Three Practical Lessons from CWC2016

This month, we turn the blog over to CWC2016 attendee Michelle Dayton. She shared her most impactful takeaways with us.

Michelle DaytonI’m a practical kind of girl. Maybe a little overly practical for a writer. Not only do I love discussing craft and story as much as the next aspiring author, but when it comes to conferences, I also want tangible steps to further my writing career. Attending CWC gave me the help I needed to finally achieve some of my publishing goals. Here are three extremely practical things that I learned at CWC:


1. No writing is ever wasted.

Ten years ago I wrote my first novel. It’s horrible. I have nightmares about people finding it, reading it, and deciding I’m an idiot.

But Ben Tanzer said something during his talk that made me think about that manuscript in a different way. He suggested mining your own old material for bits and pieces of good stuff. Overall a project might have been unpublishable, but there is likely something useful in there.

You know what wasn’t horrible about my first novel? The villain; he was kind of funny. My scene of a couple trying the Argentinean tango. The title. I thought about my current work-in-progress and realized that my villain needed a little humor. The love story might benefit from a tension-filled dance. And it was currently untitled.

2. Literary agents aren’t scary.

If you’ve been through the querying process, you know how much rejection can sting. But when I pitched Joanna MacKenzie on Sunday at the conference, she told me that I spoke well about my project and that it sounded marketable. In Michelle Grajkowski’s talk about the Author-Agent relationship, I learned that if authors query with an offer in hand, their request for representation may get read faster than others in the thousands of emails agencies receive. I’d never considered that approach.

Armed with new confidence in my project, I sent it directly to a publishing house that took un-agented submissions. When it was accepted, I immediately queried agents. It didn’t work the first time, but I did speak personally to several agents who gave great advice. And when I got an offer for two sequel novellas, I was able to sign with a wonderful agent.

3. Make as many writer friends as you can.

At first I was intimidated by the crowd. Most of the writers were tackling serious literary fiction or memoirs, and I was a little shy about my genre fiction. But everyone was welcoming and conversation among people who love books is always easy.

Since then, I’ve traded emails and critiques with other attendees. We’ve cheered each other on when publishing news was good and commiserated when it was not so good. I’ve learned about the importance of writing reviews for fellow authors and how nice it feels to get followed by another writer on Twitter. This sense of community is invaluable! In today’s tough publishing landscape, writer friends are a critical resource.

Michelle Dayton is a Chicago-based writer. Follow her on twitter @MKDaytonWriter.