The San Francisco Writers Conference

That was cool.

Let’s talk about pitching and writer’s conferences, shall we?

I’ve never been to a conference that has been about the business of writing before. I have been to many Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions. Now, I do like SF/F conventions. What I like about them is that I can be among fellow fans and I can hang out with other authors. Most of the other authors I’ve met are friendly and I’ve really enjoyed their company.

The SFWC was about two things: education and contacts. When I say education, I don’t mean the same kind of stylistic education you’ll get at Paradise Lost or hanging out with your critic buddies, or you’ll get by climbing a mountain to see Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress. Feedback and writers groups are good too, but this was a new beast.

I learned a lot about the industry this weekend, things I hear talked about occasionally at science fiction and fantasy conventions, but not a lot. I talked to Stuart Horwitz, who has two books on revision that a composition teacher could love, and he didn’t try to sell me anything like a time share. I pitched to the agents who were interested in the kind of thing I do, and 4 out of 5 asked me to send them pages. I wore a business suit and was treated like a professional by a real person in the room talking to me. I met many people who acted like professionals. In short, it was the first time I’ve been in an environment as a writer where my skills as a professor were the same skills I needed.

Now, there are some barriers to attending a conference like this one. Once again, I paid for it by using Kirkwood’s very generous professional development, because I thought it would be the next logical step in my writing development. I was not disappointed. However, I think many writers might find the conference fee prohibitive. It is not unlike the fee for most academic conferences, so I was less fazed than someone else might be. Also, the business like atmosphere might be a turn off for some. And unlike myself, who teaches on a daily basis, some writers might not want to memorize a pitch and try to convince an agent, and possibly be rejected by an agent face-to-face. I was okay with it, and I theorized that I might be able to use some of my teaching abilities to make a favorable impression.

Overall, I’d recommend doing this sort of thing, but I’d recommend it to a writer who

1. has their book done, or at least heavily in revision. The more you know, the better your pitch will be, and the more composed you’ll be.

2. isn’t a total beginner. There’s lots of programming at SF/F conventions and other genre and craft workshops for you to go through first. Seriously.

3. can handle themselves professionally with strangers, or at least can pass some of the time as a not a nerd. I play a professional on tv…

In short, if I hadn’t been to VP, to Taos, to a ton of writer retreats and writer education seminars, if I hadn’t written as much as I have since 2009, I probably would have wasted my money. I’m getting interested rejections and full reads. I think that this is about the optimal time to go. Something will eventually break, and if you present well personally and you have good pages, this is the kind of place it could.

***

I had a fantastic time. Our pitch team, me, Chris Cornell, and Debbie Goelz, supported and bolstered each other, gave each other pep talks, and allowed us to practice our pitches and our material. It was much more fun than doing it alone. San Francisco, where this is held every year, is a Fan-freakin’-tastic city with awesome places to eat, and things to see. Man, if I’d had anything left at the end of the conference day, I can go to Japan town and do box karaoke. There’s a Walt Disney family museum. Lots to see and do. I believe sometime I’ll go visit with the husband when I’m not conferencing and take some advantage of it. I even lost weight because everything is uphill both ways. The Irish coffee is to do die for in that town, and I could see Alcatraz.

Now, it’s my hope that I will not need to return to San Francisco looking for an agent, but I think it’s a good place to learn. I will try something like this again, if all goes as planned, as I hope to pitch at the Writer’s Digest conference in August. The conference made me feel the most like a real writer that I ever have, and, more importantly, I felt like I was taken seriously. My confidence has received a real boost.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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