|In costume as a pregnant Vestal Virgin|
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:
- Kamran Pasha, who wrote Mother of the Believers and Shadow of the Swords
- Mary Sharratt, who wrote Illuminations and Daughters of the Witching Hill
- Stephanie Dray, who wrote Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile
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To think, I almost didn't submit the idea for the panel because I didn't think they'd be interested in an unpublished author such as myself.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.