Well, it’s a been a week since the conference. I’m an ENTP, so it takes time for me to absorb everything I see and hear around me. I may make snap decisions, but I don’t like to review something until I’ve had a chance to digest it.
This is my second DFWCon and my fifth writers’ conference in total.
- Event organization was fantastic. Other than some technical issues with the venue, everything ran like clockwork. Steve Manning and his crew did an awesome job managing everything.
- Most every genre was adequately represented. YA, Adult, Fantasy, SF, etc. That meant there was an agent for just about everyone.
- The class subjects were varied and professionally taught. There were only a couple of slots where I didn’t find something to keep my interest. My two favorites were “Serialized Story Telling” by C.L. Stegall and “Applying Fiction Techniques to Memoirs” by Stephanie Klein. Honorable mention goes to Tex Thompson for her “Auntie M’s Guide to Greaseless Self-Promotion.” Note there were way more classes than these that I was unable to attend.
- Agents were friendly and in abundance, and all were willing to listen to your pitch during the social events. And if they weren’t interested in your project, they were open to giving you recommendations on who to approach.
I pitched Iron Broderick to Kae Tienstra of KT Public Relations. She expressed interest and even nailed down the targeted age group, something Alan and I didn’t discover until after we’d written it. I’ll submit the requested materials later this week. Need to give her some time to digest the conference herself.
As the DFW Writers’ Workshop puts on this event every year (this was the 10th Anniversary), the members of the Workshop, all volunteers, are responsible for running it. My job this year (as it was last year), was Wrangler. Wrangling is, in my opinion, one of the more important jobs. Just sayin’. Each wrangler is responsible for a particular agent, picking up/dropping off him/her up at the airport, keeping him/her on schedule, bringing him/her iced lattes . . . in effect, being their gophers for the conference. It is our job to make sure the agents we invite are treated like Rock Stars, because without agents, we don’t have a writers’ conference.
This year, I was responsible for Eric Ruben. I picked him up the airport a little after 9 AM. As the hotel didn’t allow check-in until 1PM, it was my job to entertain him. I wasn’t sure where his tastes gravitated, so I sent him an email a week or so beforehand with an example list of things we could do; museum, zoo, shooting range, fishing, etc. He chose to go shooting, and subsequently showed me up on my favorite range. Never let anyone tell you that New Yorkers don’t know how to shoot. Then we ate at the best Italian food restaurant on the planet (all fact, no brag), Don Camillo Italian Cuisine.
Although Eric represents books in my genre, Iron Broderick wasn’t of interest to him. That was okay though! I lost my rejection cherry years ago. I did give him a copy of Transplanted Yankee. He had indicated that he was a story-teller and liked to listen to other people’s tales. Maybe he’ll read it and review it on Amazon (hint, hint, if you’re reading this Eric).
After each of my conferences, I look back and think about the one, main takeaway from the visit. This year it is Query Letters. These nefarious Badges of Writing Prowess are also the bane of all writers. Without a properly formatted query letter, we’re told, your work, no matter how Earth-Molding, will never move off your hard drive (unless you self-publish, but that’s a different critter). Notice the words properly formatted? Those are the magic words. Those are the words you mutter to the Greek Muse, Calliope, as you sacrifice your blood, sweat, and ego into the mystical Microsoft Word cauldron. And unless you mutter them perfectly, your query letter is transmorphed into a form letter asking you to go bother someone else, TYVM.
So if these letters are so important, why hasn’t anyone told us how to write them? Well they have . . . about a hundred different ways.
For instance, I found many articles on the internet on how to write a query letter. No luck with those formats.
Then I paid $25 to Writers’ Digest to have an agent tell me what was wrong with my query. She made changes. “Oh, yeah!” I yelled, confidence dripping from my voice as I gently rubbed my hands together. “No agent will refuse this one!”
Six months later, I’m in another query writing class, and the teacher is giving us another layout to use. “What?” However, this class is taught by an agent. Every student was taking notes and pictures of the examples cast on the wall screen. That constituted revision 50-something. I think. Anyway, my letter looked professional. I’d have bought the book.
Then comes along DFWCon 2017 and their gong show. Every query letter read to the audience was rejected by the agents. I was concerned. My letter sounded substantially too close to those rejections.
A few hours later, I’m in another query writing class being given by another agent. His descriptions were awfully close to the gonged examples. Again, everyone is taking pictures and writing so fast, the friction from their pens is generating smoke and clouding the ceiling. Now, I’m totally lost.
Then I hit on an idea: While I’m driving Eric to the airport, would he be willing to tell me what was wrong with my query letter? “No problem,” he said. He hacked up the bestest, most perfectest query letter I could put together (major favor) based on what I’ve been told over the years. And you know what? His was so different, so minimalist, that it didn’t look like a query letter at all.
I had a Minor Epiphany at that point; agents are human and have their own preferences.
- Some want to be flattered.
- “You are such a powerful businessman! That last deal you signed! Oh, my Gawd!”
- Some want a mini-synopsis.
- “. . . and they lived nappily on the couch forever.”
- Some want to know your race and your sexual preferences.
- I’m not sure why unless it’s to make a decision based on those answers.
- For the record, I identify as a sex-loving author. Not sure about everyone else.
- Others want chocolate syrup poured over it.
- This seems sticky, but hey! if it gets the sale, it gets the sale.
And Lord Help You if one of these formats ends up in the hands of an incompatible agent. You gonna get gonged, scooter!
I think agents need to put an example query letter on their website of what they want to see in their inbox. Seriously. It would remove so much stress from us writers and would probably remove some of their stress too. After all, they have to read flattery when they may not want to.
All in all, it was a great weekend. The conference was enjoyable. The people were friendly. The enthusiasm was high. And though I may gripe about agents’ query letter habits . . . well, they’re only human. I can give them a break.