Tag Archives: Midwest Writers Workshop

Will you be at Midwest Writers Workshop?

Midwest Writers Workshop.Today’s post is short, since I’m busy getting ready for the 44th Annual Midwest Writers Workshop. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me sing the praises of MWW, as it’s where I met many of my critique partners and closest friends. No matter what stage you’re at in your career, if you have the time and means to attend a writing conference, I highly recommend doing so.

And if you’re going to be at MWW, please say hi!

Recommended Reads from MWW16

I spent last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Midwest Writers Workshop, where I had a wonderful time networking with authors and industry professionals, catching up with writer friends, and connecting with writers who were new to MWW. It was an amazing weekend, which left me both excited to work on my next project and exhausted from all the activity. Introvert + 3 days of workshops, pitches, networking, and hanging out with friends I rarely see until after midnight = massive conference hangover.

So while I recover, I’m sharing my updated post-conference to-read list. Some of these are books by MWW faculty members, and others are books the faculty recommended.

Beware the Wild.Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker

Wow, the voice in the opening lines of Beware the Wild is incredible! We read the first two paragraphs in a workshop on voice and dialog in YA, and they were so good part of me wanted to grab the book and read the rest of it right there. I can’t wait to dive into these books. Also, shout-out to the other author who led the workshop, Julie Murphy. If you haven’t read her book Dumplin’ yet, you should.

The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day

Lori had some interesting marketing techniques, including having a graphic designer friend make T-shirts with a fake crest for the college where this book takes place. She said the setting is based on Northwestern University, and since I’m an NU alum, I love books that take place in the Evanston area. I’ll be looking for those NU landmarks as  read!

Luck, Love & Lemon Pie.Luck, Love & Lemon Pie by Amy E. Reichert

Okay, I may be biased because I’m friends with Amy. But I’m not the only one excited about her books. People magazine reviewed it, and it’s gotten a lot of good buzz in romance/women’s fiction circles. If you haven’t read Amy’s first book, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, yet, you may want to start there.

The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton and The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

These were both used as examples in a workshop on first lines, and their openings hooked me. Shout-out again to Natalie C. Parker and Julie Murphy, who are awesome authors and instructors!

I hope there’s something on this list that piques your interest. If you have read-alikes you’d recommend, please share in the comments!

Tips for talking with agents in the wild

Chipmunk coming out of a hole.

Photo by Flickr user Tamia rayé

Since I’m headed to Midwest Writers Workshop in a couple days, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to conference etiquette. I’ve written about the value of conferences in the past (I met nearly all of my critique partners either at MWW or through people I met at MWW), but today I’m going to focus on interacting with agents and editors in the wild.

For some of us, agents can feel like the celebrities of the literary world. If you want to publish traditionally, these are the people you need to champion your book. You’ve done all your homework: you’ve written and polished an awesome book, written and polished a perfect pitch, researched the agents attending the conference so you know whom to pitch. You’ve practiced that pitch in front of mirrors and friends and your cat/dog/ferret until Sparky could recite it back to you. You’ve got sample pages and a query and synopsis ready for anyone — fellow writers, agents, editors, your waiter at dinner — who asks. You are Ready.

Being Ready is good. Being Ready shows you’re a professional. But sometimes Ready can cross over into pushy or overbearing. When interacting with agents and editors I like to keep the following in mind.

1. If an agent or editor asks what your book is about, feel free to tell them. But don’t make every conversation about yourself or your book. Agents are working during the conference, and some of them may see the downtime of meals or breaks between sessions as just that — breaks. If you’re forcing them to listen to a pitch, you’re making them work during their break. And please, please, please, don’t try to pitch to someone in the bathroom, or slide a manuscript under their hotel door. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen. No, the agent was not impressed.)

2. Agents love books as much as writers do. If you find yourself in a mingling situation with no idea what to say (as I often do), ask them what they’re reading. What are their favorite books they’ve read this year? You may find yourself in a heated Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin debate with a new friend. Conversations like these will also give you an idea of what the agent’s tastes are, should you decide to query them after the conference.

3. If you’re getting your work critiqued, come ready to listen. Critiques sting, and I know it can be tempting to defend your work when an element of it doesn’t resonate with a reader. Resist the urge. Listen, and take notes. When the critique is over, thank the agent/editor/other writers for their feedback. You don’t have to agree with all — or even any — of their comments. (Though if you hear the same thing from several people, you should probably re-examine that part of the piece.) You also don’t have to go home and edit right away. Take the time you need to absorb, decompose, and detach. Remember, a critique of your work is not a critique of you as a person or your skill as a writer. It’s a critique of this piece, and only this piece.

4. If an agent listens to your pitch and says your book isn’t for them, ask them if they would mind giving you feedback on your pitch/query. (If there’s time. Depending on the conference, you may or may not have time for some feedback or conversation built into your pitch session.) Again, resist the urge to defend your work during the critique. Be polite, and thank the agent for their time.

5. Remember, agents are people, too! It may seem scary at first to approach an agent or editor, but that agent or editor may be just as intimidated by all the authors in the room. If anyone — writer, agent, editor, volunteer — looks lost/overwhelmed, introduce yourself and ask how their conference is going. It would be great to meet your agent at a conference, but it’s equally great to meet a new friend at one.

Have I missed anything you’d add to this? Will any of you be at Midwest Writers Workshop? If so, I’ll see you there!

Conference Checklist

Midwest Writers Workshop. I’m headed to Midwest Writers Workshop for my third year in a row this weekend. I think I’ve mentioned a few times how this conference jump-started my writing career, and how much I recommend attending a writing conference — even a local one — if you can afford to do so. As I get ready for the weekend, I thought it might help first-time conference-goers to get a glimpse of my preparations. Here are all the things I recommend bringing to a conference:

  • Copies of your query, pitch, synopsis, and sample pages. How many copies you bring of each of these, and how many pages you include in the sample, will vary depending on the conference. Since I have a query critique, manuscript evaluation, and agent pitch session scheduled, I’m bringing multiple copies of the materials I sent in advance so I can make notes as I receive feedback.
  • Bottled water. It’s easy to forget about things like staying hydrated in the rush of a conference, but you don’t want to wind up bedridden at the end of the day (especially because the informal post-workshop hangouts are often the best part!). Water may be expensive or hard to find at different venues, so plan ahead and bring your own.
  • Snacks. If you’re like me, you go Hulk-angry when you’re hungry. To avoid the strain of long stretches between meals and the dilemma of do I leave this awesome panel to go find a vending machine and risk missing something, have a granola bar or other easily-transportable munchies on hand.
  • Copies of books by other authors you know are attending. Every conference is different, but if there’s a chance you may meet a favorite author, have your copy of her book with you ready to sign.
  • Cash to purchase books by conference faculty and attendees. Again, every conference is different, but at MWW there’s a table set up where all published attendees can register to have copies of their books sold. If you meet someone whose book sounds awesome, and you have cash on hand, you can buy the book and have the author sign it right there. Now you have a new friend and a personalized souvenir!
  • Business cards. It’s hard to keep track of everyone you meet at a conference, but exchanging business cards can help. When you trade cards, make a quick note on the back of the other person’s — “talked about More Happy Than Not” — and it’ll be easier for you remember that person when you connect with them later.
  • Your note-taking method of choice. I go with a notebook and pen, but a laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc. will work just as well.
  • Smartphone or mobile device. I think this is a lower priority, but if you want an extra level of engagement, you can live tweet events and follow people you meet right away if you have your smartphone with you. I don’t live tweet much, because I feel like I’m missing new information as I scramble to type out a great quote or bit of advice, but I have friends whose tweets become their notes sometimes. Social media is also a great way to get notes on a workshop you couldn’t attend — just search the conference hashtag and find tweets from that workshop or panel. This is a great alternative for those who aren’t able to attend conferences, too.

So that’s my conference checklist. Anything you would add to the list?

And if you’re coming to MWW, please say hi!

MWW Takeaways

Our extended writing family at MWW.

Our extended writing family at MWW

I just got back from Midwest Writers Workshop, where I learned a lot and spent time with some truly amazing people. The biggest takeaway for me this year was networking — lots of writers I know mostly on Twitter or only see a few times a year were there, plus I got to meet some new writers who weren’t previously on my radar. Gushing about the great times we had talking writing and life in general won’t help you any, so I’ll only say this about networking: I’m proud to be a contributing part of this creative, supportive community.

If you’re still writing in a bubble, I strongly encourage you to reach out to other writers. Whether you meet them at a conference or through contests or Twitter, having a supportive network is one of the best things you can do for your writing career. For contests, a great place to start is Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars if you have a completed manuscript. Even if you’re not ready to enter contests, just looking at others’ entries can help you meet people who write what you write. I know several people who met critique partners through comments on a blog contest — they had similar tastes and writing styles and decided to trade pages.

Besides networking, another thing that was mentioned a lot at the conference was the importance of knowing what publishing route you want to take before you start submitting. I already know I want to sign with an agent and publish traditionally, but that’s just one of many paths to publication. Writers can also submit their work directly to small presses, or they can choose to self-publish. I think different routes work better for different writers; ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you and your book. However, both agents and authors at MWW agreed that you should know what that is before you start querying.

Why? Agents like to control where they send their clients’ manuscripts. If a small press offers to publish your manuscript at the same time an agent is reading it, you may be forced to make some tough decisions. Telling the agent about the offer might make her more inclined to read your work quickly, or it might make her more inclined to pass on the project. You don’t want to hurt your chances at getting an agent (if you decide that’s what you want) because you’ve submitted to small presses, too.

So, know which path you want to take from the start.

Those are my two big business-end takeaways from MWW. I’ve already got next year’s conference marked on my calendar!

The Benefits of Writing Conferences

Midwest Writers Workshop. In two days I’ll be headed to Midwest Writers Workshop, and I’m really excited to attend craft sessions, network, and pitch my book to a couple agents! Last year, I attended MWW — my first ever writing conference — and it really jump-started my career. The other writers I met at MWW became some of my best critique partners — and best friends — and I’m looking forward to a reunion this year!

For writers who are on the fence about attending a conference, I highly recommend finding one in your area. Here are my top reasons why:

1. Opportunities to pitch to agents and/or get agents’ feedback on your pitch, query, or sample pages. This varies from conference to conference, but even just attending a panel where agents talk about the submission process and what they’re looking for can be a huge help. For those who are just getting started, or are just starting to query, conferences can teach you a lot about the business side of writing.

2. Craft sessions. I do a fair amount of reading about craft, but that can’t substitute for live sessions where you can ask questions and get feedback from both instructors and other writers. Last year, my favorite MWW session was a look at first lines taught be John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary. This year, I’m looking forward to Daniel Jose Older’s sessions on writing the other, since one of my protagonists in my current project (not the one I’m pitching) is very different from myself.

3. Opportunities to network with other writers. So much of writing is a solitary activity. MWW was my first exposure to a living, breathing writing community. From the first minute — walking in from the parking lot, actually — I was talking with other writers, practicing pitches, critiquing and getting critiqued. It was so refreshing to talk with and learn from other writers, and I wound up meeting several of my current critique partners that weekend.

4. Opportunities to meet other writers. I’m listing this as a separate item, because not only did I leave MWW with new critique partners, I also left it with new friends. The people I met there have become some of my best friends. These are the people I will celebrate, commiserate, vent, laugh, and even cry with. People who know and understand what it’s like to be a writer, whether that means working through writer’s block or wading through the slush pile or being a member of the infamous “sub club.” Or, you know, people to talk about normal stuff like moving and kids and new jobs with. (Surprise literary baby shower, anyone?)

So, if you’re trying to decide whether to hit the conference scene or not, I say, do it! It is absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to meet up with the writers I met at last year’s MWW, and am looking forward to meeting new friends and CPs.

I’ll check in next week with a review of this year’s MWW. Until then, happy writing!

And if any of you are going to MWW, be sure to say hi!

Let’s talk about writing

I recently discovered the value of community as a writer.  Though I’ve participated in workshops and even co-founded a creative writing club in college, I’ve always found my “alone time” the most rewarding — and the most productive.
Then I went to a writer’s conference.  For the first time, the other writers I met weren’t just talking about writing books.  They had written books.  Often multiple books.  Some of them had even published those books.
More importantly, instead of my usual exchange when meeting other writers — “Oh, you write?  Me too!  What genre?” followed by the realization that we write for completely different audiences and the inevitable exchange of book recommendations — these conversations advanced.  Everyone wanted to talk about what she was writing.  Everyone wanted you to critique his pitch, and then wanted to hear yours.  It was the first time I’d ever talked — really talked — about my writing beyond my writing habits and what genre I wrote.  I used to avoid talking about my writing, because I worried that telling people about it would make them realize I was a talent-less wannabe with lame ideas and impossible dreams.  I got tongue-tied trying to explain my plots; I dreaded being asked, “what’s your book about?” and often responded that I didn’t like to talk about current projects until they were finished.
Mostly, I was afraid.  Afraid that my ideas weren’t good enough, and afraid that talking about them would lead others to discover glaring plot holes that I’d missed.
But throughout the weekend at MWW, the more I talked about my book with other writers, the more confident I became.  Sure, people asked me to clarify certain points.  But that saved me a lot of hassle in later revisions.
So this time around, when meeting a friend from the conference for lunch, I came prepared.  I’d come up with an idea for my next novel, and though I haven’t written a word of it yet (I’m thinking it may be my NaNoWriMo project), I wrote a pitch before we got together.  No, I didn’t pull out my notebook at the restaurant; but I did talk about a project I’m really excited about long before I had all the kinks worked out.  Writing the pitch, and having that conversation, helped me figure out what those kinks were.  It also let me share my enthusiasm with someone who was equally excited about my ideas.