Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting the Write Stuff

This past weekend was a big one for members of the Bethlehem Writers Group because six of us decided to attend the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group's "Write Stuff Conference."

The Write Stuff conference is hosted annually by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG), but despite the fact that it was held in my backyard, so to speak, never before had I attended. Ralph Hieb, whose short story "Walter and Stella" also appears in A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales, used to be president of GLVWG and has attended every conference for the past decade. He managed to convince me to go, even though I still thought my manuscript needed a bit of polishing. Ralph was so persuasive that he also convinced BWG members Jo Ann Schaffer, Carol L. Wright, Ann Decker, and Sally W. Paradysz to attend.

Since this would be my first writers conference, the nerves set in early and by the time the conference rolled around I was sleep-deprived and just wishing for it all to be over. In retrospect it seems silly that I was afraid of such a wonderful experience, but I suppose the unknown is always a bit intimidating. In any case, I drew some comfort from the strength of the BWG members around me.

The conference spanned two days. Friday night we attended a panel on how to pitch to an agent. Now, pitching to an agent was one of the things I felt especially nervous about, so I figured the session would be good preparation for the day ahead. The agents on the panel assured us that they very rarely killed and ate the poor authors who came to pitch to them, which I found to be extremely comforting.

After the pitch panel, there was a mixer for conference attendees. It would have been easy to huddle in the comfortable bubble of my BWG friends, but I noticed Sally had a very contemplative expression on her face. I asked her why, and she told me she was considering approaching one of the agents and making her pitch.

What a concept! I was hit with two simultaneous emotions. First, I felt a sense of inspiration--of course Sally should go pitch to an agent. She has an amazing story to tell, and who wouldn't want to hear about it? Second, I felt a little jealous. Why couldn't I go pitch my story as well?

If you're paying attention, you know the answer. As soon as I realized I would regret not talking to the agents at the mixer, I knew I had to ignore my nerves and go pitch my story. Gulp.

Sally and I went together--strength in numbers after all. First, she spoke to the agent I was going to meet with on Saturday. I didn't want to take up any of that agent's time because I knew there was a whole room full of authors who weren't lucky enough to get an appointment on Saturday, so I just introduced myself to her, and then introduced her to Sally. As I stood by my friend's side, she made an amazing pitch for her manuscript, and the agent requested to read it!

When Sally had the agent's business card safely tucked away, we moved on to an agent neither of us would get to meet on Saturday. We each pitched our stories, and the agent requested pages from each of us. And we each walked away with all of our limbs intact, even though the poor agents apparently hadn't yet had dinner.

You'd think the success at the mixer would have done away with my nerves about pitching my story on Saturday, but it didn't. My appointment wasn't until the afternoon, so as the day progressed, I felt the butterflies in my stomach grow from pygmy blues to birdwings. Finally my appointed time approached, and I went to the lobby to wait for my turn. It was at this point that I truly appreciated the caring nature of the writers around me. I must have been rather pale because two authors who had just finished their meetings, sat with me as I waited. They reassured me that the meeting would go wonderfully, and their kindness kept me breathing through those last few moments of waiting.

Finally, it was time to go in and meet the agent. I walked into the quiet, even peaceful, room where the agents and authors met, and made it the whole way across the open floor without fainting, or knocking anything over, or otherwise making a fool of myself. I sat across the table from the agent, took a deep breath, and smiled.

She asked about my writing, and suddenly the ten minutes had passed and I held in my hand the agent's business card with her request to see my full manuscript ringing in my ears! I thanked her, wished the next author good luck, and left the room.

Suddenly I was free to enjoy the remainder of the conference. Even better, I had the delightful experience of telling all of my BWG friends, and my new GLVWG friends about the meeting. I learned that not only had Sally gotten another request for her full manuscript from her agent meeting, but Carol had also gotten a request for pages from her agent. Later in the day I delighted as Jo Ann and Ann each won first place in the flash writing contest. (You can read their stories here) Ralph was a winner as well, he walked away with a door prize from the conference (a feat made more remarkable by the fact that in his decade of attendance, he never before won a door prize).

Tomorrow's BWG meeting will be a celebration. And, next year, I look forward to attending the Write Stuff conference with my friends, but without the butterflies.


  1. I know you will publish your book, Emily. When you look up from your book signing table, I will be the next in line. I can hardly wait to see what you write for me on the title page!

  2. No Sal, you'll be signing your own book at the table next to mine!

  3. I'd love to read a few pages of your manuscript.