Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference

It's early, early Saturday morning and I'm in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference. I've actually been here since Thursday and apologize for my delayed update.

So far I've been very pleased with my stay. Thursday night was a smallish mixer at one of the Writer's homes. The food was great and the location was beautiful. I think though, having flown in that day, that most of the agents and editors were on the tired side so I know I bailed out earlier than I would have liked.

Yesterday morning I had a wonderful breakfast meeting with a client. We ate well and brainstormed even better. We talked about the book she's writing as well as the next book in her contract and some open-ended thoughts for how she can keep the excitement up as the series continues. I know I've said it before, but I really do love brainstorming with clients. It's so much fun for me and helps me keep my own creative sparks alive. I think the challenge is always knowing the author's characters, stories, and style so that the ideas I give suit what she's writing and actually help rather than hurt. And as I always say, I don't care if you use any of my suggestions, the purpose is just to help you start thinking of new ideas for your work.

Yesterday afternoon I had a critique workshop. I had been sent the first 10-pages and a one page synopsis for eight different books and yesterday I had an hour and a half to sit with all of the writers together (they also received the material) to critique and discuss. I've never done a critique workshop before, although I have done one-on-one critiques and I was a little unsure about how it would go. You know what? I was really impressed. I thought all of the authors were professional and had interesting comments and I thought every piece of material I read was well done and had some real possibility. In fact, I requested that one author send me her material and I know at least another two, with some revisions, will find publishers at some point. I think the key here is that all of these people were ready to sit down and really listen to what I had to say. They took notes on our discussion, asked questions and really seemed to want to learn. Like my morning brainstorming session it was a lot fo fun. I will say though that this time I was a little better prepared and warned the group upfront that I am not a warm and fuzzy person (this comes directly from my clients) and that you may hear more criticism than praise at times. I also made sure they knew that it had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my attempts to make their writing stronger and more publishable. I was told later that I wasn't that tough.

I had an hour break for coffee after critiques before I was ushered in to the coldest room in the hotel. I'm not kidding. I think my lips were blue and I was visibly shaking by the time we could escape. Anyway, I was sent to the coldest room for an agent panel with five other agents--Doris Booth of Authorlink, Kate McKean of Howard Morhaim, Elaine Spencer of the Knight Agency, Natanya (what a cool name) Wheeler of the Lowenstein-Yost Agency, and Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins and Associates. I'd met a couple of these agents before and a couple are new acquaintances. The panel went well I thought. The most interesting thing for me was the number of times we disagreed on something. I love when that happens on an agent panel because I think it really gives authors the sense that there are no set rules in this business. Every agent does things differently. I also hope it makes you all realize that you can't please everyone all the time. The best advice (and this was oft repeated yesterday) is to be professional. That will always win out over trying to figure out every little rule that every agent has.

My favorite dissention was over exclusives. Anne Hawkins talked about her desire for a one month exclusive on any full manuscripts she requests and Doris Booth agreed. I think Kate McKean and I almost gave ourselves headaches for all the head shaking we were doing. Needless to say, Kate and I both agreed that exclusives are unfair to the author and never request them. For newer readers you can refer to previous posts I've written on the subject for more information. Of course Kate and I both stressed the need for an author to treat agents respectfully when an offer does come in...of course I've written about all of this before.

Today I have appointments from 8:30 to 4:30. Yes, it's true. For all of my preaching they've done it again. I have at least 30 author appointments today and I feel sorry for anyone schedule to meet with me after lunch. There's just no way I'm going to be coherent by then. Sigh.

And then. Vacation! I'll be out all week relaxing in the Denver sun and enjoying books for pleasure. Don't worry though. I've written some posts for you all to read while I'm gone and since I'm a workaholic I'm sure I'll be checking in to see what you're saying.

Have a great weekend and a great week. I'm off in search of coffee.



bran fan said...

"I don't care if you use any of my suggestions, the purpose is just to help you start thinking of new ideas for your work."

This cracked me up. Really. Good writers have more ideas than they can possibly ever write. It looks like Jessica has fallen into the classic non-writer fallacy that coming up with the ideas is the hard part.

All this "brainstorming" does is make the agent feel good. She wants to feel like she's part of the writer's process, and that she made some kind of contribution to the writer's work. LOL.

No ideas my agent has ever given me have been good ones, or even workable. And yet, I smile and nod and pretend she's helping. She goes away feeling positive, and more eager to sell my work, so I let her think she's helped. Then I laugh behind her back.

loralee said...

Jessica, I totally agree with your comment about how brainstorming current and future projects with your clients can help them start thinking of new ideas.
As a published author, I get excited about my projects when my agent or editor keeps me in their radar and I appreciate their emails and phone calls. After all, they're in touch with the industry and know the current market.
I get a definite shot of creativity if I can brainstorm and bounce my ideas around with someone who is enthusiastic and eager to help me build a writing career.
However...communication is a powerful tool that has to work both ways. Writing is a solitary process and I sometimes forget to touch base with those who matter, too. I know every writer has different needs. I'm learning what mine are as I go along.

Terry McLaughlin said...

One of the reasons I signed with Jessica is because I know she enjoys brainstorming with her authors. I have a lot of trouble coming up with viable story ideas and digging deeper to develop the ones I do get.

For me, putting the words on the page is the easy part--it's developing and layering and structuring and honing each story angle that's the hard part of the job. I'm looking forward to brainstorming with Jessica to develop my next story, just as I always look forward to working with my editor to make it shine.

I know what kinds of stories I'm best able to tell. My agent and editor know what kinds of stories I'm best able to sell ;-).

Anonymous said...

You said you'd be there for awhile, relaxing and reading for pleasure. Out of curiosity, and to give insight to what you're looking for, what will you be reading?

Anonymous said...

bran fan --

It might depend who your agent is, too.

I'm not represented by anyone at Bookends, but have had one agent whose "suggestions" were so, so terrible, so completley undoable, that I'd get a headache just reading the emails.

Fast forward, I now have a different agent whose ideas are really pretty good. I don't "brainstorm ideas" with her, but she's great at pointing out what does and doesn't work in the "finished" work I send to her.

Although I do agree that executing the ideas are what writing is about, not just "coming up" with them.

That's why I'm not a fan of "packaged books," either, which was a previous blog entry here.

Angie said...

It sounds to me like the conference organizers need to have it emphasized to them that thirty interviews in one day is not productive for anyone. :/ What the heck are they thinking?? Maybe if you wrote it on a rock and bashed them with it a few times...?

I can get that they have a lot of writers there who are eager to talk to the agents, but I don't see why it's any better to be some agent's twentieth appointment of the day and have her be struggling to focus on where she is and what's going on, much less to remember my name, than it is to be told that I didn't sign up early enough to get one of the fewer agent appointment slots. Cut back on the slots, cap the number of appointments any one writer can have, then make it first come, first served on sign-ups. There you go -- it's fair to everyone and all the appointments have an even chance of actually accomplishing something.


Becca said...

Welcome to Denver! I hope you enjoy your week off.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great conference. I've heard Margie Lawson speak before and several other names on the list caught my eye. I'll be sure to check out their program for 2008.

Enjoy your week in Colorado.

Chris Redding said...

I know what you poor agents and editors look like after 1.5 hours of appointments at NJRW.
I cannot imagine forcing you to do that all day.

LindaBudz said...

Bless you. It is a good thing you are doing. I hope you are rewarded with an amazing find that makes you and your author extremely wealthy.

(We can all dream, can't we?)

Kate Douglas said...

Bran fan, I have to disagree. Jessica is my agent and while I come up with plenty of ideas on my own, her comments help me focus in on what is the most important aspect of said ideas. I tend to have so many things I want to do, that her comments help me find what is the most important kernel. Otherwise I imagine I'd spend a lot of time foundering. Granted, I no longer run everything by her, but I do find myself saying, " what would Jessica say?"

Petrina said...

I totally agree with Terry on this one. I have the premise for next few books in the series I'm writing but would really appreciate help with the layering and structuring. It's one of the reasons I'm looking for an agent.


2readornot said...

Whenever I read posts like this, I wish BookEnds repped YA :) I live in Denver, and I'm sorry it's a little rainy today...but it should be nice later this week--and the leaves are beginning to change up high. Take a drive up to Mt. Evans to see the scrub brush in its glory :D

JDuncan said...

You would think conference organizers would 'get' that scheduling 8 hours of client appts is counter productive, not to mention kind of disrespectful of the agent's time. Jessica, how come you don't announce ahead of time when you agree to do a conference that you will only do 'x' amount of pitch appointments? or at worst that the timing will be spread out, i.e. two hours morning, two hours afternoon, or whatever. Nobody can focus and pay attention for that kind of time frame. As a writer, I would have been very annoyed to get scheduled to meet an agent after she had seen 25 other people that day. I'd be more inclined to just give you my 30 second elevator pitch and wish you a restful evening.


bran fan said...

Here is a you tube about an agent and a writer brainstorming. I'm picturing something like this happening for real....

David E. Hughes said...

As one of the participants in your workshop, I want to say THANK YOU! I thought you did a great job.

AstonWest said...

One of these years, I really will make it to this conference. I've heard about it for years, and always want to go, but never get there.