Notes From A Writers Conference

As mentioned in last week’s blog (Preparing For A Writers Conference: What To Take), I attended a writers conference for the first time!

The #KidLitVic2019 event covered writing and publishing for middle grade to YA (my genre), the chance to pitch to agents, and to have publishers assess a part of your completed MS.

I attended the general panels, which were full of tips and tricks about why a publisher or agent will say yes, and the publishing industry.

I will post blogs about those specific topics over the next three weeks (update-these blogs are now linked at the bottom of this post), but for now, here are the highlights gleaned from insightful talks by Susannah Chambers, Clair Hume, Zoe Walton, Alex Adsett, Jacinta Di Mase, Jane Pearson, Suzanne O’Sullivan, and Miriam Rosenbloom.

KidLitVic2019 Conference.
The Panels.

What You Need To Write…

Both the agents and publishers who spoke across the day agreed on the same thing when it came to what to write:

  • A good story (it trumps everything).
  • Great, diverse characters (gender doesn’t matter regarding the MC).
  • Beautiful/amazing writing.
  • A structure that works.
  • A fresh idea or a point of difference on something they’ve seen before.

They want to see manuscripts full of what you know, made unique by your experiences, and they want it to be something they’ll want to read until the end. Give them a story they can’t stop thinking about, with characters that have distinct voices and feel so real they could be their friends, and you’ll have them on board.

What You Need To Do…

As a writer who wants to give their book the best shot of being picked by an agent or publisher, you need to:

  • Know the market for your genre.
  • Know the right age group of your readers.
  • Know the publisher/agent you’re submitting to.
  • Polish your MS.
  • Be professional in all your dealings.
  • Read and follow the submission guidelines.

They said don’t rush your MS. Let it sit, make sure it’s the best you can make it and use the writing community to help you polish it.

What You Can’t Control…

  • Timing.
  • What’s already on their listings.
  • Luck.
  • If they connect.

Sometimes a book about mermaids comes along at the right time and sometimes they have to say no even though they love it because they just signed a book about mermaids. Unfortunately, you can’t control those things, trends, or if they’ll connect with your book enough to want to sign it.

Banners, Business Cards, and Goodie Bags.

What You Can Control…

  • The words.

All you can control is the words on the page. Make them the best you can.

When It Comes To Comp Titles…

  • Compare plot, theme, and/or characters, but it doesn’t have to be an exact match.
  • Don’t compare to the phenomenal books. It creates too much expectation.
  • Compare to moderately successful books to show you’ve done your research.

When it comes to comparable titles, think about what makes your book unique and what is the same as what’s on the market. Essentially, they want to know what books you would love to see your book sitting next to on a bookstore shelf.

When It Comes To Agents/Publishers…

  • Only query if they’re open.
  • Follow the guidelines.
  • Don’t send 5 manuscripts and 10 follow up emails.
  • Don’t send gifts.
  • Read the books they rep/sell to get an idea of what they like.
  • Research them.
  • Meet/network with them at conferences.
  • It’s just as hard, if not harder, to get an agent as it is a publisher.
  • Choosing the book to offer a contract to is a team effort.
  • Go for the right agent/publisher for your MS, not the biggest agency/publisher.

Both publishers and agents alike need to have a personal connection to the MS to want to sign you as a client.

As for what they’ll say yes to, it’s usually a team effort involving marketers and numbers before they even contact the writer to make an offer. But it’s not all unfeeling machine/bottom line stuff, if your book connects with them, they will champion it to the ends of the earth. They also feel guilt regarding how long they take to get back to people.

Yummy Food and Meeting Up With Fellow Writers.

When It Comes To Social Media…

  • Be a writer with real connections.
  • Be a supportive member of the writing community.
  • Don’t be an awful human (publishers and agents check).
  • Have a clear, easy way for people to contact you
  • Know that you don’t need 50,000 followers or every kind of social media.

Publishers and agents will look at your social media, but it’s not a make or break situation (unless you’re a horrible person). They don’t care if you have 50 followers or 50,000. It’s more important for them to see you’re supportive of other authors and an engaging member of the writing community.

When It Comes To Submissions…

  • Read the guidelines.
  • Don’t make your cover letter/query too long.
  • Make sure the MS is ready (it’s your one shot).
  • Typos aren’t deal breakers (yay!).
  • Don’t send it written in Wingdings.
  • Don’t put everything into the query letter (tease them).
  • Make it as easy as possible to read.
  • Resubmit only if it’s radically different.

The biggest mistakes writers make is sending a query for an MS that still needs work, laying out every detail so there’s no mystery, and putting a long synopsis at the start of the query. Try to avoid those if you can to give your MS its best chance. Following the guidelines will also help you win favor.

As for resubmits, if it’s been at least a year and the MS is radically different from the previously sent version, sending it again is fine. Just mention that you’ve sent it before because they will remember.

As you can see, a writers conference is definitely worth going to if you get the chance. Not only do you learn a lot from experts in the industry, but you also get to catch up with fellow writers.

I met some amazing people who I’ve been following on social media for the last few years, and hearing about their manuscripts, and talking with them about books and writing was the perfect ending to a great day.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

*Update – You can find the expanded blogs at the following links:


27 thoughts on “Notes From A Writers Conference

  1. Jo Carter

    This is a great list and I’m looking forward to the more detailed posts. All the tips listed are common sense, but good to remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It was nice to have confirmation from those in the industry about how to do things. The most surprising thing for me was that they really don’t care about how many social media followers you have. One agent said she don’t even check if you have social media.


  2. Thank you for this blog post! Although here in Finland the publishing industry works somewhat differently (here we generally don’t need an agent, instead, we send the MS straight to the publisher), I’d think the publishers here think the same way when it comes to the points about what one needs to write, needs to do, is and isn’t in control of.

    This was a perfect reminder of what to think about while writing as I have just started editing/rewriting my current MS! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Australia is similar. You don’t have to have an agent (there’s actually only about 20 legitimate ones) and can submit straight to most publishers. The only advantage to having an agent is that they can get your MS to publishers who are closed to open submissions, and obviously jump the slush pile. Thanks for reading 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this post, Kate! It truly embodies the amazing support, power and inspiration these events give to writers. These tips are spot on, and there are things I didn’t realise in there too. So glad you had such a great experience, and thank you so much for sharing what you learnt! x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth Miranda

    OOOOOH my lord, I’d never be picked up by an agent if they looked at my social media ahahahahh. As several people have been pointing out to me lately – and which I confirmed by checking my own posts and comments – I am THAT horrid person who is selfish and self-centred, unsupportive and makes it all about herself. One more reason to keep up being self-published, this old leopard cannot change those spots any longer. Very insightful post, even if it applies to your local market I’m willing to bet it’s pretty much the same thing around the world. And yes, the only thing we can control are the words we put down, so we got to make them the best we can.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Notes From A Writers Conference – Sharon K. Connell

  6. Thanks for sharing these! I know agents love to say a good story trumps everything, but in my experience and from what I have heard from agents and other folks, that’s a lie. “A fresh idea or a point of difference on something they’ve seen before” is number one. They want a new spin on the old. They don’t want something completely derivative, nor do they want something completely original. They want something that fits the formula of whatever is popular in the market, but different enough so there is no claim of copying. Marketability will always trump everything else, even the quality of your writing. I’ve even been told this by big name agents, though in not so many words. Of course, they won’t say so in public because that would make the authors riot. But it’s something authors should consider when they start writing their first big project. It’s something I wish I had known when I started.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience. You’ve highlighted many of the things that I found helpful at conferences, but had already forgot.
    I think these events help build confidence in the industry and make it feel possible to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Suburban Syntax and commented:
    Author K.M. Allan brings back a slew of great advice from a Writer’s Conference. This covers a bunch of topics from querying manuscripts to do’s and don’t of social media. Check this out, especially if you’re submitting or preparing to query a manuscript.

    Liked by 1 person

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