Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What To Expect When You're Expecting...a trip to the Surrey International Writers' Conference!

Hey guys, Kate here.

Well, it's my favourite time of the year...time for the Surrey International Writers' Conference! For those who don't know, SiWC is an absolutely incredible conference for writers of any genre to meet, mingle, learn new skills, sharpen their old ones, and pitch their stories to agents and editors! Leah and I have been twice, and both times were absolutely incredible! As heartbreaking as it is to say, Leah and I are unfortunately not able to attend this year. Between Leah's impending travels and the situation of our current project, it just wasn't a financially-savvy thing for us to do. So to try to fill the void of missing our favourite activity, we dug up our discarded blog posts from our first conference in 2012. If you're a first-time attender wondering what to expect at your first conference or a SiWC veteran gearing up for pitches and parties, take a look below:

Kate's Post:

This Day We Write! 
I know my sister just posted a blog on the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, but it was such an overwhelming and amazing experience that I can’t help but want to publically share my thoughts on the entire thing as well. The SiWC was just an unbelievable experience, filled with positivity, energy, and hope. I left feeling electrified and invincible!

I’m not going to lie, I had my doubts about the conference before we arrived. I thought we weren’t ready to pitch our story yet, we hadn’t had enough time to perfect our writing, that we simply weren’t prepared enough to make the most out of it. I see now that nothing was farther from the truth, and I was just afraid. Thank goodness I had the constant optimism of my sister and the immense support of our parents, otherwise I would have bagged the whole thing and said, “Maybe next year!” for the rest of my life! I don’t believe our book will ever be 100% done, but somewhere along the way you just have to accept it and give it a go.

First of all, I love Vancouver! Even though it’s similar to Victoria, there’s always that feeling of Big City possibility as soon as the car pulls off the ferry. Our hotel was quite lovely with the comfiest pillows you have ever laid your head upon. We debated trying to smuggle one home but it wouldn’t fit in our suitcase. Registering with the con and getting our official SiWC folders and pens just heightened the excitement! (Oh, and not to mention we saw fantasy author Sam Sykes checking in at the desk so I had to fangirl-squee a bit.)

I was a bundle of nerves the first day, but relaxed when I saw how outgoing and friendly everyone around us was. Leah and I are not social Olympians, so making friends and small talk is not our forte. Lucky for us however, everyone else seemed more than happy to introduce themselves and break the ice.
The keynote speaker Friday morning was Jane Espenson, so being an uber Buffy-Angel-Game of Thrones-Once Upon a Time fan, I was in awe. Next, I sat through awesome workshops where I learned the do’s and don’ts of pitching (EXTREMELY helpful!) and heard some great thoughts on villains and conflict. During the conflict workshop, I received my first high-light of the trip: a text from my sister that read,
I got an appointment with Jack Whyte!!!!!!!
Jack said, “Well, after tearing that to shreds, I can tell you it’s very good.”

Meeting Jack was one of our hopes for the conference, but having him review our work was more than we could possibly dream! And, he said it was good. In his Scottish accent.

Incredibly, I got a last-minute pitch session with a certain agent that I really wanted to meet. Not so incredibly, Leah and I had not yet crafted our pitches yet and had to do so in 20 minutes. Incredibly, it came out sounding quite exciting! And even more incredibly, I was able to say the 40-second pitch without vomiting all over the table or bursting into tears (both of which I wanted to do). And even more incredibly, she said she wanted to read it! At first I was in shock, then denial (Oh, I’m sure she just says that to everyone so as not to hurt their feelings), then I decided to just accept it as a great thing and celebrate! Our very first query ever resulted in a request!

And what better way to celebrate than with a drink at dinner? Which were, by the way, delicious. Being a vegetarian, I was astounded by the amount of meat-free dishes they had, all which were incredible! And the company was even better. Talking about my work in a professional setting was extremely inspiring. I have so many supportive friends and family members in my life who I constantly lean on and talk about my writing with, but when I brought up our books to these new colleagues, I actually felt like I wasn’t discussing a hobby anymore – I was discussing a career path. I was discussing a lifelong dream.

Saturday went by just as wonderfully with some beautiful keynotes, another successful pitch where an agent requested the first three chapters of our novel, and an extremely helpful and hilarious Blue Pencil editing session with Sam Sykes. Oh, and Jack Whyte called us beautiful, and what better compliment is there than one said in a Scottish accent?

Leah's Post:

I am on the ferry ride back from Vancouver. Wow, what can I say, the conference was amazing! For a long time, all I’ve heard is great things about the SiWC and now I know why! Above all else, the atmosphere was great there; I didn’t once talk to a person that wasn’t friendly and supportive! In case any of you are thinking of going I’ll write some notes on different aspects of it:

Blue Pencil Café: So for those of you who don’t know the Blue Pencil Café is where you get to sit down with a published author and they go over three pages of your work with you. My first appointment was with romance novelist Sheila Roberts, and even though I brought a YA sample with me, she was SO nice and helpful! She gave me the name of her agency and told me to email her when my book was finished. On the way out, I decided on a whim to see if Jack Whyte had any free appointments. It turns out he did…right then! Luckily I had the first three pages of my and Kate’s YA fantasy with me as well. I can tell you right now, you’ve never really heard your stuff read out loud until its read by Jack Whyte. If you’ve heard him speak, you’ll know what I mean! I was terrified the entire time, but at the end (after stopping multiple times to tweak things) he said: “Well, after ripping that apart I can tell you it was good.” I was so excited! The 15 minutes just flew by. I would recommend blue pencils to anyone; the advice you’ll get is invaluable

Pitch Sessions: Pitching for me was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole conference! I definitely need to work on calming down my nerves. I had my 40-second pitch practiced, and when I sat down, I think I just threw it all up (figuratively!) on the poor agent. She was very nice though, and even though she didn’t request any pages, she gave me her card and told me to email her if I had any questions. Kate had a bit more luck with the agents (she was pitching the same book with the same pitch so if anyone asks I’m going to claim I just had bad luck!) and we got a request for 50 pages and 3 chapters! So we’ll be busy fixing those up!

Workshops: I really enjoyed all the workshops. I liked the idea that you could float between them if you wanted, and leave for appointments. I’d have to say my favorite (and most helpful) was pitching 101, Complex Conflicts, SiWC idol, and the Secret Lives of Best Sellers. I enjoyed everyone I went to and wish I could have cloned myself to go to more!

The Banquets: Our mother was extremely kind and bought Kate and I the full package including all the meals. For anyone who’s thinking of going I’d highly recommended it. The key speeches alone were one of my highlights of the conference, two of the speakers almost brought me to tears! Not to mention the people you meet, everyone is so interesting. Plus one of the meals you get to eat with a presenter. Not to mention the food was VERY good.

Plus there were so many great things about the conference that I haven’t even mentioned, such as getting to hear Jane Espenson’s speech, bumping shoulders with everyone in the elevators, and the hotel beds were super comfy too! I’ve never been to another writer’s conference, but I can’t imagine one being any better. I had the time of my life and hope I can go back next year!

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