2016 SDSU Writer’s Conference

The Writer’s Conference in San Diego was wonderful, full of excellent information and plenty of opportunities to speak one-on-one with agents – whether to pitch, learn about the industry, or just to get to know them as people.
Here’s some of the excellent information from the conference (please note that I’m not adding anything from speakers Alexandra Sokoloff or Paula Munier because their talks included copyrighted information from their personal work. Their talks, however, were AMAZING. I highly suggest going to conferences or doing Boot Camps – commonly offered by Writer’s Digest – or buying their books to get all this awesome info. I purchased Paula’s book, Plot Perfect, at the conference and it’s beyond-words-excellent. She also wrote Writing with Quiet Hands (both available on Amazon). Although I can’t speak to Alexandra’s work, as I have yet to read it, she was full of great info too and her work is also available on Amazon: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.).
Additionally, please note that these are my personal notes and the speakers mentioned are not to be held responsible for any errors or lack of clarity on my part. 🙂 I do this for my fellow writers, not to offend the speakers, who are all wonderful! I highly suggest looking up the agents, editors, and authors that I mention because they are packed full of info.

Keynote with Angela Rinaldi
• Don’t start with the weather
• Don’t have cliché characters
• Know your voice
• Feel the conflict/heat between characters
• Put the spirit of the book in the first sentence
• Less is more! Every sentence should move your story forward foreword

  • Queries
    • An agents reputation depends on the quality of material sent
    • Look professional, avoid “cute”
    • Research agents genre/age group and address agents by name
    • One page, no attachments
    • Mention multi-agent submissions!
    • “The shorter the book, the less of the bullshit.”
    • Only query a finished MS, don’t do multiple books in one query.

• “The first page sells the book, the last page sells the next book.”
• Most people decide in 60 seconds of first-page reading if they want the book
• “Only 1 in 200 [queries are] worth looking at”


When pitching an agent

• Ask agents what is trending in their house and what they’re looking for.
• Take up space at an interview – act and therefore look comfortable and confident.

Creating a Pitch w/ Jill Marr

• Hook them, know when you’re done, and let it feel natural.
• Be quick and concise. Learn the C’s for your pitch:

  1. Concise: let it be a short operator/elevator pitch
  2. Clear: Effective and understood by everyone
  3. Compelling: hooks quickly, makes them want to hear more
  4. Conceptual: not a ton of detail. Main story only
  5. Customized: know your audience.
  6. Conversational: Get them to ask questions

• Have a 5 minute and a 2 minute pitch – polish them, but not perfectly
• What’s most interesting about your story? Character, plot, position characters are in? Is there a disaster? What stands out the most? That’s what your pitch should include.

• Know THESE about your book to create a good pitch:

  • Character
  • Situation
  • Objective
  • Opponent
  • Disaster

• Compare your book to another book or mashup a couple in an X meets Y (ex. Lord of the Rings meets War of the Roses is an X meets Y for Game of Thrones).
• Many agents hate when you compare yourself to big time authors unless it’s for a VERY specific book for good reasons.

• When pitching:

  • This is me, my book, and my marketing/social media.
  • They love if you already have an editor, beta, and CPs.
  • Also like to hear if you’re a finalist in any contests (not what number you were, just say finalist.)

Build a Career w/ Jennifer Ashley

• Jennifer is an author that has sold 80 – 90 books. She hates and is terrible at writing synopses and pitching
• She has 6 -7 books pubbed per YEAR. Writes a book every 3 months.
• Says that momentum is so important. Keep writing and getting books out. Don’t get stuck on one.
• All your energy and time should be in writing – all marketing is peripheral
• The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie – one of her romance novels that really connected to readers
• A lot of YA and kid books are sold only to school libraries – not for B&N because that’s where kids get their books.
• Make sure you read your genre
• Recommends Wattpad where you can post a chapter and get feedback


When Querying an Agent w/ Betsy Amster
I missed some of her talk, so didn’t get all of the information, but I did get a lot of good stuff. I apologize for anything I missed. 

Things You DON’T Want to Do When You Query

  1. No comedy act queries – meaning don’t be ridiculous. Be professional.
  2. Oral pitches are not as important as the written pitch. Writing persuades people.
  3. Don’t radiate unrealistic expectations – ex. you’re going to be the next JK Rowling. Be humble but confident.
  4. Don’t treat the interaction as you would if you were trying to find a contractor or dentist. You don’t have to investigate them. (Although I, personally, might suggest Pred Ed and some light website and Publisher’s Marketplace searching)
  5. Don’t pitch more than one project at a time. One query = one book.
  6. Don’t jump at the first agent who says yes to you. Make sure to ask them questions to make sure they’re the right fit and they’ll treat you and your book the way you are hoping for.
  7. Don’t send to someone that doesn’t represent your genre/age group/ work etc. Know your category!
  8. Radiate your control, don’t act confused. Agents can feel impatient sometimes, just like anyone else. They are NORMAL people.

Things You DO Want to do when you Query

  1. You want to be a desirable commodity. Make sure to mention what credentials you have
  2. Research agents – their genres and what they want. You’ll have a much higher level of conversation when the time comes.
  3. Know what you’re writing – genre, age group, plot, etc.
  4. Know what you’re looking for in an agent. Ex. Large or small agency? West or East coast?
  5. Get a referral!
  6. Snail Mailing? Remember your SASE (self addressed stamped envelope)
  7. Workshop your novel – writer’s groups, betas, CPs, editors, etc.
  8. Write a proposal if it’s nonfiction
  9. Be persistent. It’s all about taste. Just like a reader (see: you) have specific books in a genre that you would or wouldn’t read, so do THEY. They can’t champion and sell your book unless they love it. You just have to find the right person. When they respond ask yourself, “Did they put their finger on something or can you not work with them?”

Join/check theses out:
AAR membership – must sell ten books first
Literary Marketplace
Jeff Herman’s List


Critique Partners w/ Jen Malone

What do CPs do?
• Help decipher and dissect editor’s edit letters.
• Brainstorm new ideas / plot points
• Help promote new releases
• Support through ups and downs

Types of CPs to Have
• Read and write in the same genre
• The Mentor – someone a step ahead in the writing journey
• Some behind you in the writing journey, to pick up errors and mirror them in your own work
• Their strengths are your weaknesses
• Someone who offers sunshine and rainbows
• Once you have these you can get an overall idea to see where they agree the issues are
• Should try to have 3 CPs, but up to 6-8

The Fine Art of a Good Critique
• Compliment sandwich
• Damned if you do, damned if you don’t (saying something can get you yelled at, not saying it isn’t helpful)
• Frame constructively – why, how do you love/hate?
• Admit subjectivity – some readers feel certain ways based off of where they are in life
• Frame as questions – do you think they’d be wearing a sweater in the desert?
• Highlight in green what you love
• Suggest rewrites, don’t do it yourself
• Don’t insist your fix is the only fix – understand your notes are always to be taken with a grain of salt.

Fine Art of Getting a Good Critique
• Specify what you need, have questions ready that you can send after. Sending them before or after is up to you, if you send them before the reader/CP may only focus (or mostly focus) on those questions.
Examples of questions:
o Where did you suspect the twist?
o Character concerns?
o Cut word count in certain places
o Line edits vs. overall impression
o What’s their timeline?
• Young kids may not write notes. Use Post-Its: green for like, yellow for confused, red for don’t like. This way at least you can realize that something is/isn’t working in that area.
• Say Thank You!

Where to Find CPs
• Work, networking in topic, writing workshops, conferences
• Online groups. Read online queries @ contests like Authoress and Agent Snark. Google query contests
• InkedVoices.com: work with a group of prepublished w/ one pubbed author
• Meetup.com
• SCBWI – often has matchmaking CP service in area.
• How About We CP?
• Google “40 Places to find a critique partner” and go to TheWriteLife.com (whatever that link is)

Finding and Using a Professional Editor w/ Holly Lorincz
Holly = literaryconsulting.com

• Acquisition vs. in-house editor
o Acquisition = actively acquiring new material
o In House Editor = just edits
• Ghost writers not as common anymore
• Developmental editors – structure, arc, character, scope
• Line/copyeditors – grammar, spelling, best from Russia! Ha
• Proofreaders – go over material quickly spotting anything that stands out

• You’re self-pubbing
• Trying to get an agent
• Just signed a contract

• You’re willing to sell a kidney – can be expensive!
• Mired in the muck
• Have a complete draft – beta revisions done, ready to listen
• You need a final line edit/proofread
• Want to save time
• Editorial Freelancer’s Association
• Beta Readers are friends, family, etc.
• CPs are other writers on the same journey as you

• Referrals, consortiums, web search
• Guild or Association, Comparable Rates, Reviews and Testimonials (pred & ed, consumer reports), editor bios, detailed service and fees, scheduling dates and turnaround time, payment method.

• Ask about: sample edits, genre specialty, split edits, what to expect, are they using Chicago Manual of Style or Dictionary? What is assessed? Updates? Follow Ups? Turnaround time?

• Business perspective
• Objective
• Consider big changes (POV, tense)
• Genre/audience
• Research crafting concepts
• Just try it – just try a change and see what it’s like
• Ignore it – you don’t have to change with every piece of advice

Check out Discord – CP program lumped in with Google Hangouts and Skype.

Some Photos from the Event

2016-01-23 21.13.22 2016-01-23 11.31.37 2016-01-22 12.22.23 2016-01-22 12.41.56

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