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I Suck at Queries and Other Valuable Lessons: DFWCon 2013 part 2

I’m not a morning person. I will never be a morning person. That was never more clear than on Sunday morning, Day 2 of DFWCon. I wonder if not being a morning person would be easier if I drank coffee? I don’t, though, so I settled for orange juice while trying to eat breakfast in five minutes.

Why the rush? Kristen Lamb’s class on Blogging started at 8 a.m. I had the opportunity to attend Kristen’s class on Antagonists at last year’s conference, so I know what a fabulous speaker she is, and she’s like the jedi of blogging and social media. No way was I missing this class! It didn’t disappoint. I already suspected that I was not blogging effectively, and this confirmed it. I really liked Kristen’s lesson on compiling an ‘ingredient list’ of who you are and incorporating that into blog posts that actually connect with people and get a conversation going. I have a long way to go to be an effective blogger, but I’m thrilled to be armed with Kristen’s tips. She was also the first speaker that day to state, unequivocally, that pre-programmed/scheduled tweets are a very bad practice.

Attending the blogging class caused me to miss half of Kelly Simmons’ class on Marketing.  The worst thing about this conference is that there are just so many awesome classes, it’s impossible to attend them all. That’s a good problem to have! Since I have a lot to learn about the marketing side of the business, I hated to miss part of this, but was able to get notes from someone (Thanks, Sarah!). For the second time in an hour, I heard that automated tweets are a bad practice. I began to sense a trend.

After that, It was time to focus on craft for a bit, with a class on writing dialogue. Although I think I am  fairly good at dialogue, there is always room for improvement. While there were no earth-shattering reveals that will change my life in this class, overall it was helpful and informative. I left about five minutes early because I did not want to be late for the highlight of Sunday- the small group romance workshop.

These genre-specific small group workshops were new to the conference this year. They were limited to ten participants, who were able to read a query letter and first two pages of a MS to two agents/editors. I’d been looking forward to this one ever since I heard about it and woke up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday last month to sign up. It was worth it!

We got started with a little humor, when one of the professionals super glued her finger while attempting to fix something on her shoe. Yes, literary agents are people, too. And they even sometimes super glue their fingers.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to perfect my materials for this class, and I thought I had something pretty good. Two pages is not a lot, though. It reinforces how fast you have to hook people. My results were a mixed bag. My query letter was bad. The agent said it lacked conflict and any sense of what was at stake for the characters and did not have a strong hook. It stung a little, but it was something I needed to hear. I think there is ample conflict in my story, but I see now where I failed to present it effectively in the query. This is something I obviously struggle with and need to work on. A lot. Query letters are an art form I have not mastered, or even come close to mastering.

My first two pages fared much better. I got some laughter- in the right places- from others in the room as a I read and a quite enthusiastic “I love the voice” from the editor. This made me want to turn cartwheels in the room, as I have made conscious efforts to strengthen my voice over the past year since realizing at last year’s conference that it needed improvement. It’s nice to know my efforts have paid off, and this should serve me well- assuming I can draft a decent query and get my pages in people’s hands.

It was lunch time, then, and I ran into my fellow Iowan and we sat together and enjoyed fajitas (It was Cinco de Mayo after all) and a keynote address by Michael Capuzzo.

After lunch, I attended another workshop with Kim Boykin, this time on writing for women. There was brief discussion of the romance and chick lit (which I learned is becoming a bad word) genres, but the main focus was on women’s fiction.  There was a little overlap with Kim’s class on texture from the day before, but lots of new, helpful information, too.

The last class of the day was on social media, and wouldn’t you know it- third time that day I heard that you should not pre-program tweets. I think it’s sinking in now! The instructor, Piper Bayard, collected everyone’s blog/twitter/facebook information to distribute so we have a group of friends to connect with and help each other out. The DFW Tribe. Great tips in this one.

The DFWCon grand finale is The Gong Show. Conference attendees submit anonymous query letters which are read to a panel of agents who bang a bong at the point they would stop reading. This is a valuable learning experience in what agents are looking for or not looking for. (Hint: They hate rhetorical questions). Out of 22 queries that were read, 1 made it to the end. It’s a harsh business, folks!

So what’s the most valuable thing I learned from the conference experience, besides that I will never be a morning person, In N Out Burger is still awesome and the Hampton Inn Hurst doesn’t get NBCSN?

While my writing continues to getter better, I still have a lot to learn and improve on in order to truly succeed in this business. And attending great conferences like this one is the best way to learn and improve.

See ya next year, DFWCon!

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3 comments on “I Suck at Queries and Other Valuable Lessons: DFWCon 2013 part 2

  1. Michele, Thanks for this information. I just finished After Ten and I loved it. You are a very talented writer.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post. And the book!

  3. Nice bit of information. So exciting that they loved your voice! Queries can be worked on, but you have the most important thing already – awesome story telling skills! So excited for your next projects and glad the conference was such a success!

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