I thought I’d share my experience of a day at a writer’s convention with you. Not having been to one before, I don’t know if it’s typical or not, but it might help to make up your mind whether or not you’d like to attend one.

It was only for the Sunday, as I thought the price of over £500 for three days was a little on the steep side.  I set out on the Saturday afternoon for the 200 mile journey, intending to stay overnight at a local B&B.  I read through the instructions on the Saturday night of how to get to the university where the conference was being held, and looked forward to registering at 9am the following morning.  On Saturday night just before I went to bed I checked my emails.  The synopsis of my new book ‘The Donor’ had been picked out by the agents.  I would be required to read it out in the lecture theatre in front of the assembled agents and writers.

Hmm…. I wished then that I had not decided to take a last look online; the thought of having to read my work out with a voice sounding like a corncrake with laryngitis was enough to keep me awake for the next two hours.

On the Sunday morning, the first problem occurred when I drove onto the sprawling university grounds to find no signpost at all to the suggested car park near to where it was all kicking off.  Indeed, there weren’t even any signs to indicate the conference was taking place at all.  I parked near an entrance and wandered around until I saw a desk, a long line of visitor passes, and two smiling ladies beaming at me.   They were still smiling as they pointed out with some dismay that I had turned up at an editors’ and publishers’ conference, and to carry on to the central hall where the writers’ conference was taking place.

I followed the signs to the central car park, and hoped for the best.  There was still no indication of any conference taking place as I strolled around the grounds admiring the lake and flying ducks.  However, good news abounded as I arrived at another desk; I had ended up at the right place for the writers’ conference!  I was given a visitors pass, and a leaflet instructing me which rooms the lectures and workshops that I had pre-booked were being held in.  The two one-to-one appointments with agents I had pre-booked were in another part of the university, so I set out quickly to locate that.

The first lecture at 09:20 was on the future of publishing.  Four agents sat around a desk and gave us their opinion.  Of course each one had a different opinion from the others.  One remained optimistic, one wondered where agents would stand if the big bookshops folded, one said the future was with apps and other online media rather than with physical books and libraries, and another remained indecisive.

Then it was time for the first workshop with three of the agents – the ‘Slushpile’.  We had all sent our synopses in and hoped for the best.  Mine was one of four to be picked out of about 100.  As the first author’s synopsis was picked apart and the chap was told it was too long, I squirmed in my seat and wished I could be somewhere else.  When it was my turn I was told that my synopsis was too short and was more of a ‘blurb’.  I’m not a fan of rambling synopses, and prefer a short, succinct statement, but vowed to make it a little longer when I publish the book.  The third person had her paperback in front of her, and argued every point which the agents made against it.  The fourth person already seemed to know the agents, and most of the time was spent talking about her book.  She nodded and smiled knowingly at them, and sought them out for the rest of the day (we were specifically asked not to do that!).

During the second workshop ‘Who Dares Wins’, it was time for my 10 minute one-to-one slot with my first agent. The workshop seemed to consist of the agents asking us in the audience what we thought they did all day.  I couldn’t see how this related to the theme of the workshop though.  The organisers had engineered the conference less-than-ideally, and all the one-to-ones coincided with the workshops.  I missed half of the second workshop in order to traipse over to another building where more agents were.  We were not allowed to arrive more than 5 minutes before, and had to wait for an announcement to be able to walk over to them and ask the author already ensconced there to move out of their seat!

I had sent the first 2 chapters to the agents for reading and making notes on.  The first agent liked the chapters, and said the writing was ‘tight, light, and evocative without being too burdened with detail’.  She said she would like to read on.  I asked her if she would like the full manuscript, but then she told me that she wasn’t an agent.  Hmmm… what had I paid my money for?  Apparently it turned out that she was a ‘book doctor’ instead!  Okay, okay, so she liked the story.  My rested my hopes on speaking to the second agent.

I had to miss half of the third workshop to speak to the second agent, which I wasn’t too sad about as most of what the lecturer talked about (boosting the emotional power of plot) went way over my head.  Joy! The second agent actually was an agent!  He said the chapters were well written, with clear engaging scenes, and that he would like to read the entire manuscript only after I had re-written the whole book showing only one perspective instead of several.  I actually definitely do not want the story showing only one perspective, and so that’s the end of that!

Was it worth the money I paid?  Well, there was a lovely roast beef lunch, but other than that I don’t really think it was worth it.  I was besieged at lunch time with authors flinging their business cards at me and telling me to buy their books, and each one seemed to have an Amazon rating higher than the one before.  I checked out one author when I got home whose business card I still had at the bottom of my bag.  He told me he had sold 3000 books.  The reality was he had 5 reviews, and a rating of over 1,000,000.  3000 books sold? I DON’ FINK SO!

What did I learn from my day at a writers’ convention?  Well, I’ll list them here for you:

  1. I learned about something called a ‘White Glove Programme’, where agents can help authors to self-publish.  However, there are costs involved I think.
  2. I learned to make sure that if I went to another one of these it would be an agent I was booking a one-to-one with and not a book doctor.
  3. I learned that not every author is selling the amount of books they tell you they are.
  4. I learned that even some agents are worried about the future of publishing.
  5. I learned that if you put 4 agents in a room, they will probably all have a different opinion about your writing.
  6. I learned to get somewhere near the front of the queue for your roast beef dinner.
  7. By the end of the day I had learned to stay well clear of writing conferences and bloody well write the book the way I wanted to in the first place!
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