Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Unpublished Writers Should Attend Writer’s Conferences - Liz O'Connor

 St. Patrick’s Day. March 17, 2012. That was the day I finished the first draft of my first novel.


As a new writer who had worked on and off for over two years writing a book on a whim, my knowledge of publishing was a big fat zero. Of course, like most newly-minted writers, I assumed the next step was to send my manuscript to agents. Other than knowing how to spell the words “query”, “synopsis”, and “pitch”, I didn’t have a clue what those words meant within the context of publishing.

My inner voice told me to research first, query second. In retrospect, I’m happy I did. I learned quickly how difficult it would be to find an agent and how it could take years to get traditionally published. During my research, I learned that I would need to put forth my best work, which meant my manuscript needed to be edited.

So, I signed up for a one-on-one tutorial with a fiction editor through New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Education. When I asked her about publication, she recommended the NYC Writer’s Workshop Perfect Pitch Conference. Attendance is limited and you must be accepted. The conference runs twice a year, April and November, in Manhattan.

By July, I was armed and dangerous and sent my application in for the November conference, receiving an acceptance within an hour. The five months that followed were spent working with two professional editors, beta readers, and my critique group to polish my manuscript and to draft a pitch. 

Agents queried thus far: Zero

During the 3-day conference, we honed our pitches with our facilitator, a published author, and then pitched to three publishers. For those of you who may not have pitched before, the closest thing I can compare it to is speed dating. We literally had 90 seconds (approximately 300 words) to pitch our books. In a nutshell, your pitch is the 'synopsis' part of your query letter. If you're interested in the mechanics of constructing a pitch, please visit my website ( for a complete post on pitching. It's currently running in my featured posts section.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about the NYC Writer’s Workshop Conference. Not only did I make connections with other writers that I consider part of my core writing community, but the experience was plain fabulous.

However, the point of this whole story: I received a request from the Executive Editor of a Big Six publisher for my full manuscript.

A few key lessons I learned during the critiquing and construction phase of this process:

• Know the genre of the book, and be able to come up with comparable titles that are were the hottest on the market (i.e., Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code, etc.). This is important because it ties to the potential marketability of your book. No market could equal no interest.

• Okay, bear with me here, but make sure your novel is complete before you pitch it. Pitch sessions are not a place to come to bounce ideas off of agents / publishers. If they are interested, they will want to see your partial or full manuscripts pronto.

• Short formula for the pitch: Main character, Conflict, Resolution. In that order.

In mid-March, I attended a one-day writer’s conference, Create Something Magical, with the opportunity to pitch to agents and publishers. I volunteered to work the agent / publisher room as a timekeeper using my iPhone. Each appointment was ten minutes in length. What fun! Watching as others pitched made the process so much less nerve-wracking, as well as gave me a feel for the agents and publishers as they interacted with authors. As a late addition to the conference, I could only secure two appointments, but both resulted in a request for a synopsis and the first three chapters of my book. But my time as a timekeeper gave me a glimpse into who I might want to query in the future.

Finally, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference East the first weekend in April, which included an agent Pitch Slam. The conference had some excellent panels with both agents and publishers answering questions about the state of industry and practical advice for writers pursuing either traditional or self-publishing options.

The most important things I learned after attending these conferences?

Agents and editors want to hear what you have to say. They participate in pitch sessions to find potential clients, and there's no reason it can't be you if your work is good and fits their list.

Most importantly, materials submitted as a result of conferences will get you higher in their pile with faster responses and more attention that just arriving as part of a slush pile. You also have the opportunity to get some feedback directly on your pitch and your book if time permits.

Agent queried as of today: 1

Scorecard after three Conferences:

• Publishers pitched: 4 - Requests: 1 full MS, 1 partial MS, 1 referral

• Agents pitched: 8 - Requests: 5 partial MS, 1 referral (to the 1 agent I queried)

So, if at all possible, I highly recommend attending a conference or two to fast-track your journey to publication.

Your Turn: Have you attended any conferences lately that you would recommend? What has been your experience?  

LG O’Connor is an adult urban fantasy and paranormal romance writer living in the New York City area with her husband and two Whippet children, Chloe and Nevada. She is the author of the series, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. The first book TRINITY STONES is currently on submission. In the meantime, the second book, The WANDERER'S CHILDREN will be completed this summer. She is also working on a New Adult novella which will serve as a prequel to the series and be published as an eBook.
You can find Liz at:  or on Twitter as @lgoconnor1 



  1. I really want to go to one, but not may near my area. I had to really research the whole query, pitch thing. I still hope to get to a few in the next year.

  2. Hi Brandon,
    It's worth it if you can get the chance, but I understand how difficult it can be outside major metro areas. Check MeetUp Groups in your area, they sometimes post conferences. That's how I found the one in New Jersey.