Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What I Learned from WriteOnCon and the Dreaded Query Letter

WriteOnCon is a free, online, view whenever you have a moment, writing conference.  Which is exactly the kind of conference that I need.  I remember hearing bits about it last year and leading up to this year, but I didn’t think much of it.  For some reason just a few days before it started, I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad I did. 

Here’s what I learned.

1.  Go next year.  It was awesome.  Well worth the price and time.
2.  Next year, go as soon as the forums open, and put up your query letter and opening pages.  Other attendees critique each other before the ninja agents come through.  This will give you time to make your writing sparkle and shine.  I put mine up late, and did get some great feedback, but I think I could’ve gotten more if I had been early (my query letter did get ninja’d (critiqued by an agent) which was awesome even if no further materials were requested.  Maybe next year).
3.  There are a lot of aspiring, hardworking writers out there who are really talented.  There were quite a few query letters and opening pages that really grabbed my attention.  If they were published, I would be reading them right now.  This is great for me the reader because the more awesome books out there the better, but humbling for me the writer.  I guess I need to be reminded every once and a while how fierce the competition really is.  So many manuscripts fighting to capture the attention of so few publishers.  Yay, for self-publishing back up plan.
4.  Writing query letters sucks.  I realize that it is hard, but it is a skill that I need to learn.  I recognize that, but I still feel the need to vent a little because it is really, really hard.  So please bear with me, for a moment. 
The whole problem with query letters is that they need to be short (~250 words), but they need to do so much in that little space:  present a sympathetic MC, an antagonist, a problem, and what is at stake while giving hints of setting (world-building), voice, and genre.  The typical critique on query letters is asking for clarifications which is frustrating being on the receiving end because there is no room to make those clarifications.  It is also hard to add in voice when you need to be so Spartan with your words.  I know it is possible to do all of these things in a query letter.  I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet, so it is rather frustrating. 
5.  The most common compliment I saw on query letters from those ninja agents was, “Love this concept” or “what an original concept” or something positive about the concept.  I’m thinking that for an agent, concept sells.  Agents and editors are looking for some fresh new idea, and if you have one, you have an advantage, and if you don’t, like me….I guess I need to work on the voice of my query letter.  Sigh.

6.  Continuing the query letter theme, here is some new advice (at least it is new to me) on how to write a great query letter.  The gist of it is that the query letter should answer these questions.

-Who is the protagonist?  What does he/she/it want physically and emotionally?

-Who is the antagonist?  What does he/she/it want?

-How does the protagonist plan to get what he/she/it wants?

-How does the antagonist plan to stop the protagonist?

7.  New Adult (college age protagonists) is finally a hot new genre.  I’ve always thought that a lot of YA would work better with college age protagonists, and isn’t being on your own for the first time just ripe with conflict?  I’ve never read any book labeled New Adult, but I think I might write it.  I guess I better start reading it.  For more info on New Adult link here and here. 

8.  Here are a few other interesting articles/sessions that I enjoyed:  Should writers worry about trends and marketing, Diversity in writing, and Adding emotion to your writing.  You can find all the talks/articles of WriteOnCon here. 

Well, that was what I got from WriteOnCon 2013.   For those of you who attended, what did you learn from the experience, and for those of you who did not attend, I hope to see you there next year.




  1. After reading about your experience, I'm kind of jealous I forgot about this. The articles I've read so far from the sessions have been fantastic. Thanks for putting a link to them so we can read, even if we didn't attend.
    Great advice, and great post!

    1. Susan, I wish I had invited you to join me. It would've been so much fun to have you there too. I really had no idea what I was signing up for or if I was even going to participate, but I ended up loving it. I'm doing it next year for sure. Hope you join me. :)

  2. I miss this every year because our vacation always coincides with the conference. :( But I will definitely check out the links you put up. Thanks!

    1. Well I hope you had a fun vacation. It does come at a bad time. Right before school started for our family. Do check out the links. There was lots of good stuff that is still up on the internet. I'm not sure for how long though.

  3. This looks awesome, MaryAnn. I can't imagine coming up with the time or budget for an in-person writer's conference in the near future so this seems like a great solution. I will definitely check it out next year!

    1. Now I feel bad that I didn't tell anyone I was doing it. It is a great solution for those who don't have the time and means to travel to a conference, and it would've been fun to have some friends on the forums.


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