Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Incredible HNS Conference Experience

In costume as a pregnant Vestal Virgin
I know it's been days since I got back from the Historical Novel Society Conference in Tampa, but I hadn't posted about it until now because I'm hard at work editing Sacred Fire. I was lucky enough to get several agent requests, and I don't want to keep those agents waiting!

Conferences are so much fun that I wish I could go to one every month. The best part about them is the friendships. Making friends might seem like a frivolous pleasure compared to everything else you can accomplish at a conference, but in any business endeavor your success is based off of who you know. In writing where word of mouth determines how many books you will sell, having friends is essential.

But there's more to it than that. Being around so many intelligent, like-minded people is soothing and regenerating at the same time. When I first got to conference I was feeling down about my book because it's taken longer than I'd hoped to find an agent. Every person I spoke to was supportive, encouraging, and helpful. For instance, Kate Quinn told me I should sell my book as women's fiction. That will make a huge difference in communicating to agents what to expect from it. Thanks, Kate!

I was stupid this year and didn't take copious notes on every panel. The Brooklyn Scribbler is posting multiple articles like I did last year, so if you're interested in learning more, I recommend visiting that blog. Also, someone "storified" all the related Twitter posts and it's a treasure trove of wise quotes from speakers and panelists. You can check it out by clicking here

On Saturday morning, I moderated a panel on Depicting Religion in Historical Fiction. It went perfectly! There's nothing more satisfying than looking back on an endeavor and deciding you wouldn't change a thing about it. The speakers were knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and they happily took on some challenging questions.

I highly recommend their books, if you haven't checked them out already:
I have a voice recording of the session, which I will post... as soon as I figure out how.

To think, I almost didn't submit the idea for the panel because I didn't think they'd be interested in an unpublished author such as myself. I'm so glad I went for it anyway! The fact of the matter is I had a good idea, and good ideas are more valuable than talent and experience. If you ever have a good idea, go for it!

The panel was my favorite part of the conference, but the Costume Contest was easily my second favorite. I went dressed up as a Vestal Virgin... who was seven months pregnant. Gillian Bagwell, who was in character as Lady Rivers, interviewed me on stage as if I were walking down a red carpet. She was a hoot! Acting with her was a real pleasure.

Hopefully I'll be able to post a video of the contest later, but the basic jist of it was this: she'd ask me about my clothes, and every time I said something represented virginity or modesty, everyone laughed. Finally Lady Rivers asked me how I could be a Vestal "Virgin" if I was with child, to which I responded, "How dare you! I've just gained weight!" The audience roared with applause.

I won the contest, and for the rest of the event, people wished me luck on my "weight loss."

Last year, I practiced the pitch I would give agents until I could do it in my sleep. This year, I said "To heck with it," and just talked, saying whatever came to mind. I was more comfortable and my passion showed through more easily. I guess the agents liked it, too.

It was a successful weekend, but not everything went perfectly according to plan. I met with one agent who straight-up hated my book. It was okay because I already knew she wasn't the right agent for me, and in her defense I did egg her on asking her to tell me exactly what she thought, but it was still tough to hear. 

The sad thing is, she was one of the first people I spoke to at the event and I was already feeling a lack of confidence in my book, so my weekend started on a negative note. But between the encouragement from my friends and the interest from other agents, I was able to take her helpful-though-saddening advice with renewed confidence.

Only two years before the next HNS Conference in America. I'm already counting down the days.


  1. Teralyn, you'll find the right agent for you; better to know up front that someone isn't the right fit than to discover it after a year or two of struggles later. Your Vestal Virgin costume and the skit were priceless.

  2. I too had a not-great start to the conference, but so much enjoyed how it unfolded. I enjoyed having lunch with you (and of course your hilarious Vestal Virgin role--you have great comic timing). I wish heartfelt good luck on your novel--it would be lovely to welcome a baby AND a book deal!

  3. Thanks! I agree, it would be overwhelming but still VERY lovely to welcome a baby and a book deal!

  4. Great write up, Teralyn. I so enjoyed the panel on Religion - what a wonderful balance of writers you put together! Each speaker, including you, was eloquent. Thank you!

  5. Great post, Teralyn, and sorry to hear about your agent pitch. I had an unfortunate first pitch encounter as well. It turned out that the publisher who was initially interested in niche and hard to place novels is now interested only in American History. So much for my 1C Roman lesbian gladiator novel! But persevere and you'll find a home for your book.

  6. I loved the panel on spiritual writing! Thanks for suggesting and moderating it. My dear friend Judy Lindbergh got her first book deal about one month before giving birth...may it happen for you!

  7. Hello, Teralyn! I'm so happy to hear about all the good feedback you received from agents at the conference. -crossing fingers that it turns out well-

    As I've been working on catching up on your blog after my long Internet absence (only 27 more posts!), I did listen to your panel and, I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I've been considering writing a creed for my personal religious beliefs and I definitely keep your panel in mind while thinking about it.


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