The 2013 Missouri Writers Guild Conference
By Brad R. Cook
Every April, the members of Missouri Writers Guild gather together to hold one of the best regional conferences in the Midwest. This year’s title, Bringing Writers Together, couldn’t have been more appropriate as writers attended from Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, and all over Missouri. It was held at the Westport Plaza Sheratons, alongside a frightening real episode of toddlers and tiaras. (A pageant was also being held in the hotel, and I am certain it will inspire many blog posts and essays.)
The weekend began with C Hope Clark’s Early Arrival Seminar: The Shy Writer Reborn. If you want to know what she said, I suggest attending one of the conferences she’ll be speaking at or better yet, run out and snatch up a copy of The Shy Writer.
|Agents Reading the Slush Pile|
The first night of the conference brought the dreaded slush pile read, one of my favorite sessions, but a blood-pressure raising experience for many. The agents sit at a table, and a reader reads the first few pages of an anonymous piece. Hearing your work aloud can be traumatizing enough, but the agents raise their hands when they would have stopped reading and discuss what they liked or why they would have passed. It is an amazing insight into the thought process of a literary agent. A warning, it is only for those with a thick skin, but it can be some of the best advice you’ll ever receive on the power your opening pages.
Friday night continued with one of the great features of the Missouri Writers Guild Conference, the Nightcaps. In the very informal setting of a lounge or lobby, the conference speakers sit around and discuss topics with the attendees. It is a great way to connect with the speaker beyond the breakout sessions. This year included some great topics – Kathleen Ortiz “Subrights: Thinking Past the Physical Book and E-book.”, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg “How to Review Books as an Author without Burning Bridges.”, Robin Colucci Hoffman “Take Being an Author up a Notch to Become a Thought Leader.”, Jita Fumich “Finding an Agent”, Steve Yates “Marketing”, C Hope Clark “Actually Making a Buck Writing”, Grant Clauser “Online Journals vs Print Journals”.
Friday ended with an open mic emceed by me. We brought a little of what St. Louis Writers Guild does once a month to the conference and heard some wonderful pieces. A couple read for the, others finished what had been started during the slush pile, and some just shared poetry, or parts of their books. It takes courage to stand before other writers and read your work aloud, but I have to say the quality of the work always amazes me.
Saturday is spent in workshops, the backbone of the conference, three tracks every hour provided a variety of topics to pursue like Sarah Fine’s “Writing the Teen”, Robin Colucci Hoffman’s “An Idea is Not A Concept…and Why You Need a Concept”, Steve Yates’ “How to Parse a Press”, Geoff Morrison’s “Intro to E-Publishing”, or Grant Clauser’s “Crafting Trustworthy Poems”. There were many more but for a complete list; you should have gone to the conference…
One of the main reasons people attend the conference is for the pitch sessions. Where else does a writer get five minutes of one-on-one time with an agent or publisher? Pitchers spent half their time pitching their proposals, and the other half talking about their books. Outside this literary holy of holies, writers nervously practice, anxiously waiting their turn, and asking everyone who passes the same question – “How’d your pitch go?”
A note, beyond the literary agents from across the country and even Canada, St. Louis’ own publishing houses had quite the showing with Blank Slate Press, Stonebrooke Publishing, and Rocking Horse Press all taking pitches!
A Funny Story about Gooey Butter Cake
At lunch on Saturday, they served lemon squares that looked an awful lot like gooey butter cake – it was a strange colored tart. The four agents at the table had never tried, in fact had never even heard of gooey butter cake. For those not from the area, St. Louis is known for its unique food, Provel Cheese, Toasted Ravioli, and Gooey Butter Cake, there are many more but you get the idea. Yes, it is just what its name implies; butter, sugar, and just enough flour to make it all stick together. Much Googling occurred, recipes were read, and pictures dissected, but how do you describe the taste of ambrosia. So, after lunch I ran out and brought some gooey butter cake to the pitch room, and between pitches they snacked on the gooey goodness. All liked it, and some loved it, and to be honest, those with late times might thank me for providing the agents with a sugary rush to help get them through the day. They can all say they’ve had a taste of St. Louis.
Sunday brought the Master Classes, three hour in-depth workshops that thoroughly explored a topic. I attended Kathleen Ortiz’s “Who’s Listening to You: An Advanced Course in Online Marketing” and I highly recommend it. Sarah Fine taught, “The Ins and Outs of Traumatizing Your Characters” and C Hope Clark helped writers find a variety of ways to make money in this industry with, “Career Solutions 101”.
Those used to attending or speaking at conference know that seeing the city beyond the hotel is nearly impossible. None of the agents had been to that defining St. Louis icon, The Arch. Speaker Shepherd Jaime Krakover was nice enough to run Pam van Hylckama Vlieg and Carly Watters down, so on Sunday after their master classes I took Kathleen Ortiz and her client Sarah Fine down to The Arch, we took photos, saw the flooding, and I even slipped them in the south entrance which apparently only the locals know about. We had a blast and it was a great end to an exciting weekend.
The Interviews from the 2013 MWG Conference
St. Louis writers Guild partnered with The Writers’ Lens and Missouri Writers Guild to bring you interviews from the conference, bad weather and travel delays cancelled several of our interviews but we did record two for your enjoyment.
C Hope Clark
C. Hope Clark, is editor of FundsforWriters.com, an online resource of grants, contests, markets, publishers, and pure motivation for writers. Her following estimates 40,000 and the site has been selected for Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers for the last dozen years. But Hope is also a mystery author, her first love, the reason she started writing. She debuted via Bell Bridge Books, a mid-level publisher out of Memphis, TN with Lowcountry Bribe, the first in The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, set in rural South Carolina. The second in the series, Tidewater Murder, comes out in April 2013. Hope's author website can be found at www.chopeclark.com. Hope also freelances, having written for many trade and online publications, to include Writer's Digest, The Writer, Guide to Literary Agents and the2013 Writer's Market.
Lela Davidson has built a multi-media career on everyday humor and candid observation. Lela is an award-winning author and essayist (Blacklisted from the PTA, 2011 and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat, 2013), a freelance journalist and commentator for TODAY Show Moms, a video correspondent for IVillage IVoices, and contributor to the Huffington Post. She is an entertaining professional speaker, who charms audiences on topics ranging from marketing and social media to family life, marriage, and the challenges of being over-40 in a botox world. Lela appears regularly on television and serves as an Associate Editor of Peekaboo Magazine. Her latest book is Sexy, Smart, & Search Engine Friendly. Find out more at www.leladavidson.com
Want to know more about what happened at the 2013 Missouri Writers Guild Conference? Follow the attendee’s tweets using the hash tag #mwgconf
Read more about all the speakers on the MWG Conference blog – http://mwgconference.blogspot.com/
Let me know your favorite moment of the conference in the comment section!
See you next year!
Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit www.bradrcook.com or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook
St. Louis Reflections http://www.stlbooks.com/B009271-1211-51/Review.aspx