Adventures Of A Writer’s Conference Attendee

Posted By on September 20, 2010


Don Harkcom, Writer

By Don Harkcom
1st Turning Point Guest Columnist
Copyright © 2010 Don Harkcom

Last year, 2009, I invested in and entered the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) conference ready to make my mark on literary history.  I was going to wow every agent, and have them bidding for the very right to represent my writing career.  Don’t get me wrong…I knew I didn’t have the next Harry Potter.  I had someone better:  Thorn A.A.  Storm III, America’s next and greatest action hero.

I brought a copy of every manuscript I had to date:  ”finished,” started, and all points in between.  I lugged around a very unnecessary extra 50 pounds all weekend.

I enlisted the help of some online writing friends to help flesh out my pitch.  My pitch was plastered on business cards, note cards, stationery, and anything else I could think of to impress the agents with the professionalism and drive I had to become a published author.  Oh, the visions of grandeur.  In my head my multi-million dollar signing bonus was as good as spent.  The only point I was still struggling with?  Who to cast as my hero in the movie version.  Everything else was but a mere formality.

Things didn’t work out quite that way.

Sticking point.  You must pitch your idea, to a live person, who doesn’t know you, and do it in under a minute without looking like a bumbling idiot.  Epic fail.  I was as complete a bumbling idiot as any bumbling idiot could be in the history of mankind.  I hemmed.  I hawed.  I stuttered.  I forgot to breathe.  I felt my face flush.  I seriously doubt I was coherent.

It was, after all, the holiest-of-holies; the demi-god known in most circles as the all-powerful purveyor of dreams; the random agent who seemed to be a good match for my genre of choice.

Random agent said, “Here’s my card; send me more.”

Yes!  Damn, if that wasn’t easy…this getting published thing…not a problem.

Guess who was walking ten feet tall?  Yep.  Me.

So bliss and I walked hand in hand around the conference for quite a while after that.

With that confidence, I walked into my ten-minute sit-down-with-an-agent meeting.  I stole at least 13 minutes of his time and gave him a prepared packet of my work to date.  (I have since learned the packet is frowned upon.)

Sit-down agent said:  Yes.

Yeah, baby…I got this in the bag!

Two for two.  Batting a nice, even 100%.  No real need to stick my neck out further…

At some point, I met a fellow Marine.  An old crusty salt with bushy white eyebrows and an office downstairs.  He invited me to join him at his “office.”  We walked down to the bar and got a beer.  Arguably the best decision I made during the entire conference.

Between a dozen “sea stories” and another beer, he critiqued some of my work.  As we worked our way through the beer, a group of published authors who were presenting at the conference joined us.  I was smart enough to shut up and listen.  By mere happenstance, I had been thrust into the circle of the most elusive and mysterious creatures rumored to walk among men—the New York Times bestselling multi-published author.

Fast forward ten months; I have signed up for my second PNWA conference, and have journeyed north to the exclusive monthly meeting.  Not only do I recognize some of the previously discussed authors and strike up a conversation, but they remember me!

Zen moment for me…I was among my people.  Writers.  And I was accepted as one.  In the movie version of this article, this is where the clouds part, the light shines down upon me, and angelic voices sing.

July 2010, I returned, a bit more humble and not completely prepared, but eager and ready to open a new chapter in my writing career.  To my surprise, this year the agents sought me out (it’s my story, I can tell it anyway I like.)  An agent did sit next to me at the dessert reception.  She was even looking for my genre!  We will see what happens.

That’s the heart of this article.  Why should you go to PNWA’s summer conference?  What can you expect to get out of it?

Friends.  Colleagues.  Mentors.  Knowledge.  Fun.

Motivation…the single most important thing I needed this year.  It hit me about half-way through the conference.  Everything I needed to be successful was here.  All I had to do was apply it, and if I couldn’t figure it out on my own—I now had fifty+ business cards of the very people who can help.

Why should you learn the publishing business the hard way?  When there are so many people eager to help you?  Your manuscript doesn’t publish itself.  It doesn’t miraculously show up at the local B&N amassing countless fans worldwide without a little help.

So I’ll see you next year! Bellevue Hyatt, PNWA 2011.  Allow your journey to begin.

1st Turning Point Divider

Don Harkcom is a Swedish Massage Therapist by day but by night he visits the dangerous, action-packed war zone of his mind and bleeds it all onto paper—with attitude.  He is currently working on The Storm Chronicles series.


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14 Responses to “Adventures Of A Writer’s Conference Attendee”

  1. Don, you sound like you put a lot of enthusiasm into everything you do, so do not be surprised if your second conference brings you the attention that coming to you.

  2. Hey, Don! It was fun to meet you and Ted Henkle at PNWA. Thanks for contributing such a good article on your discoveries–this is what writers’ conferences are all about. It just doesn’t get any better, being with a bunch of other crazy writers.

  3. Andrea says:

    What a great article! You had me laughing, and cheering for you! The writing business isn’t easy like most people would think and you captured all the points in a fun way!! The conferences are so inspirational and such a great learning tool! There is NOTHING better than to be surrounded by thousands of like-minded people who are eager to help! Thanks so much for sharing your story!!

  4. Kaye George says:

    Don, a great description of being a con newbie–loved it! A Swedish massage therapist AND a writer? If your clients are anything like I am with my massage therapist, I’ll bet you get a LOT of material.

    Good luck with the writing and querying!

  5. Hi Don,
    Excellent article that caught many of the same thoughts that have been running around in my head. I’m a new author with a new book who’s about to attend the Florida Writers Association (FWA) convention in Oct at Lake Mary, FL. Will I stumble when I get to my table to sell copies of my book? Will I falter and blab incoherently? Or will I pull it together and just talk and make friends, doing what I do best? I’m thinking optimistically and plan on taking two suitcases jammed with copies of my book (“Bags Fly Free” per Southwest). So, we’ll see what happens.

    Good luck at the PNWA conference.

    Raymond Gustavson

  6. Sorry. I put the wrong info down for my website. Duh!

  7. Great article, Don. It entertains, provides personal insights that all us writer-types know so well, and exhibits your eternal hope. Good for you

  8. Carol North says:

    Hi Don:
    Can relate with your article. Your good attitude will certainly bring you success.

  9. I met Don, too, at PNWA 2009. I thought I got the better end of the bargain, basking in his obvious enthusiasm. Glad to see it hasn’t diminished.

    I met a handful of people who’ve become some of my closest friends, which was especially helpful given how recently I’d moved to Seattle. So yes: Go to a conference and, more important, stick your neck out and introduce yourself.

  10. Don's Mom says:

    Proud of you……even this essay shows the talent that Mr. O’Connell and Mrs. Higgins (my high school English teacher, and years later yours) saw in your writing.

  11. Don Harkcom says:

    Thanks everyone. You’re all very kind.

  12. Don, watch out. My Mom was still correcting my spelling when she was 94. Shallow son that I am, I would tell her, “Mom, I don’t need you any more–I have spell check!” Her lips would purse a bit in disapproval, and she would look over her reading glasses and reply, “John, spell check is cheating.”

  13. Don Harkcom says:

    John K… My mom doesn’t really approve of my subject matter at times. But that’s what mom’s do, try their very best to keep us on the right path.

    Christy K… I remember our dinner order being misplaced and almost missing the evening activities. But it did give us more time for a great conversation.

    Raymond G… Good luck. Remember to breathe.

    Kaye G… Yes many great story ideas are generated around the massage table.

    Andrea… Its always a goal to make people smile or laugh or both,

    Jacquie… Thank you so much for this opportunity.

  14. Ann Charles says:

    Don, great, enthusiastic, and motivating article. Just what many of us need–that along with a Swedish Massage. It was great to meet you and your stories sound fun. I look forward to hearing more from you as you continue onward and upward!

    Ann Charles

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