Three Things I Learned at the DFW Writers Conference

This past weekend I attended the DFW Writers Conference in Dallas, Texas. I’ve been writing and submitting for a long while, but I’ve never been to a full-fledged writing conference. One of my high school friends and a successful author told me writing conferences were the place for aspiring authors to be. So I took her advice, and here are three things I took away from the experience.

Writers Are the Best

I met a lot of fellow authors at the conference, and as always, it was wonderful to talk to folks of my own ilk and compare notes on the craft and life of writing. I could do that all day. But it also got me to thinking about why I like writer folk so much. Because by the very nature of crafting story and character, writers are more empathetic people (generalizing here obviously). We have to get into the heads of our characters and understand motivation, and so we tend to do that with other people too. While many writers are introverts who can appreciate solitude, we’re an understanding lot. And many of us even downright tolerant. I didn’t talk to a single author who was standoffish this weekend, and I met a lot interesting writers I hope to talk to again. And again.

Query Letters Need to Be Phenomenal

I knew this already. But I got to watch this event called the Query Letter Gong Show. Anonymous query letters from real authors at the conference were read on stage. Seven agents listened and would strike a gong when they heard something that would stop them reading the query in ordinary circumstances. Three gongs stopped the reading. Of probably fifty letters, two made it all the way through without three gongs. And between the two of those, only one piqued the interest of a few agents. They said that the average agent receives about 10,000 or more queries a year. All agents are different, but they look for a variety of clues to stop reading. I’ve read the query blogs and tips of how to write good query letters, but I was surprised by how quickly agents could be turned off. Some warning signs were obvious ones that I already avoid, but others were less so. Length was a key turn-off. If an author spent too many sentences describing plot that was a turn-off, for example. They loved short queries. They loved great voice too (which should be obvious but something to consider).

Craft & Process

I attended several lectures on the craft of writing and the process of writing. To be honest, I didn’t learn much from these. But it was nice to be reminded of basic craft. And I did take away several golden nuggets that I can’t wait to apply. Agent Alice Speilburg, for example, gave a great talk on holding the proper tension during the rising action of a novel (that period when most readers drop off). And photographer and author Me Ra Koh shared some smart social media insights. I loved listening to Kevin J Anderson talk about World Building and Productivity, even if much of it was aimed at more novice writers.

It was a great experience, and I’m certainly looking forward to my next writing conference.

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