10 Days of Advice for Writers–Day #1:

New York Times Bestselling Author, Tom Robbins spoke at the inaugural Chuckanut Writers Conference this weekend and I was lucky enough to snatch one of his handouts with his 10 pieces of winning advice for writers.

Each day on This Literary Life, for the next 10 days, I will reveal one piece of advice. I want to do it this way as opposed to giving them to you all at once because I really want you to let one piece of advice soak in before you move on to the next.

So let’s do this!

#1: “Write every day without fail, even if it’s only for half an hour, even if you’re savagely hung over and your grandmother has just fallen out of a third story window.” -Tom Robbins


Operation Hot Blogger: Gordon Warnock

Ahhh! It’s been so long since I’ve had a hot blogger. Buster Bluth would be so disappointed. So not only am I starting off 2011 with this delicious hot blogger, but I am ending my long hot blogging celibacy at the same time. No pressure, Gordon.

Gordon Warnock is a senior literary agent at Andrea Hurst & Associates. You can read all about this totally rockin’ agent here.

Today, Gordon is going to talk to us about writers’ conferences. A very important subject that I would advise you to pay extremely close attention to. He gives dos and dont’s, faux pas, and advises you on how to get the most out of a conference (including how to impress an agent.)

So please welcome to This Literary Life, agent Gordon Warnock and his tips on attending a writers’ conference.

I attend a lot of conferences because I love getting out and talking to writers face to face. It’s a great way for me to get a feel for what people are writing and to hopefully find a few potential clients. When a writer attends a conference, it conveys two things to me:


  1. You are serious enough about your writing to put forth the time and effort to attend. 80+ percent of the population believes that they have a publishable story within them, and I joke that the rest work in publishing. I believe that as a fundamental function of society, we all should write. But if you then want to have your work commercially published, you should know how to go about doing so. As an agent, I can always tell who has done their homework, and just your presence at a conference helps convey this.


  1. You will hopefully absorb some of the wonderful information that is being presented to you. One of the best compliments I have ever received from a writer was at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference last year. At a mixer the first evening, a lady whom I had spoken with earlier in the day came up to me and a bit drunkenly said, “You know, I was going to pitch you on Sunday, but now I want to go home and just write.” Chances are, even if you attend a conference with what you think is a finished product, you will learn something during the event that will inspire new revision. And when your manuscript ultimately reaches me, it is in everyone’s best interest for it to be in the best possible shape.


I realize that, especially at some of the larger conferences, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. You can end up wandering around, only finding what you happen to stumble upon. To get the most out of a conference, I suggest spending some serious time on the conference’s website ahead of time. Nearly all of them will at some point make available:


  • Which presenters will be there
  • What their areas of interest and expertise are
  • What the session topics will be
  • The time and maybe even location for each session


Armed with this information, you can then form a game plan that will help you hit only the most pertinent stops for your particular needs. On your list at some point should be speaking to an agent or acquisitions editor about your project. I’ll give you a few tips from my perspective on how best to go about this.


  1. Take the time to learn my areas of interest beforehand. This bears repeating, because if you don’t, you are wasting both my time and yours. After you view my bio on the conference’s website, go to my page on the agency’s website. If there are any conflicts, trust what is on my official agency listing. And while you’re there, you can view our other agents and their interests. If one of them is a better choice, you can query them instead. That frees up more time at the conference for you to speak to someone more appropriate.


  1. Prepare and practice your pitches prior to proceeding (the alliteration must mean this one is important). You may sign up for agent pitch sessions at the conference, but you should also be able to talk intelligently and succinctly about your project should we end up sitting next to each other during lunch or standing next to each other in the elevator. You should optimally have a good one-liner, a one minute pitch, a 3-5 minute pitch, and a 10-15 minute pitch for more involved conversations. Know specifically your genre, hook, target audience, plot synopsis, comparatives, word count, author bio, and be able to access this information as easily as if I was asking for your date of birth.


  1. Be courteous and professional. Don’t say or do anything to me that you wouldn’t say or do to your boss. In seeking an agent, you are seeking a business relationship in which a contract is signed and services are exchanged for the potential of monetary compensation. You don’t have to address me as “Mr. Warnock,” or be overly formal. But there are a few things you should avoid that would ruin your professional credibility:


  • Do not slap my back and call me “dawg” if we’re meeting for the first time. Though I’m in my twenties, I’m a businessman. And though you’re an artist, you’re a potential client. A simple handshake and eye contact go a long way.
  • Do not attempt to bribe me in any fashion. You’re seriously wasting your effort. It doesn’t alter my opinion of your project, nor does it convince all of the others who must determine your book is viable before the decision is made to publish it.
  • Do not hit on me. This goes without saying. Show a little self-respect. And please, no touching.
  • Do not disrespect my personal space. I’m referring less to the “close talker” episode of Seinfeld and more to the alarmingly numerous urinal pitches I receive. We all have those times in which we need to not be disturbed. I will never accept a submission in the restroom not because it insults or violates me, but because I then know how you would approach our working relationship.
  • Do not refuse to take no for an answer. If your project just isn’t right for me, you won’t be able to argue your way into making me think it is. There are plenty of other agents out there, usually even at the conference.


  1. Mint. This is really your secret weapon as something that most other attendees won’t think to do. Conferences tend to be high-energy environments, in which everyone is rushing around and worrying about a number of things. It’s understandable and even expected that you would consume several cups of coffee and/or step out for a few cigarettes as the day progresses. But when you do so, make sure to freshen up afterward. At every event without fail, there is at least one person who doesn’t realize this and then ends up trying to have a very close, in-depth conversation with me. I want to concentrate on your book. I really do.


  1. Relax. I won’t bite. I won’t even work with vampires. You can take comfort in the fact that everyone at the conference shares something in common: We are all writers and lovers of the written word. You can talk to us with the kind of enthusiasm that you’d have with your writer friends. If you tend to get nervous, as some of us do, you can bring a pitch page with you. Just try to avoid relying on reading directly from the page.


Attending a writers’ conference is an excellent way to learn useful skills, improve your writing and hopefully leap past the slush pile. To learn more about me, what I like and how to contact me, you can visit http://www.andreahurst.com. Or if you happen to see me at a conference, you can just say, “Gordon,” and I’ll say, “What?” and turn my head slightly.