Guest Blog: 5 (of the many) things I learned at the Writer’s League of Texas’ Agents Conference

By Matthew Schulz

Since I didn’t have a finished manuscript to hawk, my goals for my second Writer’s League of Texas’ Agents Conference centered on two things: meeting as many people as I could and learning as much as I could. And I couldn’t have been happier with how it went.

Here are some key things that I took away from my WLTCon experience:

1. Don’t share too much too soon.
Emily Griffin (@egriffin1344), an editor with Grand Central Publishing, said one of the biggest mistakes she sees new writers make is giving away too much of the story too soon. Holding back key pieces of information, she said, can help build drama and keep readers turning pages.

Cindy Jones, who wrote “My Jane Austen Summer” echoed Griffin’s advice in her enlightening talk about how to keep your book from having a “soggy middle” — or a lull in the action that turns off your readers. She said she was able to amp up the drama in her book by, among other things, having certain facts revealed as revelations or discoveries during the story rather than as exposition.

2. Use a relationship in describing someone.
“All fiction is a lie,” said Viking Penguin editor Beena Kamlani as she addressed a standing-room-only crowd during WLTCon. “How you tell it determines whether it becomes truth” for the reader. To help create that truth and to create descriptions that register, she said, describe people, places and things through the eyes of other characters.

For example, try describing a woman’s eyes as being as blue as the water off the Bahamian beach where she first met her fiancé.  Anything to paint a vivid picture without resorting to tired, overused phrases.

3. Don’t dwell on a title.
My current work in progress doesn’t have a title, though it’s had several in the past few months. Not to worry, said WLTCon panelists. You shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about your manuscript’s title because titles change frequently throughout the long process of publishing, and ultimately, the name on the book cover when it’s on the shelves at Barnes and Noble won’t be up to you.

4. Don’t worry about platform, fiction writer; just write…
Talk of platforms and social media was ubiquitous at WLTCon, with virtually every panel addressing the topic. However, the most common thing I heard about it was this: For nonfiction writers, platform matters, but for fiction writers, it’s all about the story. Focus on perfecting your writing and your story before worrying about your platform and your blog and your tweets and such.         

5. … but social media can be an outstanding icebreaker.
I’ve never been comfortable “working the room” at parties and mixers and such, but social media – and Twitter in particular – made that a bit easier for me at WLTCon. I went up to several people and simply said, “Hi, I follow you on Twitter, and I just wanted to introduce myself.” I had several more people approach me in the same way. Some of the conversations didn’t go much beyond that, but just having that first line to use when approaching someone made it that much less awkward.

And it didn’t just help with people who followed you. I approached Jane Friedman (@janefriedman) – the former publisher of Writer’s Digest and the conference’s keynote speaker – after she commented on one of my tweets. As she left one of the panels, I said hello, mentioning her tweet as I introduced myself. She was gracious with her time, and we had a short-but interesting one-on-one conversation that I’m not sure I would’ve initiated without the help of social media.

That only scratches the surface of what I took away from the conference. As important as what I learned was the inspiration and motivation that came from meeting folks who, like me, struggle to complete a manuscript that means so much to them. That alone was worth the price of admission and guarantees that my second WLTCon won’t be my last.

What have your writing conference experiences been like? Share them in the comments below, or tell me @matthewschulz on Twitter.

Matthew Schulz has written for the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Associated Press and American Banker. He is currently writing his second novel and aspiring toward his lifelong dream of becoming a published author of fiction. His day job has him working as a Managing Editor at CreditCards.com, where he helps lead an award-winning news team and has even helped coordinate a video town hall with the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewschulz and learn more about him at MattSchulz.com.

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