Writing Conferences: Whoopee or Whoopee Cushion?

Roosevelt Hotel

Does everyone else always wonder if someone’s having more fun in their hotel?

Writing conferences can be a grab bag of goodies and ghastlies, and what sounds like such a soaring boon to your writing wits on the program page can become a glaze-eyed dust bowl when you’re plunked in your chair at a presentation. I was at last weekend’s Writer’s Digest West Conference in Hollywood, and it was the usual mix of fruit and nuts, though many of the offerings were tasty.

Being set in Hollywood, there was a lot of glitter on the grounds, seeing as how we were ensconced at the Loews Hollywood, in the Dolby Center right off the Boulevard, set in the midst of a panoply of glitzy shops and eateries accessed by a spidering array of cross-courtyard escalators and walkways. The only star of any consequence I saw was on a 50-foot poster of Daniel Craig pushing the latest Bonding, though there were a couple of Nikki Minaj-lookalikes that had apparently been baked in one of the wood-fired makeup ovens at a local salon.

Several of the conference presentations and workshops were held in big, airy rooms with comfy chairs and plenty of tables so that you could take notes on the next chapter of your zombie-vampire-federal budget epic, while presenters flagellated the crowd on the wobbly knees of publishing today and how in this time of vital authorial authenticity, it’s now necessary to send your fans small pieces of your flesh as well as your imagination.

Pitch Slam or Mosh Pit?

Actually, I loved Chuck Wendig’s “25 Ways to Earn Your Audience” talk, though I do willingly gravitate toward speakers who consistently use variants of the word “poop” imaginatively. Got some good stuff out of the Hardcore Author Marketing panel too. But one of the main reasons I attended the event was to pitch my just-finished novel at the literary agent pitch slam, and for some reason, the organizers held that event in one of the smaller conference rooms, that packed in 20+ agents, plus what seemed to be every conference attendee and most of the homeless people on Hollywood Boulevard (hard to distinguish between the two groups), so that it was literally quite hard to hear in the ensuing din.

Because of the maze of lines and the teeming (and steaming) attendance, I was only able to pitch 3 of my intended 7 agents, and felt lucky that one requested a full manuscript. The other two were happy that I didn’t ask them for a handout, though if I would have seen them in the lobby bar later, I would have, since I paid $18 there for a Manhattan. Probably just as well, because if I had a few more of those, I would have been offering those authorial pieces of flesh to reluctant takers, and the ensuing handcuffs would have bruised my delicate wrists. Instead, I got to go back to my 12-floor room and stare at the lovely old facade of the Roosevelt Hotel and its charming neon sign, and then pass out (in a writerly way).

Back that Poop Up

A little coda to the event: as I said, I was given a request for the full manuscript of my new novel from an agent. When I came home, I scrambled through some last-minute edits, which seemed to scramble the hard drive of my not-that-old Macbook Pro. Thus, I had a few electric moments of panic when I thought my manuscript (and all of my business writing besides, since it’s my business computer) was lost. Gack!

But being the tidy sort, I did have a fairly recent backup, and was able to stumble through using an external drive to boot the machine, edit and get the damn thing printed and off in the mail. Indeed the hard drive had given up the ghost; probably a consequence of me putting naughty bits in my new novel, which you’ll see me peddling soon on Hollywood Boulevard.

Authorial bits of flesh extra.