Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 Unicorn Writers' Conference recap

Two days have passed since I attended the fifth annual Unicorn Writers' Conference at St. Clement's Castle in Portland, Connecticut. Despite the cloudy weather outside, the climate inside was warm with a mix of yearning for knowledge and plenty of smiling faces. I was glad to see an occasional burst of sunlight outside when I sat in the courtyard for a break.

The morning began with a continental breakfast and the Keynote Speech by best-selling author Andrew Gross. Mr. Gross spoke of how he started out in women's apparel, quit after many years, and decided to write a book. The rest they say is history. Then the workshops began. Unicorn has always been outstanding simply from the amount of workshops they offer. Here is a breakdown:
  • Six hour-long sessions starting at 10:15 a.m., an hour break for lunch at 12: 45 p.m., then back to workshops until 6:45 p.m. 
  • Each sixty minute session offered writers 4 different choices ranging from: writing mystery, short fiction, fantasy, crafting villains, film scripts, children/YA, non-fiction, for TV, memoir and romance.
  • Other workshops were given on: The First Page, the Process of Writing, social media, creating a platform, self publishing, writing a non-fiction book proposal and learning from linguists.
  • There were 4 panels: one Editor panel and three different Agent panels featuring a variety of agents during each session. There was also a workshop from an agent's point-of-view with two extremely successful agents and an agent shared an entire hour about the agent-author relationship.
  • There were two workshops on writing query letters.
Throughout the day One-on-One critiques were being held throughout the venue. These critiques are extremely beneficial and are a great value (a thirty-minute session for $50). Writers were able to choose if they wanted to sit with an editor, agent or one of the day's speakers. 

All three meals were included in the conference cost of $285. There was a nice sit-down lunch (menu previously chosen when we sent in our registration materials) and dinner was a buffet. I thought the best tasting meal was dinner and I was happy to see so much fruit offered. Coffee, tea, sodas, water and baked treats (brownies and assorted cookies) were available throughout the afternoon. There was also a 'bookstore' set-up featuring books written by speakers and a table for self-published authors as well. A cluster of sponsors offering various services geared for helping writers  manned tables by the art gallery.

Each conference attendee received a Unicorn Writers' Conference tote. There were various goodies inside, including a book on Self-Publishing Today, a calendar, a full-size notebook, eyeglass cloth and chocolates. Since purple is my favorite color, I love having all of these gifts in this preferred color. Isn't the Unicorn logo unique and lovely?

Jacob Appel leads his workshop
on Marketing Short Fiction.
I sat through Jacob Appel's workshop on Marketing Short Fiction. What a wealth of information Mr. Appel gave us. He has an impressive resume: 215 short stories published, thousands of rejection letters from various literary journals. Not bad for a person who's day job is a physician at a New York City hospital. I have a sheet of notes and particularly liked how he stressed "Perseverance is key" and to remember to "Pay it forward." 

Gigi New gave an excellent workshop on Film Scripts.
She really knows her subject matter and made
the session fun and interactive.
I sat in on the first half of Gigi New's workshop on Film Scripts. Since I started out wanting to write movie scripts, this class touched that film buff inside. Ms. New offered a vast array of knowledge and experience. I know I will apply what she said about the Three Acts for film can also be utilized when we write novels. I missed out on Elaine Cunningham's workshop on Creating Compelling Villains (having enjoyed her Fantasy: Beyond Elves and Dragons class last year). My friend attended and I was able to read her notes which was a great help. I sat for one Agent Panel and came away with more information. 

Editor Esi Sogah shares her list of
The Do's and Don'ts of Romance.
Editor Esi Sogah from Kensington Books led The Do's and Don'ts of Romance. This was a fun and informative session. I will always remember the very important rule of not "killing the puppy." The last session I went to was The Agent-Author workshop given by Agent Sarah Younger. This was one of my favorites because Ms. Younger broke down this important relationship and used a Powerpoint presentation, going over every step of every slide. She explained so many things I hadn't known about and I left feeling impressed by what an agent does and knowing this is the type of relationship I would love to have as an author.

Agent Sarah Younger gave a workshop on
The Agent-Author Relationship. Every author who wants
to work with an agent needs this information.
I had two critiques during the day. I enjoyed them and was grateful to both agents for reading my forty pages (two different manuscripts) with such acuity. Again, I left both sessions with a new found respect for agents. I will be applying what I learned as I go back to finish writing one novel to submit to one of these agents. 

One aspect of attending conferences I have really learned to embrace is meeting people. It was wonderful to speak to published writers, agents, editors and others throughout the day. So many were approachable and easy to talk to. Writing can be a solitary craft so when we can meet others in our fields, it is imperative that we come out of our shells and speak to others. 

The courtyard has a lovely water fountain.
This turret located in the courtyard features
 a very cool gargoyle on its side. 
One thing I did want to mention in my recap was the change in ballrooms for the meals. For the past four years, all meals were offered in the Waterford Ballroom. Last Saturday, I was surprised to see breakfast was being held in the Prince Edward Ballroom (smaller space). We seemed closer to each other and the space was a bit confining. Also, there were workshops assigned to this space as well so after the morning keynote we had to wait for the walls to be put into place. There was a lot of confusion as to where sessions B and C were being held. For lunch we also had to wait for walls to be taken away which led to the meal being served late. By this time, many of us were very hungry from sitting in on workshops and having critique sessions. I would like to see meals run more smoothly next year (and have more room) by returning to the Waterford Ballroom. Not only is there more space but the view from the bank of windows is lovely. I've loved walking out through the doors during break times to gaze down at the Connecticut River.

One of the statues located on the grounds
of St. Clement's Castle. This is such a beautiful
place for a writers' conference.
This was my fifth time attending the Unicorn Writers' Conference. The staff of both the conference and St. Clements helped make the day a rousing success for all those in attendance. The sixth annual Unicorn Writers' Conference will be held on March 28, 2015. Hope to see you there.

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