A Writer's Secret

by

Ellen Spain

I have a “secret” to share with you. It has been the main reason I have attended writers’ conferences for the past two decades. Everyone wants to see their story written. That is why we call ourselves writers. But it’s a rocky road from our first rough draft to a best-seller. How many tears streaked those rejection letters you received over the years? Getting our first or second novel published is a gamble. The publishers knows what the readers want through the Nielson Bookscan which provides the publisher the sales data in an instant. The editors know what kind of books they want before they meet us at a conference. Juliet Annan, editor at Fig Tree, a Penguin Imprint states “The world of booksellers is such that you have to make an impact from word go.”

However, you and I made that personal commitment to become a successful writer, which is the first point of the secret. We motivated ourselves to make the decision to do whatever it takes to become a successful writer. Then some of you got lazy before you even completed your final manuscript. A few of you wanted to impress your friends and said “No problem. I will find a literary agent to market my prize novel at the next writer’s conference.” Maybe you really believed the guest editor would have a contract ready for you to sign. But you and I weren't going to act like that. We were realistic and stuck to our plan of action to write the best novel.

Agents and editors specialize. You knew that. Therefore, it is very important to pitch your completed novel to an agent or editor who is actually seeking the genre/theme we want published. A pitch at a conference to an uninterested agent/editor is worse than your unsolicited query letter being thrown into the slush pile. Use your time to research the agent’s or editor’s background by using on-line tools like WritersMarket.com, an Agent’s Guide, and others you can Google. Then read the agent’s or editor’s bio and submission guidelines from their agency’s web site as well as their blog before you get to the conference.

Attending writer’s conferences is more than connecting with the right literary agent or editor. Do your homework. If the agent or editor at a conference isn’t interested in your genre and/or story, don’t waste their time by pitching your book to them. But I did not say, don’t talk with them. All it takes is two minutes in casual conversation to hook them into wanting to hear more about your fascinating novel. And do not show them any paper manuscript. If they are interested in your novel, they will instruct you how to send it to them when you get home from the conference.

Another secret. We’ve already done our on-line research and discovered the names of many other agents/editors in their company with a closer match to what we want to pitch. So talk casually to the agents/editors at the conference. Tell them the specific names of others you found in their company and ask who is the best match to query. Listen to what they say. These casual discussions will provide information, to which you can refer in your query letter, that so and so agent/editor at the specific writer’s conference suggested you send your query to them. Information is power and that’s the secret to getting your manuscript in their door and definitely read.

Furthermore, we attend the writer’s conference with published authors. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their experiences and recommendations with agents and editors. Listen to what they say. Fellow authors give us positive reinforcement That is another secret.

The networking at these writer’s conferences enables us to identify the process for success. It is a great “writer’s support system”. Actually, it is a “positive belief system” that can motivate us to continue writing on those “writer’s block days” for the rest of the year. You made the commitment to write. You invested the time and money into learning the rules of writing and the business of writing as well as joining at least one professional writer’s organization. So retain that feeling of excitement and belief from the writer’s conferences. Be successful and happy.


After thirty years enjoying her work in federal investigations, Ellen Spain retired and entered the professional writing field with a M.A. in Writing (popular fiction), quickly getting her first novel published and then landing an editor’s position. Ellen attended many writers’ conferences including Romance Writers of America, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, PARSEC (scifi/fantasy), the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC), and Mystery Writers of America. However, she feels the smaller conferences offer more bang for the buck, especially in the networking opportunities with literary agents, small publishing houses, and published authors. Read more about Ellen and her travels at EllenSpain.com.