The SCWW Writers' Conference and Close Encounters of the First, Second and Third Kinds

In a few months, registration for the 2010 SCWW Annual Writers' Conference will open and offer you the opportunity to mingle with those unfamiliar beings, agents and editors. Agents and Editors inhabit a world we all hope to visit, and nothing beats a face-to-face meeting with those inhabitants. I had that experience last year and I'd like to share with you my encounters of the First, Second and Third Kinds.

My First Encounter was in a Slush Fest. Upon entering the room, attendees hand in transparencies of the first two pages, or a synopsis, of their work. These are projected onto a screen for all in the room to see and are critiqued by an agent or editor. The work is anonymous and has not been seen prior by the faculty member. The exercise demonstrates how agents and editors cull their slush piles looking for openings that grab them.

The agent for my Slush Fest was enjoying the submissions. At one point she remarked, "These have all been really, really good. I almost wish I had one to show what I don't like." Fortunately, or unfortunately, mine provided that example.

Her nose scrunched up a bit and her mouth twisted. "This opening paragraph really isn't doing anything for me." The agent sliced and diced particular words, phrases and references that held no meaning for her. She wondered aloud what the author might be trying to say or do, before removing the offending page from the screen.

My Second Encounter was a Pitch Session. This is another quick, first impression opportunity to sell a story. Again, the faculty member doesn't see the manuscript before the meeting, but there is time for discussion. My pitch was to another agent. I pitched. The agent didn't immediately catch. BUT, he asked to see my opening pages so we pulled them off my flashdrive onto his computer.

"The writing looks strong but we've gone through all these pages and I'm still not sure what the conflict is or why this is important." Then Agent #2 reached across the table, grabbed my arm and yelled, "What's wrong with Michael?!"

"That's the tension and conflict I need to see within the first few pages," he told me. "I really don't care about nice, family Michael." We talked a few more minutes then he gave me his card and said when I reworked the first five pages he'd take a look at them.

My Third Encounter was an Extended Critique with an editor. For the Extended Critique, a faculty member receives up to thirty pages of a manuscript weeks before the conference and has time to read and critique the work. At the conference, faculty member and writer have twenty minutes to discuss the piece.

As I sat down, the Editor said, "First, I really like your opening. I immediately know where you are, you've set the tone and emotion for the story. I'd shorten it some, but really, very nicely done."

This was the exact opening that did 'absolutely nothing' for Agent #1.

During the next twenty minutes the Editor pointed out where my story was strong and where it needed work. She, too, said the conflict needed to appear sooner, but liked the way I'd developed the family dynamics.

Same material, three different encounters, three different responses. So what was that supposed to tell me? Actually, my three encounters perfectly illustrated the advice agents and editors continually give us.

1. This is a business. Agents and editors are in the business to find the next author and book to represent. It's our job to offer the best writing we can.

2. This business is also subjective. Along with industry standards, agents and editors bring their own likes, dislikes and worldview to the process of choosing the 'right' manuscript. The different reactions to my opening paragraph made that clear to me! Subjectivity is an element we have no control over so writers shouldn't take rejections personally.

3. Take the feedback and apply it. I took the reactions and advice, figured out which came from personal preference and which stemmed from the quality of my writing and fixed my manuscript. I also kept those notes and suggestions in mind while working on my next novel.

4. Do your homework. While we can't completely eliminate the subjectivity factor, we can help ourselves. To get a better sense of an individual agent's taste, read several books that agent has represented, preferably by different authors. I did that before the conference. I still missed with Agent #1, but I was pleased with the responses from the other two contacts.

5. Make your opening paragraphs and pages count. Whether those sentences are in the manuscript or the query, that sliver of work is our foot in the door. Even though my overall writing was strong, I needed to bring the conflict/tension front and center, sooner.

6. Don't give up. Keep honing your writing to make it stronger. Keep submitting your manuscript until you find the agent that fits.

Angi Morgan: Crazy Copy Edits & Proposals

Thanks again for having me SCWW ! For those of you following the progress of my book, HILL COUNTRY HOLDUP, it’s been a crazy three weeks.
Crazy Day One, March 3rd: Phone call from agent summary--Just spoke with your editor, who really would like to have your proposal by March 15th. How’s that coming? And she mentioned that you should be receiving your copy edits any time. I sent my agent chapters 1 and 2.

I can’t write my mental answer. LOL But my verbal answer was: I still have the last 10 pages of the 50 page proposal to finish (yes, remember that last elusive 10 pages from the last blog?). I’ll get the proposal to you by Sunday.

The phone call kicked my muse in the *** and while I was at the concession stand I wrote almost 7 pages in about three hours. And it wasn’t half bad. I actually liked it. Fleshed it out and sent it to my critique partners on Friday.

Crazy Day Two, March 4th: Package from Harlequin arrived that afternoon. The copy edit instructions were to return only the pages I made changes on. So I dialed a fellow Intrigue author and she explained in detail what to do. Whew...thank goodness for friends. I told myself I had to finish the proposal before looking through the edits.

Crazy Day Three & Four: Softball tournament. I made corrections to my proposal between restocking hot dogs and pickles. Seriously, the lap top came in handy between customers. I still didn’t look at the copy edits. I realized that my editor had asked the pages to be returned by March 11th. YIKES! That meant that I had to overnight the corrections on Wednesday.

Crazy Day Five, March 7th: Critique group helps me for several hours. Car broke down. My daughter’s home for spring break and took my phone away from me. Yes, she really did. I applied all the critiques, did some rewriting, and was about to submit chapter 3 to my agent. BUT, when I signed on, there were corrections for chapters 1 and 2. I worked on the corrections until 3 am--just couldn’t finish.

Crazy Day Six: Submitted my corrected proposal on Monday morning. Again, I didn’t look at the copy edits until I’d hit SEND on the proposal. Began editing at 4:30 and left the dining table at 9 pm. First read through the edits, all the simple edits made. My edits are on post-it notes (as suggested by my friend and author, Kay Thomas--who has a book out this month). I spoke to my editor about one plot question and she mentioned she’d really like the proposal on Monday or Tuesday.

Crazy Day Seven: Again, dining room table (hard chair kept me awake), 8 am through 4 pm. I rewrote all the copy edits onto the page, and re-copied my post-its neatly. Completely finished around 11 pm.

Crazy Day Eight, March 10th: Slept late. Got the pages and envelope ready to mail to Harlequin. (I didn’t forget the address this time.) I opened the door and--I’m not kidding--it began to hail. Flooded everything for fifteen minutes. I got in hubby’s truck, drove to copy my pages with corrections, it flooded again. Another delay. THEN: debit card wouldn’t work and the Post Office had a line 22 deep (I counted just for this blog--LOL). When it’s my turn, everything’s in order, the Postal worker asks if “COPY EDITS” written on the envelope meant I had sold a book. Yes. She calls friends over, they congratulate me and--not kidding--made a mistake and had to begin everything again. But she was nice and wished me luck so how could I get upset? Edits are in the mail, time for more proposal revisions. Oh and did I mention that my daughter sprained her ankle?

Almost Sane Day Nine: Softball tournament. I worked on revisions throughout the day.

Completely Insane Day Ten, March 12th: The laptop didn’t save any revisions. In fact, the entire file disappeared. I wasted two hours looking for it. Had to email my agent that the proposal wouldn’t be ready until Sunday. THEN I had to re-correct, and rewrite what I’d created on Thursday. I worked hard on the rewrite of chapter two. The first draft was choppy and too-fast.

Another Almost Sane Day Eleven: Softball tournament. I worked but not on writing.

Sunday, Day Twelve: Again, no phone, no Internet, no distractions, just writing until I submitted the proposal.

D-Day: Proposal Due, Monday, March 15th. I submitted the corrections to my agent at 11 am. I was about to run errands...but I received an email from my agent three hours later-- The first chapter’s fantastic, chapter three’s really good. Chapter two has a better overall tone, but is a bit repetitive. I whined for at least two hours. Tried calling everyone I knew for sympathy. Then worked. It took another two hours, but at 7:59 pm I hit send on the proposal hopefully for the last time.

D-Day Plus One, March 16th: Errands. A meeting. Out of the house. Away from the computer. Phone call from my agent--Angi, it looks good, can we change these two words? YOU BET !!! The proposal was submitted on Tuesday, March 16th.

A note about my Copy Edits: I was very fortunate that my copy edits were simple, one-line fixes with the exception of three or four paragraphs. I didn’t have any disagreements about word changes. There were no plot problems. It was mainly clarification. And it’s not completely the norm to only have one week to fix the errors and return to your editor. But the reality is that it happens and you should be prepared. It took me three days to realize I had less than a week, simply because I don’t work off a dated calendar that often. When you work at home (and from your home) and don’t have children to remind you what day it is...well, dates run together.

I discovered that it was hard making the revisions to the proposal every day. It was difficult, but I managed it. I found all the versions began to jumble in my brain. I couldn’t remember what I had revised and what I needed to revise. For the last revision, I printed a copy of the three chapters and kept it in front of my screen. I’d make a change, but left my screen where it was--using the paper copy to find where the information might have been or what I had said previously. Find what works for you, but my advice is to write, wait, come back to it, and make your revisions when you can look at it objectively several weeks later. Have more than one proposal ready when you sell and avoid those Crazy Edits and Revisions!

This week’s lesson learned: I can write better under pressure, but I don’t recommend it for anyone.

‘Til next time,

Some upcoming topics of discussion:
An On-Going Behind the Scene Look at Getting Ready for Publication
(promotion, AA’s, character sheets, log-lines, bios, etc.)

How I Chose My “Dream” Agent & Editor

My Hero Has Brown Hair?

Targeting Your Book & Choosing Your Market

Seeing Your Cover For The First Time

Special Tuesday Edition! Welcome back, Angi!


Hello SCWW ! Thanks for having me and letting me share what happens between the sale of my first book and it’s publication.

HILL COUNTRY HOLD UP status: nothing happened this month. It’s six months until my Harlequin Intrigue will be on store shelves in September. I’ve submitted the book and I’m waiting on copy edits from my editor.

Unfortunately, I’m still working on my second proposal. I’m on the last ten pages needed for the submission. While trying to decide on the topic for this week, I realized several things happened this month. Individually, they seemed insignificant. But when you’re analyzing why words aren’t hitting the page...everything’s significant.

I sold a book. First words from my published friends were “Congratulations, but...” Each reminded me to write. To get the second proposal ready as soon as possible. To submit my second book, I needed a synopsis and three chapters (or approximately fifty pages). This shouldn’t be hard. I thought I had a great first chapter. I had the workings of a synopsis. I kept writing. Then I developed the plot. Revised the synopsis. The story was stronger. I sent the first chapter to my agent. She loved it. I finished the synopsis. My agent had a few questions, I revised and it’s ready. I moved forward to chapter two. Wow, I’m writing. This is great. I can move to chapter three.

Screeeeeching halt. My critiques came back on chapter two. Along with the dreaded words halfway through my chapter--words I haven’t received since the critiques on my first work: “When can we talk?” OH NO! The chapter wasn’t brilliant? I took another look. Ugh. I’m not exaggerating when I confess that out of 25 lines, I had 24 “was ing” combinations. I met one of my critique partners for lunch. An hour and a half later, we had hopefully resolved the pacing problem. The passive writing was mine to fix with severe revising.

I read chapter two through different eyes. Writing is something I work at. I love getting the story on the page, but making it publishable is work (at least for me). The second version seemed to pass muster. Now I just need to get the last ten pages ONTO the page. That’s my goal this week.

ANALYSIS: Thank goodness for great, honest critique partners. One who says, “Angi, did you forget how to write?” And I actually think I did. I was too interested in hurrying through, getting the story on the page. My second chapter read more like a synopsis than my usual active voice. I analyzed the sentence structure and treated the writing as if it weren’t mine. As if it were a critique partners’ work. I went through the chapter asking myself questions, then revised again by answering those questions.

The real problem? Emotion. Most of my questions had to do with why. Why were the hero and heroine responding to the situation in the way they responded. I’m writing characters who are in a dangerous situation. Strangers, thrown together and forced to depend on each other. And the emotion just wasn’t transferring to the page. I couldn’t determine why. I’ve written for several years. What was different? And then I had a personal scare this week. My 11 ½ year old dog became ill and I thought we’d have to make a decision regarding his life.

Now you ask, what does that have to do with writing romance? After Logan (my 11 year old “puppy”) began to recover, I wanted to put all the emotion I experienced into my notes. I realized, that it was the same emotion my heroine will need at her black moment in the book (no, no, nothing to do with animals). And then it hit me. I have been happy since selling my book. Very happy. And the happy emotion was being transferred to the page. So yes, I sold a book. Yes, I can still write. Yes, it’s fun. And yes, I have to remember the basic things I’ve learned along the way to write another. Practice. Practice. Practice.

This week’s lesson learned: Dig deep, read your notes, set the mood, get back into a “scary” place, and bring the right emotions to your characters.

‘Til next time,


Some upcoming topics of discussion:
An On-Going Behind the Scene Look at Getting Ready for Publication
(revisions, promotion, copy-edits, AA’s, character sheets, log-lines, bios, etc.)
How I Chose My “Dream” Agent & Editor
My Hero Has Brown Hair?
Targeting Your Book & Choosing Your Market
Seeing Your Cover For The First Time