On June 24, I attended a Flash Assessment Lunch n’ Learn hosted by Diaspora Dialogues, where attendees had an opportunity to submit a query letter and one-page sample of work, to be pitched to and reviewed by Noelle Allen of Wolsak and Wynn, Jack David of ECW Press and agent Carolyn Forde of Westwood Creative Artists. I had attended only one similar session in the past, hosted as part of an International Festival of Authors Master Class. This lunch n’ learn was far more intimate, with fewer submissions being reviewed and each author given approximately fifteen minutes to pitch the idea, receive feedback from the panel and ask questions.
I submitted a query letter and first page for my second novel – a police thriller tentatively titled White and Blue. I’ve had the idea for this novel for quite some time, though the entire novel is far from written. I’ve written the first fifty or so pages of it, but will likely scrap it to begin fresh again. After my experience with Shade, this writing and rewriting is less stressful. However, I was curious to see how the concept and first page would be received.
The feedback: challenging but heartening. As suspected, my first page was not up to snuff (hence why it, along with the following fifty pages, is being thrown away), but I received pretty positive feedback about the concept. With that being said, the experience definitely taught me a few key things – both from my own critique and from observing others:
- Write, write, and write some more. I know this. Every writer knows this. And yet, as I’m sure most writers can attest to, sometimes the writing is painful. A good concept is all well and good, but it doesn’t matter if the writing isn’t there. As Jack David said, the idea is intriguing, but the writing is what matters. Jack mentioned he thought the concept might be difficult to write in a compelling manner. Little does he know… I love challenges. And hearing him say that the idea was good but needed a solid writer behind it has given me that extra push to bring this all to fruition. In the end, the experience reinforced something that I’m sure we all know deep down: the writing speaks. Having a solid query with no substance is pretty much being like any other person who says “Hey, I have a great idea for a book that you should write.” In short – it’s not being a writer.
- Treat every interaction as an opportunity. I’m a pretty shy person, and I found myself stressing just a little pre-workshop – the part where we got our lunch and settled in. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to people, it’s just that I have this little internal monologue that always worries about being talking too much or talking too little, saying too much or saying not enough, and on, and on, and on. It makes for difficult conversation. What I learned from observing other participants around me … If you’re presented with the opportunity to be in a room with two publishers and an agent, seize that opportunity. Make small talk. Network. Be a social butterfly. If you don’t take every interaction as an opportunity to network (and I don’t mean shamelessly dump your book on someone, but more as an opportunity to connect with someone on a human level), you’re wasting it.
- Read the room. If every person is given fifteen minutes to speak, share relevant information and respect everyone’s time. Trying to talk about the next, next, next book you’re writing, fit in two pitches, or see if you can find – through those panelists – an opportunity to pitch to Hollywood or the gaming industry, is unfair to the panelists and the other participants waiting for their allotted workshop time.
- Be prepared. In preparation for this meeting, I fine-tuned my query letter, tried to take one more stab at page one of my novel, and sent it off, praying it was up to snuff. When I arrived at the event, I realized I wasn’t sure what to do. Were we going to sit and listen to feedback but not have an opportunity to ask questions or pitch (similar to the IFOA workshop I attended)? Were we going to have to do our elevator pitch? These are questions I should have asked before the event. I strongly admired one of the workshop attendees who not only came prepared with a spotless elevator pitch, but with samples of her previous work and a business card, too. That was the one workshop participant who received a, “Hey, can you send me more?” request, and it was very well deserved. Again, I learned that you need to seize the opportunity for what it’s worth and arrive prepared.
- Be human. Coming into the workshop, I wasn’t sure how much of me I should share. I left out any personal backstory from my query letter and avoided talking about myself during my book pitch, only for the panelists to ask – Who was I to write this book? Where did this idea come from? What previous work had I written? These were questions that came up for many other attendees as well, and one thing it made me realize was that, when speaking to people (publishers and agents included), it’s one thing to talk about The Work, but it’s far more engaging when you can connect on a human level. If I were to have a re-do of the event, I’d come with the realization that I should be selling myself (in a completely non-seedy way) as well as the work. The Work and I are part and parcel. Share the human side, too.
The above are just a few points I learned from my Flash Assessment experience. It was a great learning experience. Attendees had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with amazing panelists, and the discussion was engaging and educational, even when not directly related an individual’s work. On the whole, the session was just right in length, with enough time being allotted to each writer so writers didn’t feel either neglected or bored listening for too long to one critique. My favourite element of this session: Being able to pitch, receive critique, and ask questions in such an intimate setting.
Thank you, Noelle, Jack, and Carolyn, for the valuable feedback, and thank you once again, Diaspora Dialogues, for organizing a great event!