Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference 2021 Wrap-Up

For those new here or who’ve forgotten, this blog is an outgrowth of all my bicycling. In turn, that has spawned a manuscript. Books don’t just publish themselves, and it’s an epic battle to get it done and revised, and like a war to get it published. So I spent most of the past weekend at a nice hotel in downtown Austin on the south shore of Town Lake at the Writers League of Texas conference. This is my summation.

Despite what seemed like a lack of volunteers during COVID, it was unclear if I was going to be selected. Finally, I was, and dutifully sent in my proof of vaccination. All attendees had to do this and promise to wear a mask the entire time except eating or drinking. Normally, it’s 400 people but was cut to 200. Many more people were able to attend virtually online, however. Other protocols included seating that was side by side, wiping down microphones, and so on. Travis County is currently is in ninth place of people being vaccinated, at 60%. So I felt it was as safe as it could be and worth the risk of going.

So, after a few pre-conference Zoom presentations during the week, I showed up at the appointed time on a hot Friday evening. Just being inside was weird enough, but a fancy hotel was even odder. I always feel underdressed and out of place in such settings. I’m basically a low-income (well, no income at the moment), working-class type of guy who brought a change of clothes after biking six miles to get there. But ever since actor Tate Donovan asked me if I was a writer at a One Page Salon and I said yes, I’ve been trying to own that identity. Or at least fake it til I make it. I’m not very good at faking or lying, though. That’s why I’m not cut out for being a lawyer, actor, or most kinds of businessperson.

Anyway, I greeted the staff who seemed happy to see me, collected my name badge and pins that identified the genre one writes, my main one being memoir, and headed for the outdoor, covered, but still warm patio. Writers were gathered for basically a meet and greet happy hour. Fancy snacks were available and eagerly consumed while I sought out familiar faces. I found a few, we chatted, people mingled, I met some new people, many from other towns in Texas, some from out of state. Interestingly, I’d say about 80% of the attendees were women. Though the audience was not as diverse as I would have hoped, the panelists certainly were. And there were all kinds of writers from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, and experience levels.

As a nobody in the industry, with nothing published (besides this blog, which I generally never promote), I was there to soak up knowledge of the craft, the business, and to network. So here I was at a pleasant affair with pleasant people, although many seemed to know each other. I had to overcome my normal introversion and force myself to be social. After 18 months of being told by health authorities to avoid people during the coronavirus pandemic, it was odd but also nice to be in a public gathering. Over the next day and a half when I saw someone I’d already talked to, I’d feel more comfortable and chat again. A few people recognized me from the Summer Writing Retreat or Member Meet-ups, so that was nice to mee them in person. The teacher of my revision class, Chaitali Sen, was there. We met but didn’t have time to talk much.

Saturday, I biked down again and arrived late to see the keynote opening by Sean Desmond, a publisher and author. the one session about memoir. Fortunately, everything was recorded so I can watch it later. Lunch was served and the speaker, author Courtney Maum, gave a very humanistic and encouraging speech. I actually got a little emotional when she said talked about not worrying what others think while writing, and to just write, something others echoed. She also advised forgetting the pressure to be a bestseller, or even having to have a platform with at least 10,000 followers before a publisher will consider you to be a viable brand. That was a big relief because this blog has well under 700, most don’t ever read it as far as I can tell. She also counseled deep patience and kindness, with ourselves and others. Coincidentally, the latest thing on her website is a short class on memoir.

It was great to see author, comedian, actor, producer, screenwriter, etc. Owen Egerton, who has appeared in this blog numerous times. I attended maybe a dozen of his One Page Salon events pre-“plague.” For the 30th anniversary of the WLT Book Awards, (this was the 28th conference), he held the event Saturday night. The hotel conference room wasn’t as cozy as being in a more intimate venue with dark lights, fewer empty chairs, more alcohol, and a musical sidekick. But it was still fun and the four readers were amusing. He was his usual comedic and witty self, and deigned to talk with me afterward.

During the weekend, I had a few insights: about how to start and end the book, a new title, and just a general sense that maybe I do have enough of a story that’s worth telling. Whether I can ever finish the revision despite having to get a job, do that in a compelling way enough to get the attention of an agent or publisher seems like a gargantuan effort. Who wants to read a book about an overweight white guy riding his bicycle? Well, there’s more to it than that. I didn’t take many pictures because everyone was in masks and I kind of forgot or was too shy to ask people I’d just met.

My main goal was to find a local critique partner who is also writing memoir, and I was not so successful with that. I was too shy to go up to everyone to share at their name badges to see if they had a yellow button and chat them up. Women apparently aren’t too receptive to men gawking at their chests. But I did have cards made and handed out a few dozen and collected a few. I also meant to try to find some of the agents who might deal in memoir, particularly sports, but the one I did see in the program was only there virtually. I got a few leads at the end but really must finish revising before querying agents.

Anyway, It was a well run event, and I had very little to do but make sure the sessions ran on time. It was a real gift to be there. Time will tell, but the odds are not in favor of most writers. The realistic thing is to do what I can to get the book as revised as possible, even if it takes another year. I did run into someone I know who has their own small editing concern, and if I want to fork over big bucks, maybe I’ll get help that way. If I fail at getting a publisher, then I self-publish. Either way, I’m not going to make much if any money, so that can’t be and isn’t the main motivation.

Humans are a story-telling people, and I’ve already accomplished that goal by writing the book. An unread book is pretty sad, but at least I have this blog, and whomever is reading it. Thanks for that, and I hope you’ll come back. I’ve been advised to quit blogging until I finish the book, while others say keep doing it. So far, like that line from Brokeback Mountain, “I cain’t quit you.” Now, that’s a good book and movie. Can you picture it, A Dude Abikes on the big screen? I would pick Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, or Chris Farley to play me, but they’re all dead.

Here’s a perfect image with which to leave you: Brad Pitt riding a bike… in a fat suit.

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