5 Things I Learned at the Willamette Writers Conference

Posted by on Aug 8, 2013 in Writing | 6 comments

In the pitch practice room. Nerves galore.

In the pitch practice room. Nerves galore.

Last weekend I volunteered at the Willamette Writers Conference. I attended as an author rather than as a writer trying to snag the attention of a literary agent. Off the hook! But man, did I feel the miasma of desperation that hung over the place. I just looked up “miasma” … “a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere” and “a contagious power that has an independent life of its own.” Yep. That was about it.

I waded through the miasma into the pitch-practice room, where the vaporous contagion thickened with dreams upon dreams upon dreams colliding into each other as twitchy writers readied themselves to meet their makers literary agents.

What a relief to be on the other side of the pitch-practice table, helping the twitchy-eyed!

What I learned on the other side of the table:

1. Despite the fact that I don’t know much of anything, come to find out that I do. I don’t retain facts. You ask me to talk in bullet points about the three basic elements of a pitch, and my mind will go blank. Yet, when I sat with the amped-up budding authors, I entered into a state of recognition. As they talked, I recognized what felt wrong about their pitches and what felt right. I’d put up a hand, interrupt them, “Right there! That’s your hook! Start with that. The rest is backstory, and the agent won’t care.” I surprised myself. I do know stuff, and I can help people out, and that felt great.

2. Forget Twitter and Facebook, apparently Google+ will endow us with super-duper powers of self-promotion. Yeah, didn’t get this…In fact, my head spun during sessions about nifty topics such as platform-building, tactical social engagement, and advanced keyword searches. The self-proclaimed web warrior guy (he knew his stuff…but oh. my. god) told us that to do it right we needed to spend hours a day online. SO WHEN ARE WE SUPPOSED TO WRITE, BUDDY?

3. So the thing about Google+? We’re supposed to be over there because when we’re using it, our posts automatically rise to the top of Google searches. Something like that anyhow. I think. See Martin Shervington on YouTube for more information. <shrug> I’m still getting the hang of Twitter.

4. Use a book landing page. One of the presenters discussed an experiment he performed. He had an Amazon book page, and he also had a dedicated book page on his website with a link to the Amazon page. He found that when he sent people to his dedicated page (say from Twitter, Facebook, a blog post, or a Facebook ad) rather than directly to the Amazon page, he was twice as likely to sell a copy of his book. Interesting, right? His theory was that Amazon is dedicated to selling anything–it doesn’t care whether it’s a “Dance the Macarena” VHS tape or your book–but your book landing page is you and only you, baby.

I'll remember this next year.

I’ll remember this next year.

5. Last but not least, never leave home without your cajun spices. No one expects five-star food at a conference, but come on, Airport Sheraton, you could have done better than that! The food was–ready for another great word?–inexecrable (“deserving of being cursed”). Evan Lewis, an old-hand in the pitch-practice room (not to mention a fab short story writer) brought his cajun spice with him. Bland, runny scrambled eggs made from an egg-like liquid product? Cajun spice! Vegetables drowning in a suspicious-looking “cream” sauce? Cajun spice!

I had fun. Just that. It’s grand being on the other side of the table–and with KILMOON debut novel postcards too!

6 Comments

  1. I barely have time to follow a couple of blogs and do Facebook. I’m not sure how I’d do the rest without quitting my job and not writing at all which would defeat the purpose of platform building.
    No conferences for me this year, but I’m heading for Left Coast Crime in Monterey next March. Are you thinking of going there?

    • Hi, Larry! Seriously. Have you seen that (car?) commercial with the daughter online with her millions of friends, fretting that her parents only have a few Facebook book friends–and cut to, her parents actually having a life OUTSIDE, IN THE SUN, WITH ACTUAL FRIENDS? Sometimes I feel like the daughter…:-)

      LCC — big yes! I’ll be there for sure. What fun to meet you! I love talking shop over drinks with other writers…Maybe some of the Murderatos will be there too. 🙂

  2. Cajun anything will spice up many a drab thing in your life. We are a spicy bunch. Now look up the definition of spicy. It’s not just about flavor or aroma :-). Great post.

    • 🙂 Gotta say, Meco, you’re as spicy as they come! Nothing drab about you or your paintings or your writing or your food…

  3. I love the Cajun spice tip! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before. There are so many drab conference meals that would have been so much better with a spicy zing 🙂

    • Deanna! Nice to see you here. Next year I’m bringing my cajun that’s for sure! I’ve been meaning to Facebook chat you a quick question…Guess I’ll do that now! 🙂

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