What a Difference a Year Makes

Cleaning out my email Inbox this past weekend, I had occasion to think about where I was one year ago versus where I am now. Specifically, I came upon various San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) newsletters, and I realized that one year ago I was back in my home territory as an attendee at this conference. I was:

1. Anxious because I was in the midst of a mysteriously debilitating shoulder and neck ailment. MRIs, X-rays, EMGs, orthopedic surgeons, a neurologist, eight months of physical therapy — all with no answer. You could have called me Lisa the Robot because I was ordered not to slouch or bend my head forward at all for six weeks. I wasn’t writing.

2. Anxious about my job because I’d received a writing grant but couldn’t quit until my mysterious ailment corrected itself (July!). I was underperforming because I was too ready to begin my grant time-off. I was secretive with my boss, which made me very uncomfortable.

3. Anxious because I was about to officially begin the onerous task called agent-hunting. Among my writer friends, I know exactly ZERO people who enjoy this necessary but fraught task. I was set to pitch my latest novelistic effort to three participating literary agents. I spent most of my time in a hotel room littered with scribbled-upon index cards trying to perfect my pitch. (Not to mention performing a strict regimen of physical therapy exercises).

Was I anxious at this time last year? Hah!

(I did manage to have some fun. I went dancing at the Starlight Room with writer-buddies Bonnie and Christopher. I caught up with another writer-buddy, Eldon, who had graduated from conference attendee to speaker. Rode the cable car up Nob Hill to the hotel; ate Chinese in Chinatown; browsed inestimable City Lights Books in North Beach. Sigh. I love San Francisco.)

A year later: what do I have to say for myself? I’m not so anxious these days, not even about what will happen to the novel that eventually found its best, talented agent. I’m just writing; this makes me a happy camper compared to last year.

0 comments on “What a Difference a Year Makes

  • Hi Leah,

    I love the premise of your blog, and I love that you finished your first novel. Congratulations!

    Here’s my opinion about writers conferences: They’re not for everyone. They can be good for general inspiration and to meet new people. They can also be good for people who are very new to writing.

    I’ve learned a few things at various conferences, but after enough conferences, the craft advice becomes redundant and we — the writers who are continually improving our craft on our own — become too “advanced” in some ways.

    As for the SFWC: I liked it but it’s no better or worse than the PNWA Conference up in Seattle (which is actually bigger).

    I would say the main reason to go to conferences is to meet and pitch to agents. For me, the various seminars are the side dishes. Maybe you know this already, but there’s a conference here in Portland called the Willamette Writers Conference where you can pitch to agents. You can check it out on a day pass to see if conferences are your thing.

    One hint based on your post today: Agents dislike bound manuscripts. The norm is: unbound, double-spaced, one-sided, with one-inch margins and 12-point font.

    For more information on good agent-hunting etiquette (no joke: there’s an etiquette), check out this book: THE SELL YOUR NOVEL TOOLKIT by Elizabeth Lyons. She’s local also!

    What I have found invaluable are writers retreats taught by publishing novelists. I’ve gained hands-on craft critiques that have improved my writing.

    Thanks for visiting my blog! Cheers back, Lisa

  • Lisa,

    Wow – such great advice! Thank you for taking the time to point all of this out to me. I will certainly look into the Elizabeth Lyons book. I’ve read a couple good ones on publishing, in general.

    I followed everything but the binding part. I couldn’t find a large enough binder clip or a stapler that would keep the manuscript together. I wasn’t sure what else to do with it! I’m hoping Lyons’ book will suggest how to keep the manuscript together.

    I enjoyed reading your blog and will certainly return.

    Thanks again for your kind and candid advice.

    Best of luck with your book!


  • Hi Leah,

    No problem on the advice! I know I appreciate tips from writers further along in the process than I am. How else are we do know?!?!?

    I wasn’t clear on the manuscript binding thing: no need for anything but a rubberband. Honest. That’s it. Agents like it simple. Remember to include a simple title page (title, your name, your contact information — no fancy graphics or fonts). Also, in the upper right-hand header margin of your first manuscript page (i.e. not the cover page) insert:

    your name, book title, page X

    (X = page number; use the Insert Page Number button)

    This identifies individual pages if they should get loose from the whole.

    I can’t remember if the Lyons book gets into this level of detail, but here you go anyhow!

    Cheers, Lisa


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