Friday, February 20, 2009
Being around those in the writing world is energizing, to say the least. Such was the case on a recent weekend when I was fortunate enough to be included as one of the faculty at the recent San Diego State Writers’ Conference. I met fellow scribes -- authors, agents, acquisitions editors, would-be authors, freelance writers and SDSU professors. Throughout the weekend, I was busy giving five 50-minute workshops, ranging from how to write a compelling book proposal that sells to promoting yourself and your stories through social media. I was not on the lookout to pitch or make deals. As a member of the faculty, attendees could book appointments with us to pitch story ideas and get feedback. One gal, Suzan, told me about a fascinating story in New Orleans about her father -- a rebel rouser and a thorn in the side of parish officials. Having spent much time on the streets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I'm intimately familiar with virtually every neighborhood in the Big Easy. Suzan's is a colorful story that involves land grabs and everything that goes along with that. I suggested she might approach it as a biography of her father. It spans many decades and covers a fascinating set of circumstances. At that point in the conference, I’d met and chatted with several agents. I already have a great agent – Susan Lee Cohen – who has landed me great contracts, and was not looking for one myself. But we were assigned tables at various meals and I found myself eating lunch or breakfast with a variety of editors and agents. Suzan asked if there was a particular agent at the conference she might approach with her idea (for which she did not yet have a proposal). So I suggested JL Stermer, a go-getter with the Donald Maass Literary Agency who had talked about branching out into some nonfiction. I got a note from JL the other day thanking me for the referral. I hope it pans out and JL and Suzan are able to sell the manuscrit to a publishing house. And I met would-be authors, including Gina Simmons, an interesting, bright psychologist. She and I ended up palling around a bit together after meeting and chatting the first evening at the opening reception. Her nonfiction book, too, holds much promise. On the last evening at a faculty dinner, there was a power outage in that part of San Diego and it took a while for dinner to be served in the Doubletree Hotel's dining room. Seated next to me was Jason Allen Ashlock, a rising-star agent who recently founded his own shop, Movable Type Literary Group, which just landed two large deals -- this in the midst of a recession. Coincidentally, several years ago I’d been contacted by and been in touch off and on with Marianne Strong, a veteran New York agent who’s been in the business three decades and is old New York society. Jason worked for her, then, after a couple years, broke away on his own. When he mentioned he fancied political and entertainment projects, I immediately thought of my friend, artist and writer Paulette Frankl, who has a fabulous manuscript in the works that might be a good fit for Jason. So I put the two together, they’re both excited, and we’ll see what happens. And that’s what networking is all about. I had no intentions of doing anything that weekend other than giving some workshops and offering tips to help writers get their projects off the ground. So recommending two writers to agents was a bonus. My fingers are crossed that both projects land at great publishing houses. They’re in capable hands with these agents.