An Overview of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014

The view from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, July 31, 2014, around midnight.  Without doubt, the most Blade-Runner-ish photo I have ever taken.
The view from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, July 31, 2014, around midnight. Without doubt, the most Blade-Runner-ish photo I have ever taken.

It occurs to me that my blog is, to this point, exclusively devoted to playwriting.  The fact is, I’m also a novelist, it’s just that I have much more success with plays than fiction.  Hopefully, that will change soon.

Unlike playwriting, a career as a novelist is almost impossible without an agent.  While you can often persuade an Artistic Director of a smaller theater to peruse a few pages for the price of a couple of beers, most publishing houses won’t even look at an unsolicited manuscript.  So, my current conundrum is, how do I get an agent?

Once I had rewritten my manuscript to the point where I felt I could take it no further on my own, I embarked on the traditional route of researching agencies and sending query letters.  I didn’t send very many before I realized that this felt a lot like submitting scripts, cold, to a theater.  I should take a moment to explain that I have never sold a play without buying a drink for someone—and not always the guy with the checkbook.  My first out-of-town production occurred because, two years before, I had bought a few rounds for a stage manager who was working on my show and really liked it.  The guy left Philly, moved to Indianapolis to work in another theater, showed the script to his new boss, and I got a call.  This is not an aberration; from my conversations with other, more successful playwrights, this happens all the time.

So, cold submissions suck.  I needed a new plan.  Last fall, a friend told me that there was a writers’ conference happening at Rosemont College, which is three miles from where I live.  There were a dozen agents in attendance, I had a chance to talk to a few of them, and one was interested enough to request a few chapters of my novel.  Plus, the sessions were genuinely informative.  I left energized, anxious to find a larger conference somewhere else.

The semiannual Writer’s Digest Conference floated to the top of my list.  Firstly, it was in Manhattan, which is where all the agents and editors are.  If you’re hunting impala, you need to go to the Serengeti.  I don’t think that’s an actual aphorism, but it ought to be.

Secondly, the conference addressed my need to engage more agents.  There were about sixty in attendance, and unlike the agents at the Rosemont conference who tended to be generalists, my research told me that several of these agents handled the specific type of writing I was selling, i.e., adult fantasy fiction.

Thirdly, the venue, the Roosevelt Hotel, boasts three bars.  If selling fiction was anything like selling plays, this would be handy.  As it turns out, after spending all day listening to pitches, most agents are in a hurry to get the hell out.  Regardless, I still enjoyed many vodka gibsons with my wife, which as far as worst-case scenarios go, is pretty damn good.

Lastly, the showpiece of the conference was something called a Pitch Slam, during which, attendees could pitch their novels to agents in a speed-dating sort of setting.  This was a big, honking deal, and even if there were no other sessions or benefits, would justify the cost of the conference, the hotel room, and the train ride to Manhattan.

So, that’s where I was last week.  I partook in many adventures while I was there, and I look forward to expounding on them over the next few posts.  There was even some theater stuff in there, including a dinner with a director and an attendance of Sleep No More, but it’s senseless to try and squash it all into 700 words.  So check back.  I can’t promise anything especially exciting or insightful, but you never know.  I might get lucky.

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