Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing

A Writing Conference

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I spent last weekend at the Historical Novelists Society’s three-day conference in San Diego. Wow.

I could really just stop there, it was that good. Oh, the hotel was humorously hokey (they had fabulous chandeliers hanging from stained ceiling tiles that were polka-dotted with dirty air conditioning vents) and noisy (less than a mile from the airport, across the street from where the military hosts its helicopter fleet, and half a block from the Amtrak trains, who have not been discouraged from honking merrily for most of a mile all through the night), and the food was, um, institutional but plentiful. But the conference itself! Wow!

The first night was a reception with a cash bar. The good news about the cash bar is that no one got conspicuously drunk. The bad news was that it got seriously loud and it was impossible to be heard without screaming. But it was such a hoot! People practiced pitching their books, talked about getting published, and were generally hilarious, friendly, and informative. I even got feedback for my pitch, which was worth the attendance fee in itself.

Then we went in to dinner. This was buffet style, but very well organized. They had a buffet line down both sides of the hall and the wait staff came to tell each table when it was their turn, so there wasn’t a dreadful line, and even though my table’s turn was late in the serving, the trays had all been replenished and everything was fresh. There were speeches during the meal welcoming us and telling us what the weekend held.

After dinner, we were treated to published writers reading their fight scenes. I was surprised that they were not all written by men and that they weren’t full of death and destruction. It was interesting. I’ve never thought about writing anything more violent than a disagreement, so it gave me pause.

On Saturday, the conference offered panel discussions, mini-lectures, blue-line feedback on work, and the opportunity to pitch to agents and publishing houses. I made my first pitch that day. This was quite an interesting experience. People signed up for certain agents and editors in advance. I was lucky enough to be granted three pitch sessions. The organizers assigned each of us a ten minute session. Pretty much everyone turned up early for their sessions.

Each of us was granted eight of the ten minutes. Someone came along and politely informed us when we were at six minutes. It was obvious from the waiting area that the editors and agents were adept at assessing, as some people popped out after only two or three minutes looking dejected, and others popped out looking elated. I’m pretty sure that writers would be dragged physically away if they exceeded their eight minutes. This was a well-oiled and incredibly efficient machine.

People were so nice, too. Not just the agents and the officials who kept us moving along, although they were lovely. The other writers were really nice, too. Everyone was solicitous before and after a pitch, and everyone respected someone pulling aside and not participating in the conversations. There were supportive smiles and knowing nods. And when each of us slunk into a panel discussion session already in progress, everyone understood and was nice about that, too.

The panel discussions were great. In some cases, they talked about certain aspects of writing and publishing, in others, they talked about their processes, and in yet others, they talked about pitfalls and fortuitous happenstance. They were all excellent.

There was a sit-down dinner the second evening for which we had all pre-selected a meal option. I have peculiar dietary needs and the meal they provided wouldn’t do. The wait staff was nice about that and although I was eating my dinner while everyone else was having dessert, they were very helpful and I got the meal I needed. After dinner there was a fashion show, everything from ancient Greece through the middle ages, the Tudors, the Victorian era, the civil war, and the 1940s. The person MCing the parade was hilarious, a sweet grandmotherly type with a rather saucy wit.

After the fashion show, there were readings of sex scenes. These were interesting and fabulous, but I was completely out of steam and toddled off upstairs to sleep before it was over. In the morning, there were more pitches, more sessions, and then a long and sad goodbye.

This was my first writers’ conference and it set a high bar. I chose it partly because of its location (I could visit with my long-lost cousins while in town) and partly for its timing, but mostly, I chose it because it was specific to the genre of my books.

I came away with new friends, new draft readers who specifically enjoy the sort of book that I write, and a LOT of new energy for the revisions and such that will be needed before my successful pitches can go very far. And too, I sort of pitched another idea to my fellow writers, and I’m clearly onto something, so I’ve begun writing that one too.

In the near future, there are other conferences to attend. One is a general genre conference and another is about getting feedback on the writing itself. I’m not sure if the timing or the money will work out for those, but I’ll let you know what happens.

The one thing I’m sure of is that a genre conference is a very good thing indeed. And the HNS has at least one very happy new member.

Written by Melanie Spiller

June 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Writing

Tagged with ,

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