The Houston Writing Workshop, “How to Get Published,” Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019

As an editor and blogger, attending The Houston Writing Workshop, a one-day writers conference held this Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, at the Airport Marriott at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, was an excellent opportunity to connect with other writers, pitch book proposals to agents, and learn the ins and outs of today’s publishing scene.

The event, organized by Writing Day Workshops and longtime Writer’s Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino, featured one-on-one meetings with agents for authors to have a chance to pitch their ideas and receive individual feedback and critiques on their concepts. This year’s agents in attendance included:

Session topics included:

How to Write an Awesome Query Letter to an Agent: Quelling Your Query Conundrums, taught by agent Ann Rose. 

Talking About Craft: 7 Ways to Improve Your Writing, taught by former literary agent Laura Biagi

“Writers Got Talent”—a Page 1 Critique Fest “Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique-Fest” in the vein of American Idol or America’s Got Talent.

You, the Protagonist: Developing Your Character (Author) Brand, taught by agent Caroline George.

You Have an Agent Offer or Book Contract — Now What? taught by agent Carlie Webber. 

Other topics included effective branding to reach a target audience and knowing one’s skill sets to tell your story effectively.

“We need to be intentional about how we’re molding our brand,” said former literary agent Laura Biagi. “Branding, like writing, is subjective.”

Popular hashtags and links for sharing live conference updates included @writingdaywksp, #houww, #HoustonHouWW, @writersleague, #Texas, #amwriting, and @bookstagram.

What makes a memorable protagonist?

When building characters in their novels, writers should keep in mind that a memorable protagonist is well-connected with the story, stressed agent Carolina George of CYLE Elite.

“All of you are flawed, quirky, multi-dimensional, and relatable,” she said. “There are obstacles in your journey. Branding is simply projecting that character identity to other people.”

She referenced Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, asking the audience to imagine him starting a GoFundMe page to pay for his trip to Mordor, and Katniss Everdeen, the iconic, girl-on-fire protagonist from The Hunger Games.

“We know exactly what her cause is, her personality,” she said. “It’s about about building traits so people can remember us.”

Literary agent Caroline George discusses building memorable protagonists.

Her additional advice for getting published included knowing who your readers are and how to engage them.

Because agents work to pitch books to editors, they seek out writers for the “long haul,” or duration, of their career.

Writing platforms and social media

Writers can benefit from posting and sharing their updates through various social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram once or twice a week, depending on their genre.

“Make sure everything falls under the umbrella of your brand,” George said. “Social media isn’t about you, it’s about your followers. When building platform, invite people into your conversation. Talk to each other. Writers help writers. Understand reviews and the importance of engagement and keep your bridges intact. Branding builds community and fosters growth. Think long-term.”

While platform has value if it translates into potential book sales, value has shifted within the social media community, with publishers seeking out numbers but also wanting valuable platforms, she added.

Writers should clean up the content on their social media channels if they’re pitching a new project, George said.

“If you’re not getting traction on a book right now, keep writing, because that next book could come up as a success.”

Carolina George, CYLE Elite

What makes a best-selling novel?

It’s hard to say, though agents know what they like and don’t like.

“I don’t like romance, so don’t send me romance–in addition, you’d never send me a romance novel, because I have no connections in that world and don’t know any of the editors,” said Carlie Webber, an agent with Fuse Literary.

“I do, however, love mystery, thriller, suspense, young adult, and middle grade. My agency has been successful selling romance with other agents.”

It’s important to build rapport with agents in order to have an in-road and branch out and pitch projects in other genres, she said.

“Publishing is very much a business of personal relationships,” Webber said. “Build rapport with agents who have experience and connections in the world.”

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