Thursday, January 26, 2012
My First Conference
My First Conference
When I went through my list of writing firsts—first rejection, first contest, first sale etc.—I decided to choose one of my most important and memorable firsts to talk about. Before any setbacks or kudos came my way, I attended my first conference. It stands out in my mind because it’s an experience I really enjoyed and now I enjoy remembering it. Some writing milestones are learning experiences (rejections, critiques, contests) but not necessarily pleasant to recall. In fact, some are downright painful! But the Silken Sands Conference was just the opposite.
I joined the Gulf Coast Chapter of RWA in November 2002, a month or so after I decided to pursue writing seriously. Really, all I wanted to do was get past the first few pages of a story. My goal was modest, to say the least. At the first meeting I learned GCC was going to hold a writers’ conference in April in Gulf Shores, Alabama right on the Gulf of Mexico. As the greenest of green newbies, I didn’t realize writing groups held conferences. I’d never even heard of RWA or their local chapters until October 2002, the month before I joined!
Beth, one of the members who writes inspirations told me Jennifer Peterson (daughter of Tracie and Jim) a Barbour editor, was coming to the conference. Beth said I could pitch to Jennifer if I had a manuscript ready. Sounded good to me, but what was a pitch? Being new, insecure and shy, I shuddered at the idea of telling someone all about my wip in seven minutes or less, especially since I only had a vague idea of the story.
But Beth thought I could finish—or at least come very close to finishing—in the 3 ½ months left before conference. Huh? I’d only written a few pages. But her encouragement spurred me on. I had a lot of first pages of several different stories, but not even one completed chapter. Although I was totally overwhelmed, Beth convinced me to try. I hated to pass up an opportunity because I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the chance to attend another conference. Little did I know conferences would become part of my writing life!
So I wrote and wrote and wrote, but I didn’t complete my wip before the big weekend. However, I had an appointment to pitch to Jennifer and I wasn’t about to give that up. It was such an enormous accomplishment to get to the point where my manuscript was approaching completion. My self-confidence soared. I could actually envision finishing not just a chapter, but an entire book as long as it was short. I wasn’t there yet, but I did have an ending and an idea of how to get there.
I volunteered to pick up Jennifer at the Pensacola Airport. She was coming in a day early so I decided to stay an extra day in Gulf Shores and help out the conference chairman. Jennifer and I chatted during the entire forty-five minute drive to the hotel. I learned so much about publishing, Heartsong Presents, and the inspirational market. That night we went to dinner with another member. My knowledge shot upward. I learned more from Jennifer in one day than I would’ve learned in months on my own.
The following night I won a critique from her. Instead of reading just the first chapter, she went way above and beyond and asked to see the rest of the pages I brought along. Her critique helped me so much! I made every newbie mistake imaginable, but she pointed out my strengths as well as the weaknesses in a really kind way. (I could be easily crushed back then.)
I pitched to her the next day which wasn’t difficult since I now knew her. She requested a full manuscript and I was beyond thrilled. Since I wasn’t quite finished I went home and worked hard, polished it and prayed it wasn’t too awful. I sent it to Jennifer who answered me quickly and said I’d know soon if HP was interested.
It was rejected, but I wasn’t too disappointed because it wasn’t ready for prime time and neither was I. The point was: an editor treated me as a serious writer with enough talent to continue on. I knew I had a lot to learn and a lot of practicing to do. But that was fine. I didn’t need a sale. I needed someone to encourage me. And that person was Jennifer. So I’ll always be grateful to her.
I turned the contemporary story I submitted to her into a historical and years later sold it to Thomas Nelson as the second book in the Ladies of Summerhill series, Love on Assignment. Even old manuscripts don’t always have to be wasted. It can be really difficult, but even first attempts can often be re-worked.
Jennifer is now a freelance edit and manuscript technician, a.k.a. Ms. Manuscript, (www.msmanuscript.com).
If you’ve had any memorable experiences at a conference, please tell us about them!
I’m giving away a copy of The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,00l Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction.