Conference season is upon us, and in just over a week I, like a couple hundred other North Texas writers including Joan and Pamela, will pile into cars and head for the wilds of Grapevine. For those familiar with the vastness of Texas and awed by such a journey, let me admit here that it's about a thirty minute drive for me. No hotel required.
This will be my seventh conference, and I'm thinking of it a bit differently than those past. Those first conferences were all about learning about agents, and above all the pitch session itself. I soaked in every word, took copious notes, and generally held my breath after the agent I met with asked for a full manuscript. I would be the exception, I thought, and land the very first agent I ever met! Needless to say, this did not happen. Now I blush remembering the version of the manuscript I sent that kind woman who sent me one of the politest rejections I've ever received. Classic case of querying too early. I thought I was done, but alas, the true finished product was yet a couple of years off.
DFW Writer's Conference sent me its schedule the other day, and rather than the industry insider sessions I eagerly rushed to those early conferences, this time I find myself drawn to classes aimed at improving my craft. Sure, a query letter matters, and knowing what to say to an editor is important. But since I first got serious about a the idea of publication and a career in writing, my needs have shifted. I've got the nuts and bolts of the pre-agented stage down pretty well. I know how to write a query, how to send a partial or a full. I even know how to write a manuscript. But now what I want to do is improve that last part. A tighter story, thicker plot, irresistible characters that refuse to let the reader go. So I'll be found in the front row of classes like "Archetype as Story Engine" and "How to Write Snappy Dialogue." A dilemma, though: should I attend "Understanding Scene: Goal, Motivation, Conflict, Disaster" or "Writing the Sex Scene"? (Although perhaps the former encapsulates the latter.)
As I ponder my choices, I'm also realizing how much I've changed since I first wandered into NETWO in late March 2007. I had a finished manuscript, as I said (or so I thought), I was eager and excited and by the end my thrilled buzz was matched only by the headache I'd acquired from staying "on" for two solid days. A good preview for what a book tour might feel like, it occurs to me. The very next week I headed north to Oklahoma City for OWFI, and I was hooked. I loved, in both instances, the camaraderie, the unified air of hope, the excitement of this-could-be-it that permeated the very air. Of course, it's usually not in fact, "it," but it still could be. It could be.
So DFW. For me, the goal is improved craft and no headache. Toward the latter, Saturday night a group of friends and I plan to settle back at dinner, relax and laugh, and just be. My pitch session comes Sunday, and don't get me wrong, I plan to go in there and hit it with my best shot. But this time, it's not the purpose and point of the weekend. Will the agent ask for my manuscript? There's a good chance, sure. But it's really no more than a very personal query letter, and if the agent asks for more, I won't treat it like a tippling basket as I once did. Instead, I'll note the address, make notes to send it the next week, and then head to my next session, probably "Creating Three Dimensional Characters." Because while the book I'll pitch may be the first I'll publish, maybe it won't. But writing is forever, not just a weekend.