By M.B. Partlow
Take Advantage of Me!
Well, not me, personally. I have teenagers for that, thanks.
The "me" I speak of is the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. In particular, there are four different opportunities that offer a way to get some professional feedback on your work.
The first three are for those who haven't quite completed that manuscript.
For the absolute lowest stress possible, we offer R&C (Read & Critique) Author. This is a closed session, meaning the only people in the room are: the moderator, the published author giving feedback, and eight lucky attendees. You bring three copies of the first two pages of your manuscript. You may give the title and logline at the beginning. Example: "Bullwinkle Must Die is a noir mystery set in cyberspace. When someone threatens Bullwinkle's life, it's up to Boris and Natasha to save the day and prove their innocence." You read it aloud, seated at the table, and the author gives you immediate feedback and helpful comments. Because this is a smaller, more intimate setting, there's more interaction between you and the author in your session.
Our time-tested favorite is called R&C X. Why X? Why not? In this session, everyone who has signed up in advance will give two copies of their first page to the moderator. When your name is called, you stand up and state your title. It's acceptable to give your genre, perhaps word length, and a brief logline. Example: "Life Among the Frogs" is a 90,000 word romance. When a girl has kissed all the frogs in her hometown, where does she look for love?" Then you read that first page aloud. You may sit or continue to stand (your choice) while the agent or editor faculty member gives you their immediate feedback. This session is open, meaning anyone can attend. It's a great way to suss out an agent or editor you're going to be pitching to, which is why we allow audience members who are not participating in the R&C to attend. The agent or editor may ask you a question or two, but there's not really time for lengthy questions.
The latest and greatest is R&C 123. Similar to the X version, you hand over four copies of your first page to the moderator. It's perfectly acceptable to have the genre and logline at the top. Something like "The Litterbox Conundrum is Science Fiction. When all the cats on Earth reveal their hidden opposable thumbs, who will be left holding the business end of the pooper scooper?" Then our extremely talented designated reader will read the submissions, one by one, to a panel consisting of one agent, one editor and one published author. The panel will give feedback on their first impressions. No questions and no stress for the writer, because nobody knows who it is. You don't have to worry about your knees knocking or your voice cracking.
Two things to bear in mind about R&C sessions. First, when you hand over your precious manuscript pages, they'd better be in standard manuscript format. You know the drill: 1-inch margins, 12-pt Times New Roman or Courier font, double spaced. The moderator makes sure that everyone involved gets their fair share of time, so you aren't going to slip in single-space 7-point font and get away with it. (Note: on the copy that will be read aloud, feel free to make the font as large as you want.) Second, we aren't able to match you with specific authors, editors and agents. We ask you to specify what genre you're interested in, and we match you up from there.
Wait. I said R&C was open to finished or unfinished manuscripts. What about Pitching?
Pitch is for those with completed manuscripts. You show up at the Pitch sign-in desk 5-10 minutes before your designated pitch time, so you have time for a breath mint and wiping your clammy palms on your jacket. You will be ushered into the pitch room in an orderly manner, where you'll find your designated editor or agent, introduce yourself, and tell them about your book. At the end of your designated time, you will be ushered out in an orderly manner. (We're on a tight schedule, so please don't make us get out the cattle prods to remove you from your seat.)
Before you dismiss the entire concept of traditional publishing and roles of agents and editors, think again. These are industry professionals. These are the people who work every single day with new authors. They know what's out there. They know the marketplace. They know what's been done a million times and, like it or not, they know if your storyline sounds unique and interesting or not. This is a great opportunity to practice speaking in a professional manner about your book. Just because an agent or editor says, "Send me your first 50 pages" doesn't mean you're committing yourself to that agent or that editor. But isn't it nice to have options? And get some skilled, experienced feedback?
There is a beauty to each of these approaches. In R&C Author, you get advice from a fellow author, someone who has been in your shoes and is rooting for you to succeed. In X, there is something terrifying and yet exhilarating about reading your work out loud to others. It gives you an ownership of your words like nothing else can. In 123, you will hear your words through someone else, and there is nothing more eye-opening. You will have an immediate sense of what you did right and what you can improve, because the words aren't filtered through the voice inside your own head. And preparing for Pitch will make sure you understand your work backward and forward.
About the Author: MB Partlow, 2013 Programming Director for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, is hard at work getting fantastic speakers and participants for the conference. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find more information on the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference at pikespeakwriters.com.