This was my second Writers’ conference.
As we were packing up the car to make the trek to San Diego, I must confess I was wondering whether the trip was going to be worth the cost. After all, I’d just attended a conference in September, and probably not much had changed in the publishing world since then. Not only that, but by an odd twist of fate, almost all the agents there already had a copy of my manuscript, which meant I’d be going without any opportunity for a meaningful advance submission critique.
I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t already know, but I’m going to say it anyway–I needn’t have worried.
At the last conference, I’d taken the approach that as a beginner, I should lurk to see what the conference was all about. Even when I had the opportunity to read, I passed. Such conventions develop a certain culture, and I wanted to see how things worked before I jumped in.
Not so, this time. If I wasn’t going to get an advance submission, at very least I was going to get feedback. You see, a couple weeks ago I’d gotten some valuable beta-comments that the manuscript could really benefit from an introductory chapter that put the early action into a broader context. I now had that chapter in hand, and I was proud of it. But that didn’t mean it couldn’t benefit from the attention of talented experts, and there would be talented experts aplenty in San Diego.
This time I did not lurk, I dove in. I presented my new chapter in four different workshops where it was dissected and analyzed by a host of writers and editors. As proud as I was of my chapter, I soon learned several key ways to improve it. My biggest epiphany was that I had been lazy about character introduction, leaning heavily instead on my love of snappy dialogue. The problem is, of course, that even the snappiest dialogue rings hollow without a solid mental image of the characters engaging in it. Sure, I had a clear image of those characters, but that’s no substitute for making sure the reader has the tools to ride along with me.
So, if you are wondering what the San Diego Writers’ Conference can do for you, allow me present a concrete example: I offer the first page or so of my introductory chapter (accessible by clicking the links below) as it existed before the conference, followed by the same segment of text after applying all that conference expertise:
I see an enormous difference, and I think you will too!
I’d like to give a special shout-out to the moderators of the various workshops, whose expertise and enthusiasm I found so inspiring:
In alphabetical order:
You’re all rock stars!