Last year’s DFWcon was kiiiiinda lame, and I don’t mind saying so. It was so lame they didn’t even have the usual comment forms – they knew. This isn’t to say they didn’t try – they had (mostly) great agents, Kevin J Anderson, and that chick who wrote the Sookie Stackhouse books (neither of which were my bag, but they were fun to listen to). I’d even go as far to say that they did the best with what they had.
But I still don’t feel like it was up to par with the conference I expected and was familiar with.
This should be the biggest selling point of DFWcon though : due to it being pretty great in years past, none of the badness of 2015 stopped me from buying a ticket to the 2016 con, and boy was I glad I did, because times have changed. Not to drop an ominous line and leave you hangin’, but I’ll get back to that statement in a bit.
This year they grabbed the Fort Worth convention center, which was a HUGE step up in venue from last year. The food was waaaaaay better, the classes were better, the speakers were better, the agents were an entirely new and different crop, and all in all it seemed a lot more befitting of the big con I’m used to going to.
But the crowning achievement came in the form of a special session I had to sign-up for in advance. It was called “So Close, but So Far,” and the idea was that a panel of industry veterans (basically agents, writers, keynote speakers, etc) would listen to talk about your submission and rejection experiences thus far. It was free to con attendees, but it was geared towards people who were querying and getting rejection letters, NOT newbies. This has been and always will be a thing – people show up in upper-level classes asking “HOW I WRITE BOOK?” While that’s a totally valid question, it’s not appropriate for the context.
Anyhow, I got up, gave my spiel, talked about my query letter and the form rejections I’ve been getting, and got two great revelations out of this :
- my query letter is a hot mess. I don’t mean the fun kind of hot mess either, I mean the “magma melting your arm” kind of hot mess.
- despite what we’ve been told and read, if the query sucks, agents tend to NOT read the sample pages.
Obviously the second one was the real eye-opener. I get it, and an agent explained it to me – writing a good (or maybe “not terrible) query letter is proof that an author can distill their ideas in a catchy and succinct way. This is an important skill to have when talking about one’s story to agents, editors, fans, etc. I get it, I really do.
I just don’t agree with it. Query letters are sort of a different skill set from writing a novel, meaning someone could write an incredible novel, but without that query letter to market it, nobody will ever see it. Self-publishing has changed that somewhat, but not much, and not enough.
Rant aside, the revelation was supremely good info to have, but even it wasn’t as awesome as what happened next. I was leaving and had made it about halfway to the door when someone in the audience stopped me and said, “Hey, your story sound really cool, I can’t wait to read it.”
And that’s when an agent came running up to me, card in hand, to request the full manuscript.
I’ll put it another way : the agent chased me down, not the other way around. Let that sink in.
Times have changed, and this is a sign of that, because usually it was it me, the writer, chasing an agent (literally and figuratively), hoping to be heard above the noise. Having the tables turned on me was not only a pleasant surprise, it was a huge morale boost and a sign that if I can get past the query letter and get people to pay attention to the story, I’ve got a solid chance.
Now, granted I knew going into this class that there would be agents present, and part of my intent was to use it as an icebreaker so that later I could approach said agents and pitch to them, but I never dreamed they’d come running after me like this.
Anyhow, it doesn’t end there. My story had apparently made the rounds with other agents, and when I tried to pitch to one of them, they said, “Oh YOU’RE that guy! Send me the whole thing!”
Times have changed.