I surrounded myself with them as much as possible--and it worked. I am no longer afraid of them. I still dread their rejections, but I'm not scared to send off my queries--whenever my WIP is shiny enough to enter Query Wars.

Advance Reading Appointment: Okay, this is the one I was the most terrified about. I mean, this time the agent had read some of my pages, and OMG what if she hated them? Not gonna lie--I spent about fifteen minutes before the appointment preparing for the worst--but it went really well. Even better than I realized at the time. 

Second Consult: This pitch went a lot smoother. I didn't ramble as much. I had pretty good answers to all her questions. And she was extremely nice and asked to see some pages, so it was a much better success.

Wine and Cheeser: I was pretty terrified about this after what happened the night before, but this time I actually knew a few people to sit with, so it wasn't so bad. And Barry Lyga--a writer I've been dying to meet for months--was there hanging out. He even let me sit at his table and told me about some of the projects he's working on (which are genius, btw. I can't believe I'm going to have to wait 2 years to read them!!!) so it turned out to be the best. night. ever! And the weirdest part was that he was telling me how he met his agent at this Conference a few years ago and won the Conference Choice Award and my thought was: "They give out awards here?" I really did not know that. So imagine my surprise when the next morning...


Keynote and Awards: Another awesome, inspiring Keynote Speaker, and then the conference overseer gave out the awards. I'd honestly just gotten done explaining to the woman sitting next to me that I didn't have a chance (my advance reading appointment hadn't felt like it went THAT great) when they read my name. I pretty much went into shock for the next hour. I skipped the first round of break-out sessions, opting instead to use the time to text/call people (yes, I am that lame) and the only thing that snapped me out of it was that I had another Consult to get to.

Third Consult: This one was with an agent I knew nothing about--so that actually made it a lot easier. I hadn't built him up into this huge, unreachable thing in my mind. And he seemed to like my idea--enough to tell me to query at least. So it was something.

Final Consult: By this time I felt like a pro--so I think I probably did the best job with this pitch. And she asked a lot of questions and said she'd love to see some pages, so I think it went pretty well. Of course, it's possible she said that to everyone--just to be nice--but I guess we'll see once I'm finally ready to query.

Lunch: We were on our own this time, so I grabbed a sandwich from Starbucks and spent lunch in the lobby meeting other writers. Lots of people congratulated me on my award--I felt like a celebrity. But it was just a quick break and then it was back to learning.

Breakout Sessions: I finished out the conference with a session on Voice, a session on all the things I should know before I query, and a session on writing a query and synopsis. Learned a lot, but by that point I was pretty worn out. I'd basically been running on pure adrenaline since Friday and I'd been away from my husband since Thursday and I was ready to go home. So I bought the CDs for the sessions I missed when I was in my appointments and headed straight home when the conference was over. And let me tell you, coming home never felt so good.

So all in all, it was an amazing experience. I can't say I would describe it as "fun"--but that's not really what this conference is designed for. This is a conference to give you once in a lifetime feedback and one on one time with some of the top agents and editors in the country. Makes it very stressful, but I learned SO much--and got a huge confidence boost from getting so much good feedback. Like I said yesterday, none of the agents I met were falling over themselves to represent me or anything--but they were nice, and remembered me when I'd run into them in the halls, and seemed interested in my idea--which is better than I could have ever hoped for. So even if they all turn me down when I actually send pages, at least I got to meet them in person, get their honest feedback, and they helped me overcome my agent phobia. And I got an award to boost my ego. Weekend well spent.

Okay, that should give you a pretty good idea of what I experienced, and I will spend the rest of this week, and part of next sharing what I learned from my sessions. And somewhere in there I'll also give away a signed book--from none other than the amazing Laura Joy Rennert--so check back for that!

Hope that satisfies your curiosity, and if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments. 


  1. Ahh! How awesome! I'm so jealous! I'm saving up money so I can go to a conference soon, and you just make me want to go to one even more!

  2. Still pretty green over here! Sounds like you had a blast though. Congrats on all your success!

  3. Sounds like a great conference! Sometimes I wish I could quit my job and just attend conferences full-time...

  4. Yep! Still jealous. Did you REALLY think you could be brief? You? Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Just kidding. I'm actually very glad you gave us the details - I wanted to hear everything! :-)

  5. This sounds like such a good use of your time - and how about your award? Hooray! I think it's so smart to get yourself in front of agents before you start querying. You're ahead of the game, my dear.

  6. Excellent! I think you got your time and money's worth out of that.
    I've been to two SCBWI events. At the first one, I won an award and was picked by an editor at TOR for a one-on-one. I was so scared I had trouble concentrating, but I made myself pay attention and did walk away with useful advice. If I'd been more relaxed and experienced I might have asked more questions, but live and learn. I think meeting and talking to agents and editors to get comfortable around them is one of the valuable things you get from a conference.
    It sounds to me like you had a great initiation. And you got asked for some pages! That is most excellent, indeed.

  7. Sounds like it was awesome! I went to my first SCBWI conference last fall and got to sit with Ellen Hopkins during a couple meals. I think that's such a great thing that SCBWI does. Congrats on your page requests! How exciting!

  8. Very cool, good lady. I'm going to try to get to a conference in May here in PA, and I hope it goes half as well for me as yours seems to have for you. (Did that make sense? I think it did, but I might be a bit overcaffeinated right now....) Shannon WIP FTW!

  9. What an amazing experience! Barry Lyga? I'm so jealous!

    Congrats on your award. Sounds like you had a great time.

  10. Congratulations on your award and on the great consults. Good luck w/ the Query Wars!

  11. That sounds like a fantastic experience and it makes me even more excited for the conference here in April. Congratulations again on the award!!

  12. Very cool. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  13. You were really busy! I'm glad things went so well for you... you deserve it!

  14. Kat--Aw, thanks. I know, conferences are expensive. But I definitely think they are worth every penny. So keep saving and I can't wait to hear about your experience when you go.

    Marybeth: Aw, no need to be jealous. It was fun--but also OMG, so stressful!

    Heather: I know what you mean! I SO want to go to another one in March, but it's expensive, and I also want to go to SCBWI LA in the summer so I think I'll have to skip it. Le Sigh.

    Shannon: Heh. Nope--I knew from the start that it was never gonna happen. But I had to try...

    Anne: Aw, thanks. I hope so. It certainly helps me feel more ready to query--and it REALLY makes me want an agent. They are awesome!

    Tricia: Wow--congrats on the award. That's awesome. And I know what you mean--I can already think of questions I wish I'd asked. But I did get a lot of answers too--so it's something.

    Valerie: OMG-YOU SAT NEXT TO ELLEN HOPKINS!!!!! *drools* Yeah--I love conferences for that reason. You get to meet the most amazing people. Can't wait till I can afford to go to another. :)

    Simon: I have no doubt you will rock whatever conference you attend. And I love that you just used FTW with WIP. I think I might have to steal that! (Ps--your comment totally made sense, but I am also a little over-caffienated, so maybe it's me...)

    Tere: Aw, thanks. And ooo-another Barry fan? Awesome! He was SO nice, and SO funny, and I still can't believe I met him. :)

    Kristi: Aw, thanks. I'll need the good luck--trust me.

    J. Koyanagi : You are going to LOVE your conference in April--and I have no doubt you will kick butt. Can't wait to hear all about it.

    Myrna: No problem. Glad you enjoyed.

    Mariah: Yeah, I was A LOT busier than I thought I would be. But it was fun and thanks so much!

  15. Sounds terrifying yet fulfilling. You survived! And came out with an award and contacts. Thanks for sharing the details. :-)

  16. Sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  17. How FREAKING exciting is it that you won an award???? And you didn't even know you were in the running for it! LOL!!! That's so great! Congratulations on that and on having a great experience at the conference overall. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what you got out of it in your future posts!!

  18. Wow. I've never been to a conference but it sounds like an absolutely nervewracking roller coaster ride. But. You not only survived, you thrived!! You won an award (total author awesomeness right there) and conquered your fear of agents. Can't get much better than that. :)

    Wait. Maybe you can. I left you a little something over at my blog. Nothing like an award from a writer's conference but still...

  19. Wow - that sounds like an exhausting and exhilerating couple of days. The nerves alone would have done me in! You should be very proud of yourself, not only for the award, but for putting yourself out there. :)

  20. That sounds incredible! Thanks for posting details, they were great.

  21. Wow, that conference sounded amazingly helpful. Congratulations on your award, that's spectacular! :)

  22. Congratulations on the award! That must have been so surreal! And thank you for sharing your experiences. Sounds like it would be a good investment to go to one myself. Now to save some money:)

  23. It sounds awesome, Shannon. No, not everyone asks for a query, so that is fantastic! You are so much braver then me. I don't dare go to a conference by myself. How lame is that?


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