The four days of the Algonkian-Niagara Writers Conference were grueling, exciting, frustrating, tiring, and ultimately worthwhile. Michael Neff worked tirelessly teaching us thirty wanna-be and wanna-be-better writers the ins and out of getting published. Specifically he helped us hone our pitches via group sessions and one-on-one meetings whenever he could fit us in.
We started at 9 a.m. the first morning, had an hour for lunch around 1:30, and finished for the day at 7:15. I had no idea I could sit so long. A group of writers will do anything when the subject is improving our craft and the prize is landing an agent or a publisher.
Friday afternoon, our pitches practiced and polished, we heard two excellent writers speak. Terry Fallis told his wonderful story of how he came to win the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour with his self-published book, The Best Laid Plans. He is a warm, engaging and gifted speaker. He held us enthralled for over an hour. By the way, this first novel of his is the first ever self-published book to win the Leacock.
Next up was Barbara Kyle, author of several books, most recently her four Tudor era historical romances. She is an organized, clear and passionate writing teacher. She focused on the value of an outline (as did Fallis) and the hook and inciting incident at the beginning of your story. I can never hear those points too often; they’re crucial.
Then came Saturday morning. Sam Hiyate, owner of The Rights Factory in Toronto, gave an engaging talk about the role of an editor. He emphasized his points with compelling stories of nine books and their authors whom he represents. The subject matter of the books varied widely but what I got from the whole thing was a very clear idea of how much the right agent can help a writer. This was an epiphany for me.
Finally pitch time was upon us and I stepped right up to Sam as the first person to pitch him. Yes, I was nervous, but jumping right into the fray was the best thing to do. He was helpful and interested, his associate, another interesting viewpoint, and the three editors, excellent. I was thrilled to be with writers, agents and editors–all people who knew writing and the writing business. I watched the faces of my class members. Eager eyes, flitting smiles and laptops in hand, they moved from lineup to lineup. We sat on chairs or on the floor, we kept ourselves organized as to who was next, and we encouraged each other. Whenever anyone got a nod from one of the five, we were all genuinely pleased. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us.
So, yes, I got shot in Niagara. In the arm, that is. My four years of honing and learning, writing and rewriting, giving up and starting again have all led to this conference. And to my chances to get published. Watch for me, world! I’m coming!
Are you like so many of us writers, working and learning for years? What is the best conference you’ve been to? Please consider leaving a comment below.