I know you want to hear all about the One-on-One Plus conference…but I also know that what you’re really aching to ask is, “Was it worth it?”
I mean, Rutgers (where the conference is held) is all the way in New Jersey, and I’m way down here in Georgia. And the Beneficent Mr. Hall and I decided to make a sort of vacation trip out of the journey (and about every three hours, he’d announce, “I’ve driven X miles.” Until by the end he said, “I’ve driven 7.2 million miles.”). It’s a fer piece, as we say in my neck of the woods.
But it was worth it. Worth a week of fast food, hard beds, and road rage (in my own car). Worth the Beneficent Mr. Hall asking me about 7.2 million times, “What’s that say?” (When of course, the sign invariably said exactly what we were looking for, and I’d say, “Turn!” and he’d say, “Here?” and I’d say, “YES!” and he’d say, “Well, great. Now I’ve missed it.” Except that he did not put it that politely.)
The funny and entertaining Tara Lazar started the morning with her success story. (You can read her inspiring words here.) And that was followed by the Five-on-Five session where we met our mentors and met in groups of, er, five. It was an opportunity to ask questions about trends in the publishing field, do’s and don’ts about cover letters or queries, or the importance of social media and branding. Which of course, with some digging, you could find for yourself. But you could not get personal answers, about your personal manuscript/situation like you get with the Five-on-Five. Totally worth it.
We heard a panel discussion about the digital age of publishing, and honestly, what I took away from this discussion is that digital is becoming more and more common. Embrace it and grow with the industry–or get left behind.
At lunch, we had the opportunity to speak with anyone–agents, editors, authors–and though we didn’t have a lot of time, every person I connected with was absolutely polite, encouraging, and attentive. And here’s the thing: these mentors donate their time. They hop on a train, on a Saturday, and come from New York or wherever, and read your manuscript when they get to the conference. And they all seemed so happy to do so.
And finally, the One-on-One mentoring session. I was paired with Bethany Strout from Little Brown Young Readers and we were well-matched. We went over the five pages I’d brought, but we talked in detail about the story as a whole. Which was great for me, to clarify themes and plot and characters. We looked at the query, too. Well, we just talked our faces off and it was immensely helpful.
I think the format works so well because, unlike a 15 or 20 minute manuscript evaluation, you (the writer) have an opportunity to discuss issues in the manuscript, really get a deeper understanding of what works–and what doesn’t work. But I’ll add this caveat: I think you’re going to get the most out of this conference if you’ve completed your manuscript–or at least have a very good idea where you’re going with it. But be open to changes in your story. Not so much a full-out revision, but a consideration of how a change in one aspect of your story might enhance another part of your story. I suppose what I’m saying is be prepared, open your mind to possibilities, and listen. Pretty much what you should bring to any critique, now that I think about it.
The day ended with a witty and wise speech from the prolifically-published Bruce Coville, who gave 13 pieces of advice to help a writer. Now, I have all 13 pieces of advice, but something tells me Mr. Coville, though quite charming and kind, would not want me to share every word of his speech. I mean, it might be Speech #12, right? But then I thought I’d just give you the best piece of advice, but of course, they’re all good. So I’m just picking a random one: Never throw anything away. Because you never know if an idea, a story, or a book might be the idea, the story or the book that will make all the difference.
So to answer the question, “Is it worth it?” Yes, it is. And I’d go again next year. ( But you know I’m leaving the Beneficent Mr. Hall at home, right?)