The Confirmation I Needed: TN Writer’s Workshop

I attended an event a couple of weekends ago that was a writer’s workshop, taught by Chuck Sambuchino. He shared a lot of great information that I know is going to help me when I get ready to query, and I am very glad I went and heard what he had to say.

But there was one part of the workshop that did not focus on advice that made the whole thing really worth it for me.

After lunch, they had four literary agents sitting at a table in the front of the room. Chuck would read the first page of our manuscript that we brought with us. As he read it out loud, the four agents had their own copies and they were reading it to themselves. When the agent reached the point they would stop reading if this came across their queries, they would raise their hand. When two of them had their hands raised, or once the page was completely read and no one or only one of them had raised their hand, the reading stopped, and they discussed what did and did not work for them. It was selected randomly and there wasn’t time for all of them, so you sat there feeling queasy and wondering if your page was going to get picked and what they would say about if it did. If you think it sounds like torture, you’re pretty correct.

I decided to go ahead and turn in a page. For the past two years I have attended an SCBWI conference, and they do something a little similar, except it’s one agent up there and they go ahead and read the whole page and then say what they think. My first year, the guy was pretty 50/50 about what he liked and didn’t like. I had turned in a page for a different story that year and he didn’t really love mine. The next year I did not turn in a page and THANK GOODNESS because that particular agent did not like ANYTHING, and I am not exaggerating. It seemed she wanted something very literary, but this was a bunch of YA submissions and most YA is just not literary. But I had hoped that this time, with four agents, I could get some constructive criticism if my page was chosen.

What I got was better than that.

In case your imagination is as vivid as mine, I’ll go ahead and explain that I did not get one of them to ask me to submit to them (that did happen with one story and one agent though, and when that happened I thought, dangit, that was what I was hoping would happen to me!).

But let me set the scene: I had a crappy lunch out due to traffic and other stupid stuff, and I had just scarfed down an awesome warm chocolate chip cookie I bought at the hotel to make myself feel better, and I was sitting there nervous and just praying to God that someone liked my page. Several pages had been read, and there were mixed responses (though none of them had been real mean), and most of the complaints I was hearing, I felt, did not apply to my page. I don’t feel connected with the character, too much description up front, etc. So I was feeling pretty decent about my page… unless they decided the dialogue was crappy or something. But I have revised this beginning a lot thanks to the people I met at the last conference I went to.

Chuck starts a new page: “Genre: young adult.” I took a deep breath, because that meant it could be mine. He started reading. It was mine! I was watching the four agents carefully, and I literally felt my heart thumping in my chest, racking against my ribs. I waited, watching for hands, but none were going up. Halfway through, almost to the end, then it was finished… no hands! Victory! Then the comments. They were all pretty positive! One had a minor issue that one of the others disagreed with, so that hardly counted in my mind. Overall, they said they loved the voice of the character. And then later, someone else’s page even got compared against mine, one of the agents saying that mine had provided the sci-fi element of the story much more organically. I just kept thinking, Holy crap, four literary agents just read my page and they liked it. 

I can actually do this. 

Because I have wondered if I could. There are so many published authors my age or YOUNGER, and even though I know that there is no age limit to writing I still wonder if I could still make it, if I haven’t missed out, or if I’m just plain not good enough. There are thousands of queries being sent to agents every day and will mine really stand out?

Not everyone in that room had their entire page read without a hand going up. That was an accomplishment. And to have virtually no complaints about it just added to it.

But that was only one page, probably the page that has had the most work done to it. So I need to keep cracking at the rest of the story until it is all just as strong as that page. And then write a query that can capture someone’s attention, which, thanks to this workshop, the convention I attended last year, and Susan Dennard’s “how to write a query” PDF that I got a few months ago, I feel like I can do that.

But even if I get an agent, that doesn’t even recommend we can get the book sold.

But this is a step in the right direction. I can do this. It might take 6 months or 6 years but I can do it. That little bit of confirmation meant the world to me, and I will hang on to it.

So here’s to moving forward, as Chuck said a writer should always do.

When was a time you were encourage to continue a pursuit that was important to you?

17 thoughts on “The Confirmation I Needed: TN Writer’s Workshop

  1. Great job! I remember the first conference Heidi and I went to with Mystic Cooking, and how scary it was to have our queries and first pages read. It’s such a huge step in the right direction just to attend, but then to get positive feedback is even better. Don’t worry about the no requests there, a lot of times even a partial or full request doesn’t lead to anything yet. And if all those agents liked what they read, when you are ready to query, they may be good fits.

    Good luck with your writing!

  2. Wow, that sounds like it went just about perfectly. I’ve sat through group critiques before so I know the knot of dread you can get in that moment when your work is being put out there. I’m glad it ended up being an encouragement to you though! Congratulations!

  3. This is wonderful!

    Also: Because I have wondered if I could. There are so many published authors my age or YOUNGER, and even though I know that there is no age limit to writing I still wonder if I could still make it, if I haven’t missed out, or if I’m just plain not good enough.

    I’m pretty sure this thought comes across my mind all the time.

    I don’t know how comfortable you are with this but I’m happy to give query feedback or any feedback if you’d like! I’ve been querying for several years now as well so I totally get the struggle and the awfullness of the entire thing.

    • I can’t imagine querying for years, eek! I wish you the best of luck with it; perhaps one day I might request some query feedback, when the time comes.🙂

  4. That’s so awesome to get that feedback and that affirmation that they liked your page!!! You can also really kind of think about the things that worked so well with that page and see if you can carry those elements (the organic world building, the dialog, whatever) through the whole book.

    I’m so excited for you🙂

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