Friday, August 17, 2012

What I Learned from WriteOnCon

Well, I spent three days glued to my computer last week because of a little online conference for childrens fiction called WriteOnCon.

The first thing I learned at WriteOnCon is...


*Ahem* *Resumes dignified tone and posture*

I learned that through absorbing a bunch of practical writing / query / submission stuff which I'm now going to share in a variety of massive fonts and bullet-pointed lists.

You're welcome.


Two Heads are Better than One-And 700 Heads are Better than Two.

WriteOnCon opened their query and writing sample forums a few days before the conference began. By the day the conference kicked off (a sort of wind-up to the main events) I had 50 comments on my query and more than half of those offered critique or encouragement. My query was WAY better at the end of the conference than it was when I started.

Don't believe me? Here's the original version. And here's what I ended up with (based on some very generous feedback from an agent)

When it Comes to "Selling" Your Stuff You Need the Two D's: Detail and Difference.

Whether it's a 140 character Twitter-pitch, or a five page sample, highlighting the important details is crucial. What consistutes important? I'm glad you asked:

In a Pitch (or Logline):

Protagonist's unique ability, character strength/flaw, or situation, and the seemingly impossible circumstance they find themselves in.

In a Query:

- Who the protagonist is (including age, when it's PB / MG / YA lit).
- What is different about them to all the other protagonists the reader might have seen before.
- What conflict they face.
- What's at stake if they lose / are defeated / die / live / don't fall for the guy, etc.

In your first 100 Words:

- Something that catches the reader's attention and creates tension (which, to be fair, can be anything from a unique writing voice, to a deadly alien-invasion).

- As many details about the protagonist (or POV character) and their setting as is feasible within the confines of what's moving the scene...

- ...But NOT more than one (or occasionally two) details on any given thing. (I.e. Describing a room as dank = WIN. Describing the walls dripping with green, slimy, decaying goo that slides and glides and drips, oozing a nauseating mix of sweet decay and rotting timber, with a touch of turned yoghurt = FAIL. We're aiming for efficiency people! Ee-Fish-En-See).

In Your First Five Pages:

All of the above and a super-dooper, jaw dropping hook.

Oh, and excellent writing. (Read: Ee-Fish-Ent!)


Rule Number One of (Online) Conference Attending - Be Professional, Even When You Think No One is Looking

Refraining from stalking the pros, and maintaining a professional, untouchable facade at all times = EXCELLENT.

Sitting at a computer, refreshing an agent's personal profile page (which lists their current 'location' on the online boards) and scooting out of there the second it says "viewing personal profile" = PERMISSIBLE. (Not that I did this, of course. *Cough*)

Following said agent to whatever board they're reading and adding comments on the material = NOT IDEAL.

Leaving visitor messages (visible to anyone) on the agent's profile page with perky little greetings and invitations to view your stuff = WINCE-WORTHY

Following said agent to whatever board they're reading and putting your pitch / query / sample in front of them = BAD. BADBADBAD.

 (I imagine you could replace "Following said agent to whatever board they're reading" with "Following said agent around the conference venue" for conferences you attend in person. Just sayin'.)

Rule Number Two: Never Underestimate the Opportunity Presented

The only reason I attended WriteOnCon was because the organizers sent me an email. When I registered and got started, I expected to get critiques from a handful of writers and maybe learn some useful stuff. I mean, seriously, how can I expect to get noticed in a crowd that size?

I entered two time-sensitive "competitions" in which the authors / editors would choose to critique some of the samples posted. It turns out, mine got critiqued both times (one of those very profitably.... see below).

Rule Number Three: You Never Know When That Little, Tiny Gap in the Door is Going to Open Wide

To be successful at a conference it takes work. And sometimes the odds against getting anything from that work makes it easy to try to phone it in.

During WriteOnCon I had to list my material days before the conference and spend a lot of time critiquing other writers so they'd feel good about critiquing mine. And, just in case an agent did look at my work, I had to keep revising when I got good advice.

I had to get up at 2:00am to make sure one of my samples got listed as soon as the forum opened because I knew the maximum number of entries (50) would fill up quickly.

I had to write a new pitch because my former one was too long. I am not a good pitch writer. That takes real work for me. But I did it "just in case".

(I'm not telling you this to say "Look at me, I'm awesome. You should be like me." I'm telling you this because I did these things with no real expectation of earning anything by it. And yet... look what came.)

True Story

I left WriteOnCon with SIX full manuscript requests (three agents, three editors) and a direct referral of my material by an author to their editor.

One of those manuscript requests came when an intern for a very reputable agent came across my materials on the forum boards. (She's a writer too). She contacted me and asked me to query her agent because she thought the agent would be interested. Turns out, the agent was.

One was based solely on a pitch that consisted of exactly eighteen (18!) words.

One came from an attending agent picking through the boards a couple days before the conference opened.

Three came from agents and editors searching the boards during the conference. Despite the hundreds of submissions, they somehow came across mine. Go figure.

Now, let's be honest: This doesn't mean I'm going to get an agent or an editor. It'll be a while before I know if any of these submissions is going to go any further. But there's no doubt in my mind, the many hours I spent on the computer doing the above things was worthwhile. I've got my manuscript in front of a lot of really reputable eyes.

So, I say again, the first thing I learned at WriteOnCon was DON'T MISS WRITEONCON.

Your Turn: Have I convinced you yet?


  1. Wow.

    Just... wow. I think you win the prize for getting the most out of WriteOnCon.


  2. Wow, congrats on all the requests! That's awesome news ^_^ I hope you get more good news soon :D

    I learned I needed a better query. I'm much happier with the one I have now. It was also just so much fun to be in a huge community of writers. There is so much talent out there! I hope loads of people find agents and publishers because there are a lot of books I need to read ;)

    1. Yes, I learned where my query (and the genre!) were letting me down. I feel like mine is much stronger now, too.

  3. Yay, yay, yay, yay, yay!!!!!! Aaaaaaah, I'm so excited for you!!!!! So cool! And yeah, you convinced me. Last year, I dabbled in WriteOnCon...this year, I was too busy. But I don't think I'll let busy-ness stop me next year. :) Praying 'favor' over your manuscript...though it has a lot already, I think {plus, it's really good}. :) :) :)

    1. Thank you, sweetie. Yes, feeling very blessed. Please keep praying!

  4. Congrats on the requests, that's SO amazing. I was so amazed at the 140 character pitch event, because I never thought people could tell what they liked with such a short pitch, that blew my mind!

    Good luck! :)

    1. Yes, that stunned me too! Biggest surprise of the whole experience for me.

  5. Congrats, Aimee! The novel sounds amazing. You're such a talented writer and hard worker--great things ahead for you! And thank you for this post. I couldn't attend WriteOnCon this year, but I will not miss next year!

  6. Congrats on your success, Aimee! I saw your query and thought it was great. Definitely a book I plan to read one day (because I'm quite certain it'll make it to the shelves. ;) This was my 3rd time back at WOC. Each year it gets better and better. Looking forward to seeing you there again next year, hopefully as an agented writer. :)

    1. Thank you, Jeanmarie! I hope so too... but there's no guarantees in this game.

  7. Holy Wow! Congratulations! I'm so happy your obvious hard work is paying off. Well done! Can't wait for the "I'm Agented" post. :)

    1. Thanks :) Yes, I'm hoping for that post too. But I've been here before so I know it isn't a given. I guess we'll find out in the next few weeks (months?) Cross fingers with me and pray! :)

  8. I saw your pitch and first 250 at WriteOnCon and was impressed, but now that I followed your link to the first five pages, I'm hooked. What a fantastic, riveting opening and clean writing style. You earned those requests. Best of luck as you journey forward!
    And I love this post, because I think WriteOnCon is beyond amazing.

    1. Thanks, Tricia. I think WriteOnCon is amazing too. AND FOR FREE!!

      Those ladies ROCK.

  9. Congrats, Aimee!!! You have a wonderful-sounding story and obviously you have the right amount of interest from the pros!! Good luck!! =)

  10. Congrats, Aimee! I loved your first five at the conference.

    What I would add is

    A) If you looked/stalked at where the agents were mostly going, it seemed to be the query boards. The query is THAT IMPORTANT.

    B)Try to keep your subs at the top of the boards. And they get there by the most recent reply. So--either you comment a lot on others because that tends to draw them to yours, or you wait to respond on a comment until you're at the bottom of page two or three. And respond to everyone--even if it's just a simple thank you.

    C) Pay it back and pay it forward. Comment and help your fellow writers and it will return to you in spades.

    D) If you have a day job, try to get it off next year. It is that time-consuming and potentially that important. I wish I'd been able to take part in more than just the forums but because I had to work and I'm West Coast, I was unable to do so.

    E)I think I'm missing something, but can't come up with it.

    Good luck with your subs, Aimee! Loved your samples.

  11. Wow, that is awesome, Aimee! My fingers & toes are crossed for you. I smell a bidding war! ;-)

    As a fellow marketer, you may be interested in my latest post about the seven P's of marketing in relation to my self publishing endeavors. :-)