35th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference Experience

Wow-Slider-South-Euclid-Lyndhurst-Library-3I’ve been silent for a touch. Last weekend I embarked on an epic one-day trek to aid in my quest to be a published author. I went with my brothers up to South Euclid and partook with about 125 other hopeful scribes to the 35th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference at the South Euclid Public Library.  I live a fair distance away, but no one is hosting a writer’s conference in my little burg, and the price was great, free. My hope was to get some solid advice, opportunity to see behind the publishing curtain and network a bit. 
 
I left my home Friday afternoon and traveled to the median point an hour and a half north, stayed the night at my parents, then met up with my brothers and hit the road at 6 am for the second leg of the trip. We drove the boring 71 to 270 and found ourselves in a very posh, upscale neighborhood. The library rested across from the Notre Dame College, not to be confused with the one in Indiana. 
 
We stood out in the cold morning air, all us poor writers, lined up like people waiting outside a club waiting for the doors to open to see your favorite band. The opened the doors at nine. We filed in. All types of folks. It was a very diverse gathering of individuals with the same aspirations and hopes. That our words could matter enough to find an audience. 
 
They handed a raffle ticket and an information packet to each attendee. Finally, we were given the all-important name tag. After serious consideration, I used my real first name. After people had their complimentary coffee and bagels, we found the way to the main conference center
 
It started with some announcements and descriptions of the mechanics of the conference. Which was pretty simple. A keynote speaker would kick things off. After that, three breakout sessions (With 3 choices for each one), and a first-page critique. So it was a full day and you had to make some choices.
 
The keynote speaker was the literary agent, Elizabeth Kaplan, Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency, interviewed by her client and published author-in-residence and MFA, Claire McMillan. Ms. Kaplan dispersed some amazing and illuminating jewels of information. Peeling back the curtains for the uninitiated, she answered questions and filled in the blanks for those of us who find themselves still seeking publication. The back and forth was an interesting illustration of the agent/client relationship as well. The biggest piece of information I carried away would be later illustrated in the first-page critique. It’s one I’ve heard repeated ad nauseum. Follow directions and be professional. This, the keynote address, was worth the drive alone. It was encouraging, informative and engaging.
 
We broke the keynote and took our first breakout session. Out of three sessions, The Seven Universal Plots, Taboo Writing, Powerful Words for Powerful Nonfiction Prose, I took The Seven Universal Plots. Claire McMillan led this seminar. Again worthwhile and engaging. I took some things for my writing toolbox here.
 
The next breakout I took was The All-important Query Letter with speaker, Deanna R. Adams. This was helpful in hearing an author who has submitted and been agented multiple times in several different genres. The most impressive piece of information was how many times to query before changing tactics. Oh yeah, and following instructions.
 
After lunch, we all settled in for the First Page Critiques. The panelists were Elizabeth Kaplan, Claire McMillan, and Renee Rosen. So agent, author, and author. The premise was that each panel member would raise their hand when they would stop reading the first page as an agent would. Simple rules. Hard to follow. Each writer was asked prior to showing up to print their first page of a work in progress, label it with the working title and genre. No names here, please. They had set aside an hour for this, but because no one can follow instructions it lasted less than half that time. In a bit of irony, the panel did not follow the rules. So they would stop reading when only one member raised their hand.
 
My first page for my work in progress, The Phantom Funeral Coach, MG Fiction was read. When they read my title my stomach flipped. An instantaneous adrenaline rush. I listened intently as they plowed through my first paragraph. The other writers and panel seemed to engage. They reacted in the way I hoped when I wrote it. I heard an actual collective gasp. Alas, though, one in the panel stopped it at the end of the first paragraph. They had erroneously assumed that I had shifted voice from the second person to the first. The other two got it. But the lack of following rules got me no further feedback. The reaction to the writing was positive from both the panel and the audience but all too brief.
 
After that the fatigue set in and we traveled back south. All in all, this conference was solid top to bottom. Lots of great information, great seminars, and speakers. I wouldn’t hesitate to return or suggest someone else go. One caveat I would like to add here is the fellow hopefuls were, for the most part, courteous and respectful. My brother, who is a much better writer than I, also suffers from a physically limiting ailment. Everyone went out of their way to help him. Its greatly appreciated.
 
So next year, if you have the opportunity and ability, I would suggest going. And to all who went and those who put this together, thank you.

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