Top 10 Things I Learned From DFWCon

DFW writers' convention

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending DFW Writers Convention, one of the bigger writers conventions, and after two days of shaking hands and smiling at other writers/editors/agents, early mornings and late nights, and many workshops, I feel obligated to try to sum up the experience. For those of you who have yet to attend a similar convention, I say get out there and find one: it’ll step up your game. In the meantime, read on:

10. Everyone is wary of Amazon. Agents practically felt they had to whisper it in case the shopping ma

gnate somehow overheard, but Amazon is currently the enemy you keep close. They all unanimously said it was essential, but are decidedly concerned about that growing monopoly. Remember: Amazon is useful, but Amazon isn’t your friend…it’s a business.

9. Those who excel at social media are people who already are very open and energetic. Though I did learn some about manipulating Facebook’s algorithm for your favor, my biggest takeaway from the social media conversation was that you have to be willing to tell the world just about everything about yourself…except nothing negative, at all. Remember, you’re selling yourself, and no one wants to hear the bad parts. It was very telling that the agents, who insist everyone must be represented on Twitter/social media, were also th

e first to say their Twitter persona is not the same as their real lives. Hmm…

8. No one has any idea what will sell. Not really. As is probably always true at these kinds of conferences, talk swirled around what was in demand. And depending on who you talked to, it was just about anything. This year sci-fi was the predominant winner, but none of the agents seemed particularly keen on it. (Two years ago it was all romance and some New Adult. This year, New Adult was practically dead.) One agent said something ridiculously specific was on her wishlist. It was all over the place.

7. Agents are not a hive mind. Along the same lines, just because one agent feels strongly about

something doesn’t mean they all will. At more than one panel the agents (politely) disagreed with each other, particularly at the all-important Query Gong Show (a game to suss out when an agent would stop reading a query). It really is about hitting the right mark.

6. It is less important to have an agent than it is to have the right agent. Following in the same train of thought, one lecture from an author who’d made the NYTimes Editor’s Choice list made this point really clear. He’d had a very well-known agent for years…who was completely unable to sell his material. But after he switched, it found a home. As painful as the agent-finding process is (and it is), sometimes having an agent may be worse than not.

5. Agents are really busy people. Keep this in mind while you’re fretting over your email inbox,

wringing your hands while you wait for a response: they have to respond to you and a helluva lot of other people. I’ve mentioned my negative agent experience—I waited nearly a year for a response on a requested manuscript!—so I know the waiting is terrible, but be realistic. One agent had had 10,000 queries the year prior, and had accepted … 6. Agents have a caseload of about 35 books they’re selling at any one time. Plus they’re going to conferences all over the country. That’s plenty for one person.

4. Keep your query letter short. Because agents are so busy, they may be reading your query at 11:30 at night, just before bed. They don’t have time for a long monologue. This was the number one reason letters were rejected at the gong show. Keep your query short—shorter than you think it should be!—and the

agent will open your manuscript if interested. Corollary: start with the genre and the word count to avoid surprises.

3. There is such a thing as “hybrid” publishing, and it may be the most successful option. I heard mixed reviews on this but I’m choosing to accept the positive: agents feel that there is definitely a place for a combination of self- and traditional publishing. Some even said that building an audience with a first, self-published book was a good way to eventually attract an agent. Authors also said that some things a

re not not suitable for the traditional route, making self-publishing some pieces a good idea. So there’s no n

eed to be “all in” one way or the other.

2. “Successful” authors seriously struggle. What seems like the end may just be the beginning of a new phase. I’m perhaps most grateful for the lecture by Dallas author Will Clarke, who had the markers of success—two traditionally published books, coverage in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, the book tour, the works. But his story was shocking: he’s never bought out his advance; the publisher dropped him; his book was optioned for Paramount studios but will never see the light of day; and the continual book tour burned him out creatively, emotionally, and physically. Success has its downsides.

1. Even the most experienced and successful authors are plagued by insecurity about their writing. Superstar author Charlaine Harris was this year’s keynote speaker, and despite being unequivocally a renowned and esteemed author, she admitted that she’s afraid to read Stephen King’s On Writing  or any other “how to write” book for fear of discovering she’s been doing it wrong for more than 30 years. If even someone as relentlessly successful has those fears, it’s ok for us newbies to admit to them, too.

Have you attended a conference? What wisdom can you share?

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