Platform and queries and agents, oh my!

I recently attended my first writers’ conference. It was the Southeastern Writers’ Association’s annual writing conference on St. Simmons Island, Georgia. Five days (including the day of checking in and orientation) of pure writing bliss. We had seven instructors giving one hour block sessions on four days. With this conference being so small you didn’t have to choose between two presenters. Everything was scheduled back to back each day from 8:30 in the morning until 4:45 in the afternoon so you could literally go from one to the other and not have to miss any. I did, though, I missed poetry. One must recognize their limitations and poetry is one of mine. I love to read it, but am absolute rubbish at writing it. Check out the post titled My Secret Love if you are still shaking your head exclaiming, “Surely you jest!” I am a poor poet, and don’t call me Shirley.

At the conference, I learned that inspirational writing doesn’t have to be a faith based book. It is writing that inspires the reader to do something. “Brian’s Song” by William Blinn certainly wasn’t preachy, but it sure was inspirational. I could write an inspirational book. I could positively touch the life of a reader.

I learned that writing your life’s stories – those quirky funny moments that stick out in your mind – are not only memoirs, but also nonfiction. Embellishing the story to make it more engaging for the reader – not lying, not making your story take place in Paris, France when you really were only in Paris, Texas – merely adding description to draw the reader in, is called creative nonfiction. I write creative nonfiction on my blog all the time. There’s a book in that!

Speaking of my blog, this small space of the internet is the start of my platform. Every author needs a platform the instructor taught us. In her book, “Get Known Before the Book Deal” Christina Katz talks about building your platform with such things as blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Our instructor said to follow other authors in your genre – even publishers and agents – on twitter. You should follow writing blogs and try to become a guest blogger. And comments, don’t forget the comments! When agents and publishers are checking Google for what you’ve written, they’ll be interested in the comments you leave on other blogs as well. Oh, but wait, there’s more! Now you can promote your book and connect with your audience on Pinterest. Way too much for this ADD brain to handle. I think I will stick to my blog and twitter for now, thank you very much.

I didn’t even know what a query letter was before I traveled north to what I now call my writing paradise; let alone how to write one! Well, now I do. The important thing is to do your homework. I hear Mrs. Dunn, my second grade teacher who should have taught high school instead, saying this phrase. It’s true, though. Even outside the world of academia we have homework to do before we even attempt to write that first or that 100th query letter. I have hired an editor, but I never thought about being represented by an agent. I thought, as so many do, that I could simply submit my beautifully edited manuscript to a publisher and they would snap it up in a heartbeat. Oh no, dear friends, not so fast. Most publishers won’t even look at first time authors who aren’t represented. To get an agent you write a query letter. To write a query letter that will not be rejected you have to – say it with me – do your homework.

Agents are like the rest of us, they have interests and hobbies. If you have written the most suspenseful mystery ever known and you send your query letter to an agent that’s only interested in nonfiction, you’ve pretty much shot yourself in the foot, or typewriter as the case may be. Say you mention bowling as a hobby in your query letter and send to an agent who prefers to do mountain climbing in their spare time. These agents won’t even bother reading the rest of your letter let alone your manuscript. Solution? Do your homework. There are publications out there that list agents by name and the publishing companies they work for. These annual tomes list interviews with the agents where they discuss their likes, dislikes, and the genre they are most interested in. A wise investment for the professional writer would be to purchase one of these publications before writing any query letters.

I learned so much at my writing conference that my head was spinning for a full week after I got back trying to digest it all. I am now on the road to recovery, and have proudly put some of the lessons to use. If you are able to, if you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you attend a writing conference in the near future. Try to choose one that is focused on teaching the craft of writing first. There are others out there where the sole purpose is to bring together writers and agents and publishers in a fast paced speed dating style meet and greet. While these types of conferences have their merits, I believe learning the craft of writing never ceases, whether you’ve published one or 101 books.

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