My first RWA National Conference was the last time it was held in Anaheim. It was a long time ago, maybe 1997.
I had just joined OCC and RWA in February of the same year. I’d finished two books–a fantasy medieval and a futuristic romance. The fantasy medieval was written with no writing classes or craft information, let alone critique partners. I’d never heard of POV. Yes, to this day, that wonderful first book lies amidst the cobwebs under my bed.
The second book was completed after reading a couple of books about writing, attending SDSU’s Writing Conference and taking two writing classes. I loved the book. I was in a critique group and my critique partners helped me plug the weaknesses in my writing and the book finaled in a contest.
I was so excited about conference. I carefully picked my agent and editor appointments. I thought. More about that later.
There were so many people at conference. I attended the “For First Time” session, even though my critique partners explained a little about the conference set-up. I went to every craft session. The Goody Room astounded me. My chair backed into Nora Roberts’s at the luncheon. I just knew I was meant to be there and sell my first book.
I wrote several pitches–on scraps of paper that would fit in my palm. (I hadn’t heard about writing a pitch until I attended a session on it the day before my appointments!) I took a special outfit to change into for my afternoon appointments. I practiced calming breaths. I went to the ballroom for my back-to-back appointments to sell my futuristic.
Apparently my pitch wasn’t all that. (I could have used Laura Drake’s pitch information!) My first appointment, with an agent whose name I don’t remember–honestly!–got no request for anything. If I remember correctly, and that’s a stretch because I have a very selective memory with respect to negative events, I think she didn’t represent futuristic. So much for research.
Shaken, I tried to memorize that scrap of paper in my shaking hand before my name was called again. I was not used to being nervous talking with anyone. Heck, I played the piano competitively. And I’d sung on stage in front of over a thousand people.
I was a wreck following the RWA volunteer to the little table.
The editor I met with was so young. I read my three line pitch and looked up. He smiled and asked, “So tell me about your book.” What? I rambled on, answering his interjected questions, for the ten minute appointment. He was a nice kid. The bell rang and I got up to leave, thanking him. He stood, shook my hand, and gave me his card. “Please send me the first three chapters and synopsis.”
I almost kissed him. I know bells rang. I didn’t know that more people get asked to send chapters than don’t. I sent my chapters. Two weeks later I got a letter asking for the whole manuscript. Three months after that I got a letter asking for three detailed revisions and eighty-five less pages.
I still have a soft spot for this editor. When I saw him at the RWA Washington D.C. conference three years ago he didn’t look much older.
Here’s the “My First Time At Conference” laugh: I took two copies of the complete manuscript (all 435 pages), in little cardboard boxes to the conference. I thought that if the editor and agent wanted to see my wonderful book, I would just give it to them right then. I found out at one of the sessions that you never give your manuscript to an agent or editor at conference. And I lamented the waste of paper and ink from my dot matrix printer.
I had logged well over a hundred thousand flight miles for work in the previous five years. Did I think about luggage for those poor agents and editors? Nope. Obviously I wasn’t lucky enough to have read Jenny Hansen’s post about conference.
Did I go to the bar to celebrate after his request? Nope, I went back to my room, changed out of my “nice” clothes and went to the last craft workshop of the day. That night was the RITA ceremony, with chocolate RITAs wrapped in gold foil. I knew nothing about them before, but I decided that night that I would win one someday.
Even though just about the only thing I did right was take advantage of much-needed craft lectures, I still smile fondly at the memories of my first conference.
Do you have conference memories that can help someone this year or make us smile? Come on. I never owned up to those printed-out manuscripts until now.