Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 1”)

Okay, here we go! I’m grouping these based on topic. Today’s post: Going from Aspiring Writer to Published Author.


Pitch Perfect [4-5-13]

Speaker: Chuck Sambuchino

**Please note: A lot of this session was specific to pitching your work at the Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam, so I’m only sharing information that’s pertinent to writers outside of the conference. Thanks for understanding!

There are seven key components to crafting a winning query letter. These are:

1. Your main character—introduce them as soon as possible

2. You need A or B or both:

A) Introduce something interesting or unique about your MC

B) What does your MC want?

3. Inciting incident

4. Conflict—“What is your book about?”

5. Complications—interesting characters, situations, etc.

6. Unclear wrap-up—end in an ambiguous ending. You never want to give away how your book ends in the query letter (that’s what the plot synopsis is for).

7. STAKES. What will happen if your MC doesn’t accomplish their goal?

Avoid using generalities in your letter. This will sink you. Be specific.

Beware of subplots and details—stick to the central plot. You can have a little fun with the complications, but don’t spend too much time on them.

Only give the name of the central characters, OR keep to characterization rather than proper names (Ex: “The princess must save the kingdom from the evil sorcerer,” rather than, “Princess Dadkroasdufnsdrlksjd must save Hadlkrjsaodnksjdnsl from IadkrsndEadkfnrkdfHgalkdrnmsdl.”)

Make sure to use flair and voice. You don’t want your letter to read like a grocery list of what happens in your book.

Avoid “my novel is” expressions. (Example: “My novel is full of twists and turns.”)

Make sure to show, don’t tell—BE. SPECIFIC.

Make the agent have an emotion. If your book is funny, make them laugh. If it’s sad, make them tear up a little.


Panel: Ask the Agent [4-6-13]

Moderator: Chuck Sambuchino

Panelists: Joanna Volpe, Gina Panetierri, Jessica Regel, and Jennifer De Chiara

          Gina/Joanna: Self-publishing is good in certain cases, and sometimes your lit agent will suggest that you self-publish instead of going traditional, depending on the book. However, it’s STILL GOOD to have an agent—they can sell your sub-rights in other countries, get you a good deal on your movie rights, etc.

          Jennifer: Red-flags for pitching to an agent in person—don’t read off a paper (have your pitch memorized)

          Joanna: Also, don’t spend your entire pitch time talking—give the agent a chance to ask questions and react

          Chapter One Red Flags: bad voice (or at least not a rich one) (JENNIFER), querying a genre they don’t represent (JESSICA), nothing happens—it’s all backstory (GINA), if you haven’t edited your work (GINA), introducing 52 million characters in ten pages (GINA), making your opening entirely narrative (GINA), queries need to be proofread and ALWAYS have to talk about the story, NOT yourself(!!!) (JOANNA).

          JOANNA: In your query, only bring up agency comp titles if they’re actually similar to your story

          JESSICA: A query is NOT the same as a synopsis.

          JESSICA: If your genres are crazy overlapping, just pitch as the base genre (ex: YA, commercial fic, lit fic, etc—vs. “YA paranormal romance with comedy elements and a robotic dragon”)

          JOANNA: Use comp titles to clarify your genre.

          JESSICA: Depends on the agent, but usually your specific subgenre doesn’t really matter.

          GINA: Every time you start to write in a different genre than you have in the past, you have to start from zero all over again.

          JENNIFER: Try to write at least a few books in each of the genres you write in.

          JENNIFER: You have to publish about 20,000 copies in a short period of time in order for a self-pubbed book to be big enough to mention to an agent.

          JOANNA/JESSICA: Agents prefer that you DON’T self-publish before you’re agented.

          JESSICA: When you get a full manuscript request, it’s okay to do a 30 day follow-up; just be like, “How are you doing with the book?”

          JENNIFER: When pitching an agent in person, have your pitch memorized, but also try to not make it SOUND memorized. Sound like you’re just talking passionately about your book on the spot.

          JESSICA: Word count doesn’t matter as much as voice.

          JESSICA: However, “If you think it’s too long, it’s probably too long.”


Panel: Future of the Writer [4-7-13]

Panelists: Chuck Wendig, Amanda Barbara, Jon Fine, Kristen McLean, Kristin Nelson

          Kristin: There are no gatekeepers in the publishing industry now, because of self-publishing.

          Chuck: Crowd-funding can be very successful for funding books. Danger: If there’s no audience, there’s no money. So: put free material out there in order to gain an audience for your paying projects.

          Amanda: Use free social media sites to build an audience—when doing this, don’t pitch your book, pitch yourself. Pitch your interests—people are more likely to buy your book if they already have a personal connection with you.

          Amanda: Be passionate. People will react to your energy.

          Jon: In the past, one of the major pillars that traditional publishing provided was marketing—they don’t do this as much anymore. Now it’s up to the author.

          Jon: You have the ability and obligation to control the path of your book now.

          Kristen: Self-publishing has caused the Democratization of Publishing.

          Kristen: The author is now a publisher’s customer just as much as the reader is—the publishers are late to the game to realize this.

          Kristen: Publishers need to get tools to help their authors market (heat maps, contacts lists, etc.)

          Kristin: Don’t go into it like, “How do I build my platform?” Go into it doing what you’re passionate about, and the platform will follow.

          Kristen: Traditional publishing used to be all there was out there. Now it’s just the top of a pyramid, with small/indie presses below it, and self-publishing at the bottom. All are routes to publication.

          Kristen: Midlist titles aren’t going to get to the top of the pyramid anymore; they’re going to be in the middle layer, with the small presses.

          Jon: Publishers go, “They’re already making 70% of Amazon. Can we actually make them more money?” It’s the job of both the publisher and author to consider that question.

          Amanda: Everyone (even the authors with the big publishers) NEEDS to connect with their audience these days.

          Kristin: Not a single book has become an international bestseller without a traditional publisher—it’s going to happen in the future, but it hasn’t happened so far.

          Kristin: Publishers REALLY get behind maybe 10 books a year.

          Kristin: Audiences never go anywhere—the publishers just stop paying attention to them sometimes (which is how what once was marketed as “chick lit” is now being marketed as “new adult”)

          Kristen: Self-publishing—decreasing risk to increase opportunity.

          Kristen: For every 100 or 1,000 titles a publishing house acquires, VERY few will be successful.

          Kristin: 240 to 500 5-star-reviews on Amazon shows that something is really happening with your book; that you’re being successful.

          Kristin: It’s all about content—you need to consistently be putting out content (at least every 3 to 4 months).

          Chuck: If you aren’t comfortable doing something (blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc), don’t do it—people will be able to tell and it’ll be bad for everyone involved.

          Kristen: As far as platform-building goes—do less, so you can do it WELL.

          Amanda: Social media is the future of the writer—do research to learn how to use it effectively.

          Kristen: You don’t have to be doing everything—you just have to do the right things for you.


If you’re curious, the full Writer’s Digest Conference East 2013 schedule is available here: link link link.

Make sure to check out all the speakers from the sessions–they’re brilliant! 🙂

I highly, HIGHLY suggest attending a writing conference if you get the chance. They’re super fun and informative. This was my third year attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City, and it still hasn’t gotten boring.

Links to other blogs talking about the conference:

The Ultimately Useless Stories of the Average Teenager

The Spastic Writer

Just Justice

And, while I’m in the middle of giving you a bazillion links, some other awesome people you should check out:

A Fuzzy Mango With Wings

Take It or Leave It

Rebecca Cao

Heroic Endeavors

Kira Brighton: Author



Yes. Yes, those are Starkid sunglasses.


16 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 1”)

  1. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 4″) | Julia the Writer Girl

  2. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 3″) | Julia the Writer Girl

  3. How did I miss this post?! I’m kind of sad that I didn’t get to go to the agent panel (would ahve loved to hear Kristin talk!). Maybe next year 🙂 Thanks for linking, btw!! Hehe, a bit behind on posting the notes but now I must.


  4. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 2″) | Julia the Writer Girl

    • No prob! While I think self-publishing is definitely a good option in certain instances, I think I’d rather just not publish than self-publish. It’s been my dream since I was little to traditionally publish a novel, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂


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