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WOWZA: Writing Conference Wrap-Up

[NOTE: It wasn’t until I was preparing to post this that I realized that today is the last Friday of August. Which means that I should be posting in my Year of Reading Lewis series today, on The Problem of Pain. Whoops. Summer is going by faster than I thought! I’m not quite done the book yet – I thought I had a week longer, drat! Look for that post next week.]

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the When Words Collide Festival, held in Calgary, Alberta. As it is just a few hours down the road and as I have family to stay with, it’s a no-brainer for me to attend. Especially for the price – $50! With that you get 3 days of top-notch presentations from best-selling authors and experts in the field of writing and publishing.

Last year, the presenters included Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time, Mistbourne) and Jack Whyte (The Camulod Chronicles – my all-time favourite Arthurian saga), and in fact I attended a pre-conference workshop with Jack Whyte in which he gave some critiques on my MS. I also had the opportunity to pitch my novel to a couple of publishers who were attending. That was a great experience, and resulted in one publisher asking to see the MS. It was ultimately rejected by them, but still, it was a real thrill.

This year, I didn’t have as much time to prepare. So I didn’t have any stories ready for the Short Story contest that went along with the conference, and I wasn’t sure I would be pitching my book this year, as the publishers who would be attending  didn’t seem to be a good “fit” for my book. However, I saw that Sally Harding, an agent from one of Canada’s literary agencies (The Cooke Agency) would be taking appointment for pitches so, I thought, why not? Ultimately, my ideal is to get an agent, and here’s an opportunity to do my pitch to an agent with a lot of experience and knowledge. Even if she didn’t want to see my MS, which was likely, I could still learn from the experience and maybe get some pointers from her on pitching or suggestions of others agents who might be interested.

My pitch session was on the Friday, which was great, as I wouldn’t have to stew about it all weekend. I had the chance to sit in a session where she was one of the presenters, on How to Do a Pitch and Query, and it was great to see her “in action”, so to speak, and to see how gracious and kind she was. So it helped with the nerves!

You only have 5 minutes to give your “pitch”, which is basically your book distilled into one sentence. That one sentence should ideally introduce your main character, their goal, and some idea of what opposes them. And it should sound interesting enough for the agent to want to either read the MS or request a query from you. This is not easy, let me tell you. I  worked on mine for hours until I  finally got it to a place where I’m mainly happy with it.*

I didn’t have much hope that my MS would get requested. I mean, let’s put it this way. There are 30 agents in Canada. 30. For all of Canada. Guess how many submissions they get every week? Hundreds! And as she explained in response to a question, her agency took on 6 new clients last year. So, really, the odds are definitely stacked against us poor writers. Sigh.

Anyhow, we had a lovely chat about my book, and she was friendly and warm and engaging. At the end of it all, as we were wrapping up, she told me she wanted to see more, and asked me to send a query in to her agency! You could have knocked me over with a feather!  I mean, these things just don’t happen to little old me. Right? I left in a bit of a daze, let me tell you…. so WOWZA #1!

And the conference was just beginning! Once again this year the organizers had some fantastic authors as the keynote guests. Top among them (in my mind) was Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander series is one of my favourites. I have recently joined an Outlander fan group – the AB-Ootlanders, to which my two sisters and my niece also belong. I’m not really a “fan girl” kinda gal, but it’s been fun to meet these ladies and engage in discussions about a favourite book and writer with them. Needless to say, a bunch of the AB-Ootlanders showed up at the conference as well, and we all trotted along like happy puppies at DG’s heels, enjoying her readings, keynote speech, and panel appearances throughout the festival. A bunch of us even got to have lunch with her – how cool is that?

Here's my lunch picture, as proof. Yup, that's DG waaay at the end there, on the left.

Here’s my lunch picture, as proof. Yup, that’s DG waaay at the end there, on the left. The other ladies are some of the AB-Ootlander group…all dizzy with excitement and trying to act cool and collected….   🙂

Other writers of note at the conference included Brandon Mull, YA author of the Fablehaven series, who charmed us all with his humour and enthusiasm; David B. Coe, whose historical fantasy Thieftakers series intrigues me quite a bit; Daniel Abraham who writes a whole bunch of fantasy and sci-fi and, as James S.A. Corey, is writing and producing The Expanse TV show; Faith/Gwen Hunter who writes urban paranormal fantasy and thrillers, and C.J. Carmichael, who writes romance and mystery. Phew, what a line up! They were all interesting and engaging presenters – do check out the links and their books, I’m sure you will find something you like.

One of the funnest part of the Festival is the Live Action Slush. This is where an expert panel, consisting of publishers, editors, and usually one (or more) of the featured guests, gives feedback on a one-page reading of a manuscript submitted by audience members. The way it works is that a reader begins the MS, and, wherever the panelist would have stopped reading, they put up their hand. The reader stops once three of the four panelists have their hands up. Then the panel discusses why they put up their hand when they did or, if they did not put up their hand, why not.  Even with just one page of a MS, it’s very rare for the reader to get to the end of the page without at least one person putting up their hand.

I saw that DG would be on the panel for the Historical Live Action Slush, so, I frantically dug around in my files for something I could submit. I mean, to have Herself hear and comment on my work? Come on, a no-brainer! I found a short story that would fit and, with some fear and trembling, submitted it to the reader and sat down to wait. You submit anonymously, so that makes it easier, but still….a room full of people and the experts are listening, and judging…it’s kinda like American Idol for writers!

Well….to my shock and delight, the reader made it through my first page with nary a one of the panel lifting a hand, and they all gave complimentary words about it, including DG Herself! WOWZA number 2! 

Here we are after the Live Action Slush. Thrilled and happy? Yes I am!

Here we are after the Live Action Slush. Thrilled and happy? Yes I am!

But there were more delights to come. Right after the Historical Live Action Slush was the one for Urban Fantasy, and I had something to submit to that as well. This time David B. Coe and Sally Harding, along with a couple of editors, were on the panel. Did you catch that? The agent I had pitched to and who had asked me to send a query was now going to hear my work. What if they all hated it? Or what if they all loved it and SHE hated it? I mean, talk about pressure! I slunk down low in my seat as they began….the saving grace was that if they all hated it, or if she did, I was under no obligation to reveal myself as the author.

Surprise, surprise, all the hands stayed down and the reader made it to the end of the page! And again, complimentary words from all. WOWZA #3! 

Needless to say I had a fantastic time, enjoyed myself thoroughly, floated home on a cloud of joy, and am busy making my query as perfect as I can to send out to Ms. Harding.

I’ll keep you posted. No matter what happens, it has been a fantastic experience and I’m really glad I went. And I am signed up for WWC next year already!

*In case you are interested, here it is: “My book is about a young man who is desperate to get home after suddenly being thrust into Dark Ages Britain, but he is thwarted at every turn by a powerful Fey King, who sees the unexpected Traveller as a tool to be exploited in order to keep his crown.” Hmm. I’m still not really happy with “suddenly thrust”, it’s a bit awkward, same with “in order to keep his crown.” But for now, it will do.

Featured image: Jump for Joy, by Kreg Steppe, on Flickr


  1. Vanessa Ali says:

    My brilliant sister Lisa (YES! I AM trying to BASK in her reflected glory) has summed up the “When Words Collide” experience nicely! It was so FUN to attend the various panels and discussions and my FAVOURITE part was being in the audience at the 2 Live-Action Slush sessions when Liisa’s works did so well. I was soooo nervous and anxious and proud and amazed at her talent all at the same time!!! Another major highlight was meeting and listening to Diana G. She is truly a marvel: so calm, collected, gracious and sweet. So nice to know that someone as brilliant and talented and famous as her can still be so kind and generous with her time (and autographs!) to her fans…and most importantly with her assistance to other aspiring authors. I also learned about many other interesting authors (equally generous with their time and advice) and I will be sure to look their books up. All-in-all, a great conference at an amazing price. I highly encourage any author or lover of books to attend.

  2. mithriluna says:

    Wowza x3! So glad it was a successful trip for you! Looking forward to hearing about more successes in the future.

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