A DFWCON Story by Vance Pumphrey

The 2013 DFW Writers’ Conference is finally over and people are busy compiling notes, reflecting on the stuff the learned, and more important — writing. The staff of the DFWcon wanted to thank all the wonderful agents, editors, speakers, and attendees. We think the conference went well and everyone walked away with more motivation and knowledge than when they showed up Saturday morning. This enlightenment though is not always a the way we expect it to be. A first time attendee, Vance Pumphrey learned this first hand. I’ve thought of so many ways to share this, but the brilliance of his story can only be shared in toto. 

Vance HeadshotHere is Vance’s story:

First of all I want to thank DFWWW for putting on such a great conference.  I learned SO much…

Stories?  I have one for you…  While I am sure mine is not all that unique, I’m fairly certain there can’t have been that many there who started out as naïve as I.  This was my first writers conference.  I’ve only been seriously writing for the past couple of years.  I came into Hurst with a book under my arm and a highly acclaimed (and professionally edited) query letter in my binder.  I was signed up for my workshop of choice, at which I was confident my query letter and first two pages would be met with a standing ovation and offers to sign.  I had a guaranteed 10 minutes with an agent who was actively looking for authors in my genre.  So, I was therefore absolutely certain I just needed to hang around until my appointment with her and that following my much practiced pitch simply sign on the dotted line(s).  Surely by Monday I would be working my way up the New York Times Bestseller list.  Life was good.

That thunderous boom you heard about 8:45am Saturday morning was me hitting the ground with a resounding thud!  In my workshop, the magnanimous Lou Anders and the much acclaimed Jennifer Udden took turns being Snoopy in the trusty Sopwith Camel, with myself being the doomed Red Baron.  The reading of my Query Letter and first two pages was actually second to be heard by the panel, and long before I spoke my first words I already knew I was doomed.  The person who went before me had some similar mistakes and had been duly admonished by the panel.  By the time I opened my mouth I had already begun evasive maneuvers.  To no avail.  The panel’s first salvo took out my engine and subsequent barrages riddled my wings with holes…  In actuality, the Red Baron lasted much longer in that magnificent animated story by Charles Shultz than I did Saturday.  I walked out of that Workshop with my dignity in tatters and my manuscript shredded.  That is not to say that Mr. Anders and Ms. Udden were in any way…mean.  Far from it.  They were both very professional and were able to refrain from laughing – something I’m not sure I would have been able to do in their shoes.  They also gave wonderful critiques and made a lot of suggestions that I was able to write down and take with me.  Unfortunately, there was so muchsuggestion required that it bogged down the class and they had to rush after that to get through the remaining papers….  Sigh.

If that was not bad enough (and…it was, btw), my scheduled pitch before an agent was only 30 minutes after the workshop ended.  Plenty of time for me to wander aimlessly in search of that proverbial ‘deep end’ in which to jump….  After all, with what did I have left to pitch?  My Query was a total disaster and only two lines of the first two pages of my manuscript resembled anything that was pitch-able…  Heavy Sigh.  Fortunately for me, Kathleen Zakhar was wonderful.  She helped me put out the flames from the wreckage, and I left my session with her no longer ready to Google the nearest cliff.

Classes the rest of the day were fantastic and most informational.  I didn’t attend a single class the entire weekend that didn’t provide several bullet points I was able to take away.  Surprisingly, there were several pitch sessions available with agents within my chosen genre, and I immediately signed up for three more – including with (key ominous music here) the aforementioned pilots of the Sopwith Camel:  Lou Anders and Jennifer Udden!  The session with Lou was scheduled for the end of that day, and I spent the remainder of the day readying my pitch.  We had a great session (at least I did!), and I came away from that with several more suggestions – including one that I might want to rethink the title of my book!  (Which I am, btw – He’s good!)

Sunday was even better!  I had signed up for back-to-back pitch sessions with Jennifer Udden and Alice Speilburg.  Ms. Udden listened to me fumble through my pitch and also gave me a few pointers.  By the time the gong sounded, I was feeling much better about myself and that showed when I sat down with Ms. Speilburg.  My confidence was again flying high, bolstered this time by some kind words about my work (and me!), so that this last session went very well for me.  I was once again able to get excited about my book, and it showed.

The classes Sunday were awesome!  I really appreciated Mr. Anders class on Screenwriting – so much so that I stayed through the entire class instead of getting up to attend another class I had intended to catch half way through!  I had a great day Sunday,  as well – topped off by the gong show.  I briefly considered putting my query letter in the pile, but figured I had suffered enough (as had others who had already had to listen to it!).

I want to thank everyone responsible for putting this DFWCON#6 together – you did an awesome job!  The facilitators were great, and the subjects they presented were most helpful.  The agents/editors were also extremely helpful and very willing to listen.  They had some great questions – ones that really had me thinking.  The speakers did an outstanding job, and I really appreciated them taking their time to speak to us.  I walked into the conference a naïve first-timer, and walked out a whole lot more knowledgeable first-timer!  (Next year I hope to be able to be an even smarter second-timer!  We’ll have to see about that, though…  The trip down from Seattle may not be in the cards next year.  I am SO glad it was this year, though!)

Thanks again for all the hard work,

(P.S. – I know…that was a bit long-winded.  Can you tell I’m a writer?  I certainly hope so!)

Do you have a story you would like to share about the conference? Email me at kirk@dfwcon.org

2 thoughts on “A DFWCON Story by Vance Pumphrey

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