Writers’ Conferences

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What’s not to love about writers’ conferences? Nice hotel, like-minded, friendly people, and a shot at the Big Time. Or at least, a chance of attracting an agent. One of my dreams is to be able to attend conferences all over the country, if not the world. Just for the fun of it.

Tomorrow I will leave San Diego and drive two hours to Los Angeles and the forty-third annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference. This will be my third time.

I’ve been to other conferences. My first was the Maui Writers’ Conference which had the double bonus of being in Hawaii and having Ron Howard on the faculty. He was quite accessible. Funny story — my family was with me. Our son, Jordan, was four years old and looked like Opie. A friend joined us at lunch, where Ron Howard sat at the next table. The friend insisted on taking Jordan over to meet him. Mr. Howard asked Jordan if he thought he would look like him when he got older. Jordan pondered it a moment and answered, “Yes, I think I will be bald.” Nice, Jordan, kiss any acting ambitions good-bye.

Another funny story — three years ago, at my first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, Henry Winkler was one of the speakers. He co-writes a middle grade series with SCBWI founder Lin Oliver. After the talk, I approached him and told him I’d met Ron Howard fifteen years before in Maui. I said in another fifteen years maybe I’d meet Scott Baio at some writers’ conference. It got a laugh.

I really love the specificity of the SCBWI conferences. Everyone writes children’s books. I learn a lot and get to meet people who are struggling like me. The speakers are agents and editors who only deal with children’s literature. Authors like Judy Blume are keynote speakers. The hotel where the conference is held — and where I will be, in a really nice room — is in Century City, just across from the building used as the Nakatomi Towers in Die Hard.

So I will pick and choose the workshops and talks to attend that are most interesting and helpful to me. I have a consultation lined up, where an agent, editor or published writer will critique the first ten pages and synopsis of my novel, Morning of the Mermaid. I am in the middle of a huge revision on this book, so I don’t expect that much, but it will help to see if I’m gong in the right direction. There is a gala on Saturday night, with food and wine and dancing and costumes. This year’s theme is A Night in Old Italy. There’s an awards luncheon on Sunday. And a thousand other children’s writers to hang out with. There will be ample opportunities to pitch Alex Bullied to agents and editors. I only need to get my “elevator pitch” perfected.

If  you’ve never attended a writers’ conference, I recommend the experience, at least once. If you’d like to see what it’s like, you can follow along virtually with the SCBWI Summer Conference at http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com or on Twitter @scbwi and the hashtag #LA14SCBWI.

I’m pretty sure I’ll get several blog ideas this weekend. Stay tuned.

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Rejection

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We all have that dream, right? You know, the one where your query gets an immediate response, with a request for the entire manuscript. A week later that Big Agent in NYC wants to represent  you.

Yes, that dream.

That dream actually happened to me, with my first book, Riding On The Wind. I was so green at the time I didn’t realize what a miracle it was to have an agent accept the book on only my third query. Now, this was not a Big NYC Agent. It was smaller, The Bookstop Agency in Orinda, CA. That didn’t matter. The Call came, with the agent on the other end, telling me how her assistant had insisted she read my manuscript and how it “made” her weekend. She was excited about my book, how great was that?

Pretty great. Unfortunately, I learned about rejection after that, when no publisher bought the manuscript. There were a few close calls and some very nice rejection letters, but no sale. Soon after, I attended the Maui Writers Conference and in a workshop, when I asked about sending the book out again, I was told that it was too late. Even if I changed the title, no one would look at it now. It had done the rounds. So I self-published.

I don’t want to self-publish again. I want more readers.

The reality is we’ll all get our share of rejections. Sometimes it seems we may be getting someone else’s share, too. My first experience encouraged the dream. My second and third, not so much. Now I’m on my fourth book, the best so far, I believe. And my first round of rejections have arrived.

I was initially ambitious about querying. I promised myself I would send one a day, at the very least. That was two months ago and I’ve sent four. I’ve been distracted by travel and company and my son and editing another book, and, well, life. It happens.

Now we’re deep into summer and we’ve always heard this is one of the worst times to query, the other being the Winter holidays. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

I’ve received two rejections. Maria Caravainis of the Maria Caravainis Agency had to, unfortunately, report that she did not feel sufficiently enthusiastic about my project to pursue it further. She regretted the impersonal nature of her letter but they just don’t have time to respond personally to all the queries they receive. She did appreciate the opportunily to consider my work and wished me much success and pleasure in my writing.

Then Michael Bourret of the Dystel & Goderich Literary Management thanked me for letting him look at my materials and asked forgiveness for the form letter. However, the volume of submissions, etc. , etc. The project I described does not suit their list at this time. He, too, wished me best of luck in finding an agent.

I really believe Alex Bullied has what it takes — I could be wrong — but I’ve only had these four queries out since I had the book professionally edited.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, received sixty rejections from agents. She kept going back and rewriting. The fortieth told her, “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” She kept rewriting. Number sixty-one was the charm.

Agatha Christie spent five years collecting rejections. Two hundred rejections for Louis L’Amour until Bantam took a chance on him. My reading life would have been sorely lacking if Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, had given up after her twenty-five rejections. Twenty-four for Nicolas Sparks’ The Notebook (not my cup of tea, but can’t argue with success). Stephanie Meyers only suffered through fourteen rejections before placing Twilight with an agent.

I wonder if each of these authors, and all the others, too many to mention, went back, as Kathryn Stockett did, and rewrote, making their books better. That is my plan. I will figure ten agents may not be wrong and I’ll take another look at the manuscript then. So I have six more queries to send with two who have not yet responded.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Stay tuned.