After being disappointed by the past couple of sci-fi media conventions I went to (or tried to go to in the case of Comic-Con), I was nervous about the amount of money I had already spent to go to the HNS Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. But it turned out to be a wonderful investment!
First, the venue was one of the best I have been to for any kind of conference. It was held at the Vinoy Hotel. The staff here was super friendly and even the event organizers commented on how they bent over backwards to make sure everything ran smoothly here. This hotel is a Renaissance property, and the reputation the chain has been developing for their outgoing demeanor is well-earned. When I told the front desk that my flight was not until hours after checkout, they said no problem, they stored my luggage and allowed me to continue to have full use of facilities even though I am technically checked out. I found a quiet corner out of everyone’s way to do a little writing while I wait for time to go to the airport, and here I sit.
Next comes the absolutely fabulous organizers of the conference itself. They have found the perfect balance between purely fun events and the more class-like sessions. The topics on which they offered sessions were not terribly numerous, but they adequately covered the topics the people attending the conference really needed.
Most attendees are authors who are either unpublished or just getting started on their literary career. Although I have several non-fiction titles to my name, having only one novel thus far puts me squarely in the latter category. The topics here ranged from character development to editing and everything in between. Some examples of the sessions include how to write a good query letter, pros and cons of self-publishing/small press, and using different themes in your historical fiction.
A lot of emphasis was placed, and quite correctly so, on editing. One the more popular events was the “Blue-Pencil Café,” where authors could submit up to 5 pages of their text for editing by professionals. This was developmental editing, and not just proofreading. The difference is that developmental editing helps with things like storyline, tone, characterizations, and style. I wish I could have taken advantage of this, but my flight got in too late on Friday.
There were also the agent pitch sessions, which I called “speed-dating for authors.” You were scheduled a specific time and had 10 minutes to pitch your book one-on-one to an agent or publisher, who was assigned somewhat randomly to you. Because I’m already under contract for the Mage series, I pitched an alternative history which I am planning to write when Mage is done. Even though the publisher I was assigned does not publish the type of book I was pitching, she did take the time to offer pointers on making the pitch. Her name was Jean Huets and I have to give her kudos for going further than she needed to in a harried situation.
The last element I want to bring up was a brilliant idea the conference planners had: offer cold reads. There were two sessions, one on Sat. and one on Sun. Prior to each session we were instructed to anonymously submit 3 copies of the first 2 pages of our manuscript. There would be two professional editors who would read these and tell the “class” what needed to be improved. Nearly every submission needed a little something. Mine got a “great concept, good strong start, wording is a little awkward in places.” Yeah, that’s what my own editor says on a rather regular basis. Given that they were reading something that had not been thru even the first edit, I was pretty happy. But even more importantly, I gained valuable insight into what editors/agents/publishers are looking for when they ask for the first few pages of a manuscript.
I was so happy with this conference, I got together with another Coloradan who was there, and we are going to put together a bid for Denver to host the next one in 2015.