It’s been over a month since I went to my conference and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. Now that my life is starting to settle back into a more-or-less normal routine, I thought it was a good opportunity to review the events.
First, I did not finish my first draft before the conference. In fact, it’s still not done, thanks in part to some epiphanies I had at the conference, but mostly to the fact that I just flat out haven’t had the time. (Seriously, I swear someone is messing with the clocks. And Daylight Savings hasn’t even happened/ended/whatever actually happens in the fall. But I digress.)
Second, the week prior to the conference, one of my friends mentioned that there were still openings for a query critique with one of the editors, so I figured I might as well go for it. I had a query more or less ready since I had to turn one in with the ten-pages I had already sent to the other editor for my manuscript critique. Of course, the night before I got on the plane, I decided to rework that query letter.
I’m… gonna skip the travel drama. Let’s just say that it featured stranger-men hitting on me at the airport at 5am in the security line, a flight surrounded by a group of men headed to a bachelor’s party sitting next to a group of similarly-aged women who were headed for a girls weekend, and then no cars despite reservations at the car rental place for a long line of angry, frustrated fellow travelers.
ANYWAY. I ended up being 5-10 minutes late for the Thursday workshops with only half a lunch instead of the full hour+ early I was expecting.
(Expectation vs Reality)
The critique group I was with was wonderful. There were five of us plus our sweet instructor. We all wrote some form of historical fiction and we ranged the gamut of newbie historical writers to multi-book published authors. I turned in the first chapter from my male main character’s POV since my true first chapter was already getting critiqued at that same conference. This version hadn’t seen any form of feedback prior to my sending it to them, so I was happy that most of their comments were a bit more nit-picky and on minor clarifications than any major problems.
That evening, I taught my writing support group about some website design 101 for authors from a web designer’s perspective via the chat feature of Google Hangouts *during* the keynote speech. (Fortunately, I had known that the two were on a collision-course due to time zones, so I wrote up my mini class in a Word doc, then copy/pasted it into Hangouts piecemeal and was able to more-or-less focus on the keynote.) Afterwards, I had the option of going to a book signing just down the road, participating in some writing sprints, or hanging out in the “networking” room and chatting with other authors. Between my stress and fatigue, I couldn’t make a decision and wasn’t in a good position to introduce myself to people, so I ended up basically muttering to myself while I shuffled around my plot index cards at an empty table in the networking room. That’s a perfectly acceptable and 100% normal writerly thing to do, right? Right??
Ok, so I don’t handle stress and exhaustion very well.
Friday morning I ran over to Kneaders for breakfast and took a wrong turn, so I ended up having to run back over to the conference session shoving my bacon & egg croissant sandwich in my mouth when no one was looking during the welcome speech because we technically weren’t allowed to have outside food. Whoops.
Fortunately, the rest of the day went a lot smoother and I didn’t resemble that second chicken nearly so much. The classes were amazing and like I mentioned earlier, I had several epiphanies on how to improve my current book.
Right after lunch, I had my query critique. I had ten minutes to show the editor my query letter and to discuss how to improve it. She surprised me when she told me that there were a few minor things I could tweak, but that she actually really liked it and then she pulled out her business card and started updating her work email. While she did that, she explained that if she were still a submissions editor, she would have forwarded my query letter to the acquisitions editors (her current position) for consideration. Instead, she wanted me to send her my book whenever it’s ready, even if it takes a year. So wohoo!
I skipped the rest of the class that I was already missing for this critiques and had a celebratory dance party in the hallway with the conference co-chairs while I waited for my husband to call me back so I could tell him.
And then I had to compose myself enough to go back to classes for the rest of the day. But that was ok, since these were ones I’d been looking forward to.
That evening I did a bit more socializing than the previous night and got to chat with some great authors before crashing.
Saturday was very similar. I went to classes, helped out at the timekeeping table for pitch sessions, then had my manuscript critique with a different editor. We spent a majority of the time going through her comments on my pages (which she emailed), then in the last minute or so that I had left, I explained that this was my first historical romance and I wanted to know how close to (or far from) the mark I actually was. Her response kinda stung because she was soooo spot-on. I needed to do more research. I had the right flavor, but not the depth she looked for. And the thing is, I’ve got a mountain of research books I bought specifically for this project, but I’ve only finished one of them. I’ve skimmed several of them and Googled several specific questions as they came up, but I started writing this book knowing that I had no clue where to start, so I figured I’d do the research *after* I finished the draft when I knew what sort of things I needed to research. (Hint: Waaaaaay more than I ever considered. Like, when were pens invented? And how did Victorian gentlemen bathe? Also, WHERE ARE ALL THE RESEARCH BOOKS ABOUT INDIANS FROM INDIA IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND?***)
Despite the minor sting of her comment, I loved that she told me. Everything she said was incredibly helpful and just raised my already-high respect for any good editor. In the future, I’m going to make a point of doing more research *before* I start a project instead of just waiting until the first draft is done. Of course, I’ll need to keep doing research afterwards, but what did I expect when I got into writing historical fiction?
My favorite part of the conference though, was actually after it was officially over. I was hanging out in the hotel lobby and Skyping my husband when one of my Thursday critique members caught me and invited me to join a large group that was going out for dinner. I got to spend the next couple of hours chatting with friends about the conference and made a bunch of new friends.
I loved it. And I can’t wait to go back.