Reflections from my first writers festival

For the past five days, I have been immersed in the wonderful world of writing and reading at the Brisbane Writers Festival. It was my first-ever writers festival, and I’m so glad I finally got my act together to dedicate time to the craft of writing. Here are my festival highlights.

Receiving feedback on my manuscript

As my regular readers know, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the 20 pages in 20 minutes session. In this session, I received personalised feedback on my YA manuscript Tangled (the first 20 pages and synopsis) from Farrin Jacobs, an editorial director of HarperCollins who focuses on contemporary teen fiction. Farrin gave me heaps of feedback, both positive and constructive, and I walked away overflowing with thoughts and ideas about how to improve my manuscript.

I’m not going toΒ  share the specifics of Farrin’s feedback because I want to get feedback from my first group of beta readers before I make any major decisions about necessary changes and I don’t want to skew my readers’ judgement. But I will say that the session did a fantastic job of opening my eyes to how Tangled would/could be viewed from a commercial sense and that the feedback was simultaneously uplifting and challenging, not soul destroying. πŸ™‚

Improving my industry knowledgeΒ 

On Friday, I attended a four-hour masterclass on the Australian writing marketplace, and on Saturday, I attended a three-hour masterclass on publishing in the young adult and children’s market. These sessions were chock-full of information about the Australian (and international) industry and included Q&As with multiple authors, agents, editors, publishers, publicists, ‘future of the book’ experts and publishing contract specialists.

Although much of what I heard in these sessions, I’d already learned from posts by my wonderful blogging friends, I also gained a lot of new information that I’m sure will help me when (not if! ;-)) I receive that first publishing offer. Rest assured, I’ll be blogging these hints and tips in the near future.

Meeting authors

One of the most inspiring parts of the festival was listening to authors speak about their journeys, their books and their writing processes. Some of the authors I heard from were Ann Patchett, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Christopher Currie, Ashley Hay, Emily Rodda, KΓ‘ri GΓ­slason andΒ  Linda Jaivin. There were a lot more writers at the festival including many others I would’ve loved to hear from, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend every single event on the schedule!

Some of the things I discovered (or re-discovered) from these talks were:

  • Every writer’s journey is different. In saying that, almost all authors I heard from were rejected at least once before they landed a publishing deal.
  • Every writer’s process is different. Emily Rodda hates detailed plotting and planning – she likes to tell herself the story as she writes. Kate Morton adores detailed plotting and planning, and she spends four to five months on researching and developing her stories before she writes chronologically from beginning to end.

Building relationships

Over the five days, I met so many wonderful people and made a number of connections that will hopefully one day help me succeed as a writer. I attended a networking event one night – alone. Daunting? Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Although I had a few awkward moments of standing on the fringes wondering if I should just go home, I managed to strike up conversations with a few publishers, authors and fellow book lovers. I also managed to meet a few people who I’ve previously only known on Twitter – always nice to connect a real person to the Twitter account!

One of my most exciting connections took place before I even entered the networking tent. As I waited for the doors to open, I struck up a conversation with two women sitting beside me, assuming they were attending the event too. They were actually there to support their sons, who were part of the singing group Voices of Birralee – our entertainment for the evening.

It turned out their sons are both in year eleven or twelve and are avid readers. I now have two teenage male beta readers who will be providing me with a reality check for my teenage male protagonist – hooray! πŸ™‚

(On a side note, the singing group’s performance was amazing, surprising, touching and beautiful. It added a wonderful dimension to the evening.)

Your turn

What have you been up to this week?



Filed under Brisbane Writers Festival, Competitions, Professional development, Publishing, Writers, Writing, YA fiction

25 responses to “Reflections from my first writers festival

  1. Jen

    I am jealous! I am also putting in for leave for next year so I don’t miss out! I’m so impressed that you went to a meet and greet on your own. That must have been very scary, but congratulations on finding some beta readers!
    I’ll see you there next year!

  2. Laura

    Sounds fantastic Cally!! Can’t wait to hear more tomorrow.

  3. I’m so pleased you got so much out of it, including new beta readers πŸ™‚

  4. The writer’s festival sounds wonderful! So glad you had such a good time and found it so worthwhile! I have done nothing so writerly-productive this week… getting all my kiddos off to college and school. Maybe this coming week I’ll write something brilliant πŸ™‚

  5. Wow! It sounds great! I’m glad your critique with Harper Collins worked out so well. That’s a great sign! I just signed up for a conference, too, the SBCWI one. I’m not going to do any critiques, but I’m looking forward to the panels.

    • Thanks Kirsten. I’m so glad I went and that I was lucky enough to be selected for the critiquing session. I’m sure you’ll get heaps out of the SBCWI conference as well. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about it! πŸ™‚

  6. Nhi Pham

    Great wrap up Cally. Very brave of you to attend a networking session by yourself – I’m glad it was a positive experience!

  7. Constructive feed back can be so valuable. Stoked that you got picked, what a great thing! Sounds like the Writers Festival really improved your game!

  8. Cally, Thanks for your summary. I’m writing one myself for my blog A highlight for me was meeting you and talking about my dystopic Queensland novel “The Grass Is Always Browner”. I’ve had a look at some of your writing and there’s no doubt about it, you’re going places, so long as you put enough time and effort into writing. Well-known writers usually have written at least a million words of final draft, taking upwards of 10 years, before they were published. Maybe it will be different for someone as well-connected as you!

  9. Vicki Tremper

    Oh, Cally, this sounds awesome! I’ve never been to a writing festival, only to 1 or 2-day conferences. Which are always great for helping us isolated writers to feel connected again. I’m glad you got feedback that you’ll be able to use. And it’s fun to be a fan-girl with other authors for a while.

    • You’re definitely right about how conferences and festivals make you feel more connected to the writing community – it’s one of the best parts. And I love being a fan-girl (just as long as I don’t drift into crazy-stalker-girl territory!) πŸ™‚

  10. That’s very interesting about the difference between Emily Rodda and Kate Morton’s writing approaches… And yet they both still manage to produce fantastic stories! Just goes to show no two writers are the same, and nothing is particularly right or wrong in the process.

    Sounds like you had a brilliant time! Jealous!

    • Yeah, I was amazed by how different their approaches were – and other authors too. It proves that everybody has to develop their own process and work out what works for them. Nobody can tell you how you should work! πŸ™‚

  11. I can’t believe i missed this! I Swear i signed up for the updates for when it was on. Apparently not.

    Sigh, we must meet up at the next one. I intend on going. Glad you had an awesome time and got some great feedback for your book πŸ™‚

    Feedback is one of the best starting points to improvements. Good luck


    • Such a shame that you missed the festival. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve missed it every other year before this one. And you’re right about feedback being a great springboard for improvements. I’ve made some changes already and will be waiting to see what my beta readers say before potentially making a whole heap more! πŸ™‚

  12. HarperCollins feedback and teen beta readers?! Awesome! I’m glad it went well!

  13. What a wonderful opportunity! And I’m so glad your 20 minutes of feedback wasn’t soul destroying πŸ™‚

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