Reflections on the Chicago Writing Workshop

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Chicago Writing Workshop. Despite being just a single day event, it was packed with great sessions on several topics of interest to me. I learned a lot from the speakers to whom I listened and was even able to pitch an agent on my first novel, The Azrael Initiative. As my first time attending a writing conference such as this, I found it to be a very rewarding experience.

The first session that I attended, a presentation by Chuck Sambuchino on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, was quite timely for me. This has been a debate I’ve been having in my head for a while, as I’ve thought about how best to bring my novel to market. I’ll save the discussion of my personal thoughts on this matter for another time, however, this presentation did an excellent job of laying out the pros, cons, challenges, and opportunities of each option. Self-published authors get to keep more of the income from their sales and have the benefit of complete control over the editing, marketing, and selling of their books. However, they are then responsible for handling each of those aspects on their own. In traditional publishing, on the other hand, an author gives up a greater portion of his or her earnings, along with some control, in exchange for a team of editors, artists, and publicists provided by the publisher. As I am still somewhat on the fence, I have settled on pursuing the traditional route for now, while still building my own audience and doing my own marketing. If the traditional path does not work out or if my audience gets large enough, I can always change course toward self-publishing later.

Next, there was a session on agents and query letters, again led by Chuck Sambuchino. However, while I got some great information out of this talk, I missed a large chunk of it due to a pitching session. My pitch was scheduled with agent Alice Speilburg of Speilburg Literary Agency and it went very well! She seemed quite interested in my novel and requested to see the first three chapters. I have been editing those pages this week so that I can send them off over the weekend. I’m very excited that my first pitch ever went so well and I look forward to seeing where things go from here.

After lunch, there was a first page critique session with a panel of agents. At the beginning of the conference, each author could submit the first page of his or her novel. During this critique session, the moderator, Jessica Bell, randomly drew from the collection of pages and read the each selection aloud. As a page was being read, agents would raise their hands whenever they would have stopped reading. Once five agents had raised their hands, the moderator would stop reading and the panel would provide feedback. It was an intense, rapid-fire way of providing advice. I didn’t know whether to be afraid or hopeful that my submission would be picked. While my own first page ultimately escaped judgment, I did pick up some great ideas to implement in my writing to make it more engaging.

In the second to last session that I attended, Lori Rader-Day provided some tips for revising, editing, and proofreading. Since I am currently in the midst of fine-tuning my novel, I found this to be incredibly useful. Already, I’ve been able to apply some of the lessons learned. It was also fun to hear about her own experience as an author working within the traditional publishing structure. Hearing a firsthand account has helped to provide perspective as I consider my own publishing path.

Finally, Chuck gave a presentation on Ten Keys to Writing Success. The main focus was on the things writers can control to give themselves the best shot at achieving their goals. As a new author, I found these tips to be inspiring and helpful.

Ultimately, I had a wonderful experience at the Chicago Writing Workshop. I left with a wealth of fresh knowledge, some new friends, and an agent’s request to see the first part of my novel. I can’t wait to put all of what I learned into practice. I will definitely be attending more conferences such as this when I can. Before the workshop, I was excited to get into writing and I am now more eager than ever to take this journey.