If you’re scheduled for a critique for the conference, think ahead of time about what you want to learn. I emphasize the words “to learn.” Most people go into a critique hoping that the agent/editor is going to be so blown away by their stellar first chapter that they’ll have the contract ready to sign. Some people say the best you can hope for is a request to see the first fifty pages. I say, the best you want is some good solid advice on what you need to do to make your manuscript the best possible novel in town.
The first year I went to the conference I had written about 65 pages of my novel. It was nowhere near ready to sell, but I met with an agent who gave me invaluable recommendations on developing my main character and testing my voice. She told me where I had a good hold on my content and where my plot was weak. I started attending a SCWW critique group and received invaluable guidance. The second year with the same manuscript in tow and 300 pages into it, I met with an agent and did a pitch. I honestly got more from the pitch than the agent this go round. She told me flat out that my plot wasn’t marketable and what I’d have to do to develop it. “Dig deeper,” she said over and over again. “Dig deeper into your plot.” I went home, came back year three with the same manuscript, all three agents recommendations incorporated and sold the book.
I have already received in return every penny I ever put into an SCWW Conference. I think it all depends on what you’re expecting from the agents when you come to the conference. Are you expecting to sell a book or hoping to get professional insight into your strengths and weaknesses. I certainly got what I wanted out of it.
I encourage people to attend the conference and take advantage of the expertise that is all around you. Speaking first hand, it’s not just among the agents. You can gain tremendous insight from your fellow writers who are climbing similar mountain trails, some on the path ahead of you and some just beginning. Reach out and lend a helping hand. Listen and learn.