Chesapeake Writing Workshop: A Day to Remember

Credits for this image to Booking.com (https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/crystal-gateway-marriott.html).

Yesterday, I attended the Chesapeake Writing Workshop in Arlington, VA. This was my very first writing conference, and it was such a whirlwind! I had the opportunity to interact with other writers in the area, get some feedback on my first ten pages, and pitch my book to a literary agent for the first time. I’ve got a lot to tell you about, so let me get started right away.

Arrival

I actually missed the first train to Crystal City.

I was in the Foggy Bottom metro station waiting for the blue line train to come at 8:36 am. An orange line train was stuck on the track because of a holdup at the next station over. I was getting nervous because I wanted to get to the hotel with enough time to check in and get oriented. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I watch a blue line train pull into the opposite track. Turns out, I had been looking at the wrong side.

Typical of me to get turned around, to be honest.

The doors closed before I could hop on, so I had to wait for the 8:48 am train. Luckily, I made it to the Crystal Gateway Marriott in plenty of time. I got my nametag and a folder with a copy of the day’s schedule before setting off to the first talk I wanted to see.

The first lecture I attended was about middle grade and young adult books. It was there that I truly understood how versatile the YA genre truly is; people from mid elementary age all the way up to adulthood read young adult novels. You have the ability to cater to a wide audience with YA that I think is very genre-unique. I only got to stay in about twenty minutes though because at 10 am, it was time for my 10 page critique.

Ten Page Critique

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into my critique. I wanted to keep my expectations reasonable, but I also wanted to believe that I was ready for querying. In my heart, I was ready. But was the book ready?

I met with Moe Shalabi, a Palestinian-American author and former junior literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary. As soon as I sat down, the first words out of his mouth were how he loved the story, loved the characters, and needed to know more. I have to say, I was floored. I just filled up with excitement, wanting to hear more of what he had to say. His evaluation of my work was incredibly helpful. He pointed out some details to elaborate on: ways to bring the world to life more, a few points about fleshing out the characters sooner, and some points about verb tense in flashbacks. He also said something to me that I will never forget, something that’s going to stick with me for a long time.

He told me that I had a natural talent for writing.

In that moment, I felt like I was on the right path in my life. This was the idea, this was the story, this was the one that was going to get me where I’d always wanted to be ever since I was 11 writing my first novel.

Published.

It was such an honor to hear that, and I’m quite humbled by it. I couldn’t wait to get home and make those edits. I knew they were going to make my work stronger.

My First Pitch

Of course, then I had to turn around and pitch half an hour later! I spent about ten minutes riding out the high of my critique before I buckled down and drilled my pitch out loud several times. I wanted to make sure I could deliver my summary confidently and clearly.

At 10:50 am, I walked over to Stephanie Kehr, a junior agent for C.Y.L.E Literary. She was my one and only pitch for the day. I liked what I had read about her, and I was hoping that I could make a good impression. After introducing myself, I sat down and launched directly into my pitch. For the first time, I delivered something verbal clearly and concisely with no waver on my voice and without my face turning bright red. It went off without a hitch.

She asked me if I happened to have a sample chapter with me. Although the conference had said you shouldn’t need to hand over anything to the agent you’re pitching to, I had thought ahead. I had seen on Stephanie’s website that for in person pitches, she liked to see a sample chapter, so I had one on hand. She glanced over the first page and told me it seemed like good writing. She handed me her business card and asked me to submit materials to her: my first three chapters, a synopsis, and platform numbers.

I was ecstatic. Especially because she’s currently closed to submissions. To make it over that hurdle means the world to me even if that’s where my book stops with her.

Somehow after all that, I still had almost five minutes left in my ten minute pitch time. I felt incredibly awkward, so I tried to start up a conversation. She gave me some good advice for debut writers and young writers in particular, and we talked briefly about YA as a genre and its versatility. I thanked her for her time and walked out of that room beaming.

Afternoon Lecture: Author Platform

After lunch and a sit-in on a live agent critique of authors’ first pages (never got to mine), I went to my favorite lecture of the day on building an author platform. This is probably my favorite subject, and as most of you know, I’ve been doing a lot of work on building that up over the last six months. But I really wanted to know what more I could be doing to improve my visibility.

A couple takeaways for me:

  • I really need to start working on an email newsletter. I’ve attempted to start one a few times, but due to international spam law (that’s a thing!), I have to leave a mailing address at the bottom of the newsletter. Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I probably could use my mailbox at my college. That would be a physical mailing address I have access to, but if something malicious were to occur, I can’t be tracked to my dorm room or my home address. I need to look more into that.
  • I want to do more guest posts for others. Preferably fantasy leaning or writing blogs that would help boost traffic onto my website. I think I’m doing a fairly good job of writing about fantasy writing, so why not share it with more people?

Aftermath

After the conference, I worked into the late evening on editing my first ten pages according to my critique. I pulled all of my query materials together, and last night, I sent out the first batch of query submissions: the six that I originally selected plus Stephanie Kehr from the conference. I had a little send off call with my mom, sister, and boyfriend where I sent off the emails/online forms with them on the call with me. My dad was unfortunately traveling, so he didn’t get to join me. Next time though for sure! I’ve forbid him from traveling during the next submission round xD.

Now comes the waiting game.

How long will that be?!

Note: I want to especially thank my father for paying my way for this conference. It was an invaluable experience that I will never forget. I made steps in my writing career today because of him, and I just want to say thank you.