So on Thursday July 20th I boarded an Amtrak Cascades train northbound to Seattle for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference. I brought my laptop bag, a flash drive, my lucky pen, a fresh blank spiral notebook, my full manuscript, sample chapters printed out, business casual wear, good high heels, and fresh business cards ready to be handed anyone and everyone. I aimed to bring my A game.
It was my first time there, actually first writing conference ever, and I really didn't know what to expect. I was hesitant to even attend due to the cost - but being a Finalist in the Memoir Category earned me a discount and extra recognition so my husband insisted I go ahead and go. So I went. Thursday night we had a Pitch Fest, where we broke out into groups of 7 or 8 and practiced our book pitches with each other. I have to say that was a lively springboard for the weekend. I met awesome writers from vastly different genres - romance, kids lit, paranormal sci fi - and we all were equally self-conscious about presenting our work to fancy New York literary agents in 4 minutes or less. While sitting in a grand ballroom full of 800 writers seeking publication I thought the vulnerability was palpable. But Thursday night we had the pleasure of hearing Natalie Baszile speak about her book's story, QUEEN SUGAR, and how it took more 10 years to come to fruition. I knew there was method acting, but I didn't know there was method writing! She was an inspiring speaker and the perfect match for the audience at hand. I bought her book afterward.
Pitch Blocks happened throughout the weekend - where for 90 minutes we got the chance to stand in line and wait for a 4-minute round with an agent accepting submissions where we either heard "I'm interested, send me chapters" or "Sorry you're just not right for my work" - and sometimes it wasn't even that nice. I was able to formally pitch to 5 people during my Saturday afternoon pitch block, 2 editors and 3 agents, but really, in the words of my old collegiate Theatre Department head, "You're always auditioning." I sat next to an agent for dinner one night and he gave me some names to connect with. I stood in breakfast lines and cockctail hours with other authors and practiced talking about my book and exchanged business cards. It certainly was a different world from call lights, bedpans, and passing out oxycodone. Then after the penultimate Literary Awards Ceremony Saturday night I was invited to the Winners reception immediately following! Oh, because of this:
Whaaaa!!! Awesome right? I'm so honored to have received this recognition from PNWA. I'm honored to have met and connected with great writers and people throughout the weekend. Special shout out goes to: the Pitch Fest group lead by Brian Mercer (Rob, Christine, Sonja, Steven), Donna C Conrad for her flash fiction session, Steven Salpeter for his agent suggestions, William Kenower for his advice on memoir, A.C. Fuller's podcasting for authors session, the cool English teachers from Sequim high school, and my amazing awesome husband for driving up from Portland Saturday night to support me. I love you!
The biggest takeaway for me, other than the 2nd place award and the 10 agent business cards, was getting over my reluctance to speak about my writing and my book. That's all I did for 4 days is talk about writing with other writers so now it doesn't seem so hard to talk about it with friends and strangers. With all the great things that happened I did struggle with some things. It was a weekend fulls of emotional highs and lows (writers, right?). I got the impression from the non-fiction publishers that unless you are Amy Schumer and have thousands of Twitter followers it would be difficult to sell your book without a huge platform. Furthermore I was disturbed by the specific suggestion from a few professionals that I needed to "align my identity with my content" and go the lecture series self-help dating guru route, and then garner a big following, and then call them. Um, noooooo. I don't want to do that. I know my platform is in a different vein from my book subject matter - but I didn't like the idea that I had to "change my identity." I mean, what? A two-hour, high-heels-free nap later I heard the advice that: "The people who like you, what you do and write, will follow you no matter what so be who you are and be good at it." Then I met an author who wrote a personal memoir first and then published a novel. So I was relieved to hear that not all authors have to fit into nicely labeled boxes all the time.
Sunday morning we left Seattle for Portland and at 1pm I clocked in to the hospital to finish the last half of my scheduled weekend shift. I convinced another nurse to cover me for the morning. From writing persona to scrubs and bedside report; that's 100% me and I'm gonna run with it.
Stay tuned for more book related things! ~M
*The full list of PNWA Literary Contest Winners can be found here.