I happened across the Surrey International Writer’s Conference website (www.siwc.ca) early in my web-research journey because of its high satisfaction ratings and warm-fuzzy factor – i.e. people seem to rave and gush about it a little more than others – and decided that perhaps a Canadian conference should be my first. An alternative would have been to sign up for one of the many in New York, but since I’ve never been to NYC and find people from that particular centre-of-the-universe intimidating, adding that angst to the nerves I would be feeling anyway would have been counterproductive. And also, I like being out West – BC breeds lovely, gentle people, and there are tons of large pine trees there.
What I’ve discovered about Writer’s Conferences – from all that über-profound internet research, you know, the stuff that’s determining the direction of this wee planet’s learning – is that they are scary and/or wonderful. Some people get to isolate the latter of the two emotions by attending purely to take in the workshops and seminars and schnoozle with writer friends from conferences past. Others attend to focus on the first, and find themselves ID-badged-up and lurking where – anywhere – an agent or editor might be found, be it the proper spaces or the bar or through closed bathroom stall doors (true story, that – happens at every one, so I’ve been told).
I’m a little of both, apart from making small talk at the urinal. My primary goal was to pitch Aeden’s Wake, my first novel, to agents and editors, in the hopes of representation and publication, and also attend workshops on writing craft and the publishing industry.
Signing up was easy: click, click, and enter Visa number (there are actually more clicks than that, but I didn’t count). Next, because I paid for the whole weekend, I was entitled to a pitch session and blue pencil session with my payment; if you buy a day at a time, you can only sign up for those things on the day itself, which greatly reduces the likelihood of seeing someone perfect for your work. The whole weekend registration fee was about $800, because I signed up for a couple of optional “Master Classes” on the day before the main conference started. Within 24hrs, I had my confirmation of registration and my two sessions, so I could then book flights and accommodations. I decided to spend a little extra and stay at the venue hotel – The Sheraton Guildford – because it’s way out in Surrey, which is about 45mins from downtown via SkyTrain. This was a good decision – the days are long and very, very full, and knowing I could duck up to the room for a kip or sip as needed was nice.
Preparation for the conference involved more super-awesome internet research (man, is there a lot of crap in cyberspace) which I was able to distill down to two things. First, have a pithy logline – one sentence that captures the premise and unique awesomeness of the novel – ready for use at any time while at the conference, and second, write a 1-2 minute pitch that summarizes the best things and plot of the novel and why you think it would do well in publication. Since I have been querying agents since late spring, most of my homework was done – I just had to focus it a bit.
Here’s my logline (apart from a more specific explanation of my climax and denouement – I want you to buy the novel at some point, after all): Aeden’s Wake, a literary/upmarket novel with a supernatural undercurrent about a young woman who discovers that her family’s personal tragedy may be more than just a small town tale of loss and woe. (Don’t worry – I didn’t actually use the word “woe” in my pitch session.) Perhaps I’ll post my pitch at a later date.
Because my focus was on pitching agents and editors, I was ducking in and out of workshops all weekend to attend the pitch sessions, which run alongside everything else. In addition to the sessions you get when registering, each morning there is opportunity to sign up for more, depending on availability. Jocosa Wade, a friend over at Backspace (www.bksp.org, an excellent resource for writers to get advice about agents and querying, among other things) had told me about the sign-ups, so I was almost first in line each morning, and ended up getting a total of six agent pitch sessions. This was the best part of the weekend for me – just sitting and chatting with agents has given me much more confidence about the whole process (thanks, Jocosa!). Best of all, I had six requests for more material, including four for the full manny!
It would be fun to go back sometime without the worry of pitching, just to take advantage of the workshops, which covered everything from plotting and character to marketing and publishing and everything in between. Generally, the sessions are excellent – SIWC has been around for nineteen years and has discovered the formula for inviting speakers who add much to the experience.
One of the other interesting happenings was the recurring motif from agents, authors, editors, and organizers was the transformation of the publishing world towards digital realities. The de-emphasis of genre and the traditional publishing model towards self-publishing and publishing on demand as being the next big way for writers to get their work out there and get noticed. Also, hearing about how genre-bending and mixing is anticipated to be really huge over the next while – that’s great news, because blending the literary and realist with the supernatural is what I do!
All in all, it was a great experience, one I hope to repeat.
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