Lessons from DFW


I’ve mentioned previously that I attended the DFW Writers Conference earlier this month and today I wanted to pass along some of my insights during that weekend.  I learned some things about the publishing industry, my family, and myself over the span of those two and a half days.  And as we all do out here in the blogosphere, it’s time to share.

DFW was my first MAJOR conference.  I’ve attended a couple local conferences here in my home state, but none of them could compare to the size and scope of DFW.  After playing with the big boys, I’m not sure I could ever go back to our small events.  DFW hosted fourteen literary agents, two editors, and countless other industry professionals all there to both teach classes and receive pitches.  I found value in every single session I attended.  Unlike genre specific conferences (i.e. romance writers, thriller writers, children writers, etc.), this one was a mixture of everyone, which I found appealing.

Once I figured out the layout of the facility (there wasn’t a map), it was easy to get around and I liked how there were plenty of spots to sit down and just chat with fellow attendees.  I did miss the opening remarks and most of the information about the door prizes and contests being held throughout the weekend because the printed schedule they provided left certain things out, but I believe that’s a result of growing pains due to the conferences recent expansion.  There were also a couple of logistical things that could have been improved (i.e. panel presentations didn’t have microphones for all the agents and those in the back of the room couldn’t hear), and I included those on my feedback form they had us fill out.  I’m sure they’ll see my name and get right on those!

One of my takeaways was the general impression that the stigma surrounding self-publishing seemed to be eroding fast.  Sure, there were some agents that issued warnings about how a less than successful (<10,000 books) self-published book would ruin any hope of a traditional contract, but there were just as many who now saw it as a viable alternative to get around the stringent gatekeepers and the slow to market book machine.

Some of the other things I gleamed: 
·       Publishers are really looking for stories involving strong female protagonist. 
·       Although blogging is the number one way to build brand recognition, Twitter is second most effective ahead of Facebook. 
·       I also learned that having your books sold in mass marketers like Walmart or Costco could actually hurt your royalties, unless you have a savvy agent who understands the fine print in some contracts

Part of the conference, during the late afternoons, involved a Query Letter and First Page Gong Show.  The way it worked was those who wished participate would turn in their anonymous query letter or first page, and then it would be read aloud until it was gonged by three agents.  There was a panel of six agents all together, but only it took only three of them chiming in to end the reading.  Query letters were done on Saturday afternoon and first pages on Sunday afternoon.  Yes, I submitted to both.  I have to say that these agents were brutal!  Most query letters made it just a couple of sentences.  I understood most of the reasons for gongs, but there were some where I felt the agents were being REALLY picky! I had re-written my query letter specifically for this contest, keeping how the contest works in mind.  I found that it was a great exercise for thinking how you wanted to structure a letter.  Ultimately, I was gonged before the end of the first paragraph, but there was a bright spot.  An agent who was not on the panel, but rather listening with the rest of the audience, came forward just after I was gonged and expressed an interest in the concept and recommended the author send her pages.  YAY!!!  (I've  already sent them off)  They didn’t read my first page, but at that point I didn’t care!

I also had a pitch session scheduled during the conference, and that’s where I discovered something about my family.  I drove to the conference with my wife and daughter, and no sooner were we on the road that I admitted I had no pitch.  Nada.  I had put it off and put it off for so long, that here I was on the eve of the conference with zip.  What did we do?  My family spent the next 7 hours while we drove piecing together my pitch, and when I presented it to the agent the next day…I was rewarded with a request for pages!  My family rocks!  And they really…really believe in my book!

So what did I learn about myself at DFW?  That I belong.  I felt at home amongst my peers and found it easier to open up to perfect strangers there because we shared the same interests.  There were so many others in the same boat I was, and I didn’t have to communicate with them through a blog.  In fact, the only thing I found disappointing was that I didn’t run into more of my blogging buddies, which would have been totally awesome.  I was recognized by one blogger who visited me during the A to Z Challenge, and that was kind of cool. 

Will I be going back next year?  If I haven’t been grabbed up by an agent before then (and maybe even if I am), most likely!  It was well worth the $ investment, and if I can entice a few of my blogging buddies to show up, it will be perfect!

So if you're looking for a good size conference to attend next year, might I suggest you put DFW on your radar.

44 comments

  1. Wow--you are a brave, brave man, submitting to that gong set-up! I'm glad you were rewarded with a request for pages. I'm not sure I could ever do something like that! It sounds like the conference was a great experience and it makes me want to go to one. I've only ever been to one, and it's just not something I've made time for.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congrats on the request for pages (from workshop & pitch!). I love interactive workshops and always try to submit something. The feedback is great, and like you just proved - who knows who will be in the audience listening?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for posting about your experience! I definitely have to make it to a conference someday. You have an awesome family! Glad you guys all put your heads together and came up with a winning pitch. I'd be so scared to enter the gong show, but it sounds like things turned out great! All my fingers and toes are crossed that you hear EXCELLENT news... SOON.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really wanted to go! If the calendar date had been different, I'd have been there. I think you are a brave man to put your query on the show. Wow. It sounds like you learned a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Good for you, Don, you had pages requested. I'm so happy for you.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the conference. I'd like to have a conference of my own someday where we could all just meet and gab and talk about writing, have cocktails on the deck instead of having to go to panels and gong shows and what not. Kind of like a conference but not.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That sense of belonging is one of the reasons why I didn't quit writing. Writers are so supportive!

    Thanks for the details on building platform. Lately I'd thought Twitter might be #1, but I'm glad to hear that blogging is still strong!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This sounds like a much more goal oriented Con that the one I've been to (WFC 2011), which felt like it was more about the fans, but I agree with Sarah. Partaking in that gong session was very brave of you!

    ReplyDelete
  8. That's awesome an agent requested your query! Worth a few gongs I'm sure.
    Glad to hear blogging is still the best way to promote.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I too am struck by how supportive your family is. That they'd drive with you all the way to the conference and help you come up with your pitch is spectacular.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Awesome!!! Congratulations on having conquered DFW! That is wonderful -- I'm very happy to hear about the requests for pages. I truly hope that leads to amazing things for your book and for you!

    Thank you very much for sharing this, Don!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I always enjoy hearing about writing conference experiences. That made me laugh tho to hear there are still agents who think self-publishing and selling less than 10,000 books will hurt your career. A couple years ago it was "going with a small press without an agent" and selling too few books would hurt your career.

    ReplyDelete
  12. That's what I find so baffling about the publishing world. There are apparently more people writing stories than actually reading them, and the people who are supposed to be interested in publishing them are actually more interested in rejecting stories than actually reading them. During the short period where I was an editor for a fiction anthology, I responded to every entrant personally. I think you have no business being a publisher if you can't make that kind of commitment. Rejecting material so quickly and so easily (it's not just at conferences like the one you describe) only suggests that you're jaded and therefore probably not a good fit for your job. The publishing world is incredibly screwed up, especially considering that it's the oldest entertainment medium in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Costco and WalMart sales hurt? That's interesting.

    Congrats on the query request.

    ReplyDelete
  14. That is awesome. Sounds like you have an amazing family and that you had a great experience. Which, doesn't always happen.
    Good for you!
    And thanks for sharing your new found wisdom with us!
    Heather

    ReplyDelete
  15. very cool, DL! And ROCK ON! About the request for pages! Everything crossed over here for you!!!

    I especially loved that part about your family helping you with your pitch! That is so sweet and what a great memory. :o) *happy sniff*

    ReplyDelete
  16. Congrats on so many levels! I've yet to make it to a conference in person. I so want to go. Goal set for next year: NESCBWI!

    ReplyDelete
  17. PT that's wild. I gotta get more involved in Twitter.
    - Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
    @thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

    ReplyDelete
  18. What a relief you and your family were able to put together a pitch. I watched a TV program where Google had invited finalists to a conference to pitch their ideas. Not one had brought a pitch. My jaw dropped.

    ReplyDelete
  19. You *do* belong, DL. And congrats on all the success! Verrrrrry cool. And so cool that your lovely family was with you. I love conferences. I'm going to the SCBWI one in LA this August and am stoked. The energy is so motivating and inspirational! :D

    ReplyDelete
  20. One of these days I need to buck up my courage and go to a conference. One day ...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Glad to hear the event was so productive. I'd love to go but Texas is a bit of a trip for a conference. I'd love to see James Rollins though. How cool would that be! I met Dean Koontz at a conference once and gave him my book. Not sure if he read it though.

    ReplyDelete
  22. What a great experience! And awesome story about your family. :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. What a great experience! And awesome story about your family. :)

    ReplyDelete
  24. Glad to hear the Big D took good care of you!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Sounds like it was a great conference. CONGRATS on submitting your query and first page. That gong show thing sounds a bit frightening. : ) Your family is AWESOME!

    ReplyDelete
  26. AWESOME! I did not know that about Wal-Mart (does Target count--haha)! Go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Wow, so many good things, D.L.!! Congrats on the requests for your pages. I hope at least one of them brings GREAT things. :)

    It is still my ultimate dream to make it to a major conference like that.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm so glad that you had such a good experience and shared your knowledge with us! Good luck with turning in your pages. Your family sounds awesome and it's great that they stand behind your book.

    ReplyDelete
  29. The Gong Show sounds scary for those who entered pages~ kudos to you for being brave! And thanks for sharing some of your takeaways. I'm going to a conference this September-- not quite as big, but it should be fun :)

    ReplyDelete
  30. The Gong Show sounds scary for those who entered pages~ kudos to you for being brave! And thanks for sharing some of your takeaways. I'm going to a conference this September-- not quite as big, but it should be fun :)

    ReplyDelete
  31. It sounds like you had a great time at the conference and learned a lot. I think you touched on the best thing about conference: the belonging. :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. I was at that conference and had a great experience. Even though I'm part of the DFW writer's workshop that puts on the conference, I still believe it is one of the best conferences around. Congrats on the request for pages. I pitched to two agents and had requests from both. It's very exciting!
    See ya next year!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Sounds like a fabulous experience. Congrats on the requests!! So exciting :)

    One of these years, I'll make it to a conference, but small city Canada is far away from most of them :)

    ReplyDelete
  34. Congratulations on getting a request!

    ReplyDelete
  35. I plan on winning the lotto soon, and I'm sure I'll enjoy several conferences. This one sounds great.

    .......dhole

    ReplyDelete
  36. Awesome! You picked a mega con to make your first. Aren't they fun?? It's nice to be around your peeps. And congrats on your requests! That's super cool! Keep us posted!!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I haven't been to a conference yet but hope to someday soon.
    And how wonderful that your family helped you with your pitch! I'm still trying to get mine to *ahem* READ my stories.
    Pitches are hard! So exciting that you got a sample pages request!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Sounds like a wonderful time! I wish I could go to a conference like that. If only to meet people who share my writing passion.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Thanks for sharing this! I love conferences. So cool about the agent requesting contact after you got gonged - what an awesome story that would make if that became your agent! And congrats on the other request!

    ReplyDelete
  40. Does you family want to help me with my pitch? They can even pitch it for me if they'd like. :D

    I'm not sure I would be brave to do the gong show, even if no one knew it was mine.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Wow, this is a great report. It got me all excited for conferences again -- and that's a great thing! I'm so glad that you found that you belong. Because you do!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Glad to hear all about your trip. I hope it works out for you. What a great family you have. :) I'll have to think about it next year. (remind me.:)

    ReplyDelete
  43. So exciting! I love going to conferences. :D

    Your family is so supportive which is wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Very cool! Thanks for sharing your experiences...I love reading posts like these! Maybe next year I can hit this DFW one too...I heard lots about it via Twitter.

    Speaking of, are you on twitter yet?!? (I gave in to the Twitter urge a year or so ago and haven't regretted it a bit.)

    Best of luck with your requests! :P

    ReplyDelete

 

Archives

Blog Blitz

Design by: The Blog Decorator