Wanderlust: Dallas and NYC

I went to two writers’ conferences, in two different states in two consecutive weekends. It might seem crazy, but for me crazy works.

Though extremely tired and facing the consequences of eating breakfast at that random place nobody visits in Newark Liberty’s food court, it’s hard to put into the words the satisfaction I felt as I boarded my plane from Newark to San José.

But this is my best effort. Here is my review of the Dallas Fort Worth Writers Conference and Writers Digest Conference 2015 (DFWcon and WDC15 respectively), hopefully covering as many aspects as possible.

Tickets! Get your tickets!
Tickets! Get your tickets!

Dates and duration:

Both were a “weekend” long. But both had activities on a Friday. DFWcon’s activities were two speakers focusing on very precise points about the craft of writing. These activities began at 8 o’clock and ended at 4 p.m.

If you plan to attend the next DFWcon, check out whether the speakers on Friday interest you (for me they were) because if not, you can just be there Saturday and Sunday. DFWcon was in July this year. Yes, Dallas in July, so plan ahead though plans for next year have it for May.

As for WDC15, the conferences started at 1 p.m. and they were key, so missing them out isn’t really much an option, especially if you are participating in the pitch slam.

These conferences are very enlightening, however, and do not feel like an obligation. If anything, Chuck Sambuchino’s snappy humor will lighten the mood.

For both, three days is more than enough.

Content:

I’ve been to three conferences, all with a specific focus, so keep this in mind as you choose. They are big investments so good research before is key.

DFWcon is a mix between working on your craft and getting to know the publishing industry. Agents, editors and established writers participate on workshops and panels on topics such as: rejection and why it happens, what makes writing successful (no, there’s no magical formula), why not to write for trends and how to create worlds, amongst other examples. The classes are small and very interactive.

This conference focuses on improving your craft so much, an agent says yes.

WDC15 is the step ahead. It’s a careful combination between getting an agent and the publishing industry. This is valuable information because, though we are writers and we sometimes reject the idea that, to make it big in writing, it must be viewed as business. The workshops are expectedly bigger and some of the topics are: creating a writer platform (while we’re at it, they explain what a writer platform really is), how to use social media to enhance your following, publishing strategies, Amazon, Wattpad, the secrets to the industry and so on.

While there are workshops on how to improve your query, outlining and some genre-specific topics, this is not the focus.

A small crowd at Dallas for a detailed workshop
A small crowd at Dallas for a detailed workshop

Pace:

One is in Dallas. The other is in New York. Pretty clear, right?

DFWcon: The breaks are considerable and the theater doesn’t feel too crowded. However, if several simultaneous workshops don’t appeal to you, you might find yourself idling for a long period of time. (Well, write!)

WDC15: well, this is NYC! Breaks, what breaks? Go, go and go. Do, do and do.

These two aspects might throw some people off.

Speakers:

Following logic, the bigger conferences usually attract the bigger names. Yet the repertoire for both was really good. I will not separate them because: a) they might not attend the same conference next year and b) all were helpful in their classes and workshops. Here’s a handful:

(In no particular order)

Steven James

Benjamin Hedin

Kevin J. Anderson

Charlaine Harris

Shilo Harris

Tim Johnston

Steven Harper

Johnathan Maberry

Keith Strunk

Gabriela Pereira

Nathan Bradsford

A big crowd at NYC where we talk about publishing
A big crowd at NYC where we talk about publishing

“Agents are not mindless machines programmed to say no to every pitch.”

Agents:

Quality in both, in fact, and it was high quality.

Again, agents might change from year to year. Michael Sterling (DFWcon) told me he went to WDC14 but couldn’t make it this year. Allison Devereux went to both. Christopher Rhodes went only to DFWcon but Connor Goldsmith and Michael Gottlieb went just to WDC15.

This follows the same rule: the bigger the conference, the larger the amount of agents.

But on this part I want to highlight the following:

Both conferences succeeded in humanizing them. Agents are not mindless machines programmed to say no to every pitch. Really, they aren’t! They need us just as much as we need them, because it’s their income. Agents don’t earn unless the writer earns.

I know, so why do we get rejected? Because it’s part of the business! Just like anything else, why did Decca reject The Beatles? The reason: they didn’t believe in Rock n’ Roll. It’s nothing personal. So don’t take it personally.

Ask them. Pick their brains. Ensure you take advantage of the amount of money you paid. Just let them use the restroom if they need to. (No bathroom pitches, really).

Staff:

True, down to earth, hardworking people on both ends.

To those of you who didn’t know, the DFWcon is organized by DFWWW. These are the workshop attendees and each year, they rotate the managing responsibilities.

Writers helping writers, how cool is that? I believe this is the main reason why this conference is smaller and the staff names don’t resonate globally.

As for WDC15 you see big names in the business such as Chuck Sambuchino, Phil Sexton, Brian Klems and many others. Given the magnitude of WD, they are more “common” household names in the writing industry.

These people are very experienced in writing, the publishing industry in general and big, hectic conferences such as WDC15. Ask them anything you want! Take advantage!

Size:

One is about half of the other one.

DFWcon might be between 150 to 300 people with 10 to 12 agents.

WDC15 is about 700 to 750 people with 30 agents approximately (some might cancel).

Many participants at Keith Strunk's lecture
Many participants at Keith Strunk’s lecture

And finally, the pitch sessions:

DFWcon hands you a sniper rifle, a ghillie suit and tells you to wait for days until your prey comes. WDC15 gives you a 12-gauge shotgun with a laser sight, then lets you kick the door down.

At DFWcon you get a one-on-one, 10-minute pitch although you can purchase additional sessions. These are great to present your work at a measured pace, ask if you want to ask and, don’t forget, let them ask you. Just be very sure of the agents you want to pitch to. You can choose three in priority order, and you might not get your first choice. Research is key. You can work up the courage to send your anonymous query to the Query Gong for very exciting reactions and unbelievably helpful feedback.

At WDC15, you have a plethora of agents, nearing thirty. The pitching is hectic so you have to be on your toes. If there’s a big line behind Awesome Agent 1, go to Awesome Agent 2, or 3, or 4 or 5 (that’s how many awesome agents are available). Research with a bigger scope; know who represents your stuff and take advantage of the fact that there are so many good agents. Don’t obsess with just one.

And in both, remember: a finished book is better than any unfinished Pulitzer-award novels.

Here’s a brief summary:

  • If you haven’t finished your manuscript, you want to further develop your craft but still understand how an agent thinks, how the market is moving and so on, check out something similar to, or DFWcon itself. (I attended Niagara Falls Algonkian Writers’ Conference and it a small, boutique event. Quite lovely).
  • If you have a finished manuscript, if you’ve polished it, queried, investigated the market, believe it’s saleable and want to get published, go to WDC15.
  • If you can’t handle crowds or a crazy pace, don’t hit the big ones.
  • If you just want to write and not delve deep into the business side, then hit the small ones.
  • Or be crazy, like me, and go to both.

How about you? Have you gone to other conferences? Please comment on your experiences.

Advertisements

Author: Bernardo Montes de Oca

Journalism. Writing. Life. Periodismo. Escritura. Vida.

Leave a Reply/Comentarios

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s