Writer’s Digest Conference West

This past weekend Taylor and I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference West (heretofore referred to as the WDCW, because typing out the entire thing each time, or even cut-and-paste, is quite frankly too much work for a Monday morning). The WDCW is a three-day long series of lectures, Q&A, writing boot camps, and – most appealing of all – two massive pitch sessions where authors with books to sell can sit down with literary agents for three minutes and pitch their work.

Taylor and I signed up as writing partners, allowing each of us the opportunity to attend one of the pitch sessions, and access to everything except the boot camps (which cost a bit extra). My book isn’t ready to pitch yet, being only in draft 1.5 or so–but Taylor’s book Linked is, and so I gave her my pitch session. That worked out really well for both of us: I got to go to a lecture session I really wanted to see, and Taylor got to pitch to double the number of agents that most people did.

I’m going to talk about my experience first, mostly because I’m more qualified to do so. The talk I went to was called “Amazon for Authors“, and was presented by Jon Fine (Twitter @jpfine), Amazon’s director of Author and Publisher Relations. I’ve been considering self-publishing the “Wizard and Warrior” stories ever since I had a conversation with Mark Teppo about it last March, and Jon definitely pushed me over the edge. Among the many products Amazon now offers to writers who want to self-publish: CreateSpace, Amazon Author pages, Kindle Direct Publishing, and ACX, a tool that helps writers and voice performers connect to create audio versions of the writer’s books. 

The other panel I attended during the pitch sessions was called “Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction“, presented by Philip Athens. Athens spent many years working at Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, as their senior managing editor. His talk was very short, less than 45 minutes of a 1.5 hour session – which meant he had lots of time to answer questions from the audience. He spoke about worldbuilding, keeping the imaginary worlds of your stories ‘realistic’, and fielded questions on diverse topics ranging from how to handle technical and foreign language in a story to why is fantasy so much more popular in modern culture than science fiction. Very interesting, not least because Mr. Athens is an engaging and humorous speaker.

OK, enough about me: I could go on and on about all the panels I went to (and probably will, on my own blog). Let’s talk about Taylor, shall we? Taylor and I went to a session on Friday night called “Pitch Perfect“, presented by Chuck Sambuchino, one of Writer’s Digest’s editors and an author in his own right. He really nailed down what to do in a pitch to an agent, going over it point-by-point. Taylor and I talked about her pitch afterwards, where it was strong and where it needed work, and after we went home she stayed up and worked on it for some time.

And–as you may have guessed from knowing Taylor–she went in and nailed it. Eleven of the twelve agents she spoke to gave her their card and asked her to send them more information, and the twelfth one only did not because she doesn’t deal with the genre Linked is in. Instead, that agent sent Taylor to one of her co-workers at the same agency, and Taylor successfully pitched to that other agent. Along the way, Taylor got some great feedback about her story, a couple of comments that have made her ask some serious questions about her book, and a lot of new energy surrounding getting her book published.

Having both of us there gave us another opportunity. In several of the time slots, we each wanted to go to more than one session, and by dividing our forces and taking notes we’re going to be able to share twice as much information as we normally would have. There were other sessions where we both went to the same lecture, which also worked out well; in every case we both enjoyed and got a lot out of the sessions.

One last thing I’d like to share. While Taylor was standing in line for the second pitch session, I went upstairs and got myself a burger at the bar in the hotel. I sat down next to a couple of people who were eating nearby, and the woman next to me introduced me to the other man – a gentleman named Dan. In a matter of moments I realized it was Dan Simmons, the author of one of my favorite science fiction series, the Hyperion Cantos. I tried like hell to keep my cool and we chatted for about half an hour about writing conferences and conventions, his history as a writer, and Harlan Ellison (who was the inciting factor in getting Dan’s career as an author started). Mr. Simmons was the keynote speaker at the convention, and I found much to my surprise that he referenced our conversation during his speech later that afternoon. I nearly swooned–but then, hero worship is like that.

I’m left feeling charged up and creatively inspired by the entire weekend. Ideas and breakthroughs about my stories have been swirling around in my head, screaming and pounding on the inner walls of my mind. I have to go let them out, but before I do I want to say thanks to Taylor, whose idea it was to go to this conference. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, Taylor, I hope you get as much out of WDCW as I did, and more (like a book deal!).



Filed under Moderately Uncategorized Gabbing, The Written Word

9 responses to “Writer’s Digest Conference West

  1. Cyn Bermudez

    You met Dan Simmons! That’s so freaking cool. Did you take a picture with him?

  2. I didn’t! Dammit. I was trying to play it cool… but I should have, huh? What I’m really pissed about is I didn’t catch his name when I looked at the schedule, otherwise I would have brought my copy of ‘Hyperion’ for him to sign. :\

  3. How smart to give Taylor two pitch sessions! I only got to five agents during mine. I heard of one other person who got to seven, but some others only pitched to three or four agents. The Pitch Slam is definitely a highlight. I learned a lot during Jon Fine’s session too.

    • I’m kind of sorry I didn’t pitch, just because everyone I talked to had a good experience. But I wasn’t ready, and Taylor is, and I know if our places were reversed she’d have done the same thing.

      I learned a lot in almost every session I went to! But Jon’s was definitely one of the strongest ones.

  4. Pingback: Pitching a Grand Slam

  5. I am SO GLAD we went to this, and as writing partners, and I’m SO GRATEFUL you gave me your slam! I’m amazed you got down all these amazing notes from the experience. I have great plans to blog about the sessions, including the best advice/tips, but I am still reeling. For now, I just put up a brief post on my pitching experience 🙂 http://www.taylorlaurenross.com/pitching-a-grand-slam/

  6. Cyn Bermudez

    I’m so happy for you, Taylor. Very exciting. =) I loved that pic of you and Anthony. And Anthony, Play it cool — what kind of fan boy are you? Lol. jk. ;P

  7. What a fantastic experience! It’s always baffling when you find yourself seated next to a writing hero. Sound like you hit home though if he mentioned you in his speech… haha

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