Your Audience is King. Or Queen. Or Your Main Source of Funding.

Most of the time, writing projects are fun.

And then there are projects that are, well … not …really.

Don’t get me wrong, writing is never just all fun and games. It doesn’t matter how much you love writing, how much you are interested in and excited about a particular story you are writing, you will always struggle at some point or another (unless you are my friend Timewalkerauthor … I am not sure he *ever* struggles with writing anything, or at least it never seems that way :P).

Usually, I am facing one or more (mostly all) of the following issues:

  1. I don’t know how to start or what to write about (happens every time I want to blog)
  2. I started but have no idea how to continue (this is particularly interesting when your characters maneuver themselves in a position that will inevitably get them killed or at least imprisoned for life, which cuts the story rather short)
  3. Not writing enough detail (but it was in my head, so why do I …. oh, wait … readers are not mind-readers)
  4. Writing too much detail (who am I kidding, that never happens to me)
  5. Having to rewrite the intro or the end (never waste too much time on these until you are happy with the rest of the piece)
  6. Wanting to keep a scene/piece which absolutely does not need to be there (just keep it in your “for later use” file)

The aforementioned project was … how shall I put it … excruciating. Which was made worse by the fact that it was something I had to write for work. Like many other projects funded by the U.S. government, ours is required to produce various reports over the lifetime of the contract. This year, one of the topics we are reporting on in our annual report is Knowledge Management (KM), aka my domain at work.

I was pretty sure that this report (or lack of my writing progress … #1 from the list above: check) would either get me fired or make me quit.

Eventually, I managed to buckle down and write. And write. And write.

64 pages later: I am still here! I committed everything we’ve done in the past 2 ½ years, KM-wise, to paper. In great detail (#4: check. Charles, you would be proud of me!).

Of course, I was promptly informed that this is simply too much. I didn’t shoot the messenger, but I certainly felt like it.

Whereas overcoming/dealing with #1 – 6 is hard enough, I can always, always add another item to whatever project I am working on: 7. Having a hard time tailoring content to a specific audience.

Sounds simple. Isn’t. At least not for me. When it comes to describing (and, to a certain extent, justifying) my work, no detail is too small. No screenshot useless. No description too technical. After all, at the end of the day, I am somewhat proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I want people to know!

And here I was worried about not having written too much. Haha … -.-

I’m actually not sure what is worse: Having to add content or cutting content. Luckily, I have a co-worker who’s been writing/editing this particular report for years, so she went through and made suggestions on what to cut (“Really, you want that to go??”), what to summarize (“But, but … my details!”) and what to rephrase (“How’s that too negative, it’s the truth!”) and what to elaborate on (“But I thought too many details … never mind.”).

She’s right, of course. Every audience is different, and content needs to fulfill their needs. So, next time you write something, ask yourself: What message do I want to get across? What is my audience interested in? In the case of this report, our client is probably not interested in how taxonomies are implemented in SharePoint, or how the different parts work together. Rather, they want to know why we use the system, how it makes the project and its work more efficient and effective, and how it can potentially save money. So, after a few revisions, the chapter now consists of 30 pages. All the content is there, but it does paint a picture for one particular audience.

Getting everything on paper was not a waste of time though. In November, I’ll be speaking at the 2017 KMWorld conference in Washington, D.C. My presentation about “SharePoint Development, Successes, & Future Plans at The DHS Program” is part of the conference’s SharePoint Symposium. I don’t have the entire presentation down just yet, but I can already say two things: It won’t be a PowerPoint presentation (Death by PowerPoint anyone?), and the tone will be entirely different than that of the recent report. That does not mean though that it will be easier, of course.

How do you make sure that your content is tailored to an audience? I’d love to hear ideas!

P.S. Even writing a decent blog post about this report was excruciating!

Writing Class with James Patterson

masterclassJPA few years ago, I’ve participated in an in-person writing workshop with Orson Scott Card, which was just plain awesome. So I was intrigued when I came across a online writing class with James Patterson yesterday. Aside from it being a cool experience, he will also pick one student to co-author his next book with. Whereas I will certainly submit something, I know that mysteries/thrillers are not my writing style (and my voice is really different from JP’s, too), so I know that I won’t really have a chance. However, I am sure I’ll learn a lot, which might help me to get my manuscript to an agent. Fingers crossed!

I’m very happy though that my friend Timewalkerauthor has also signed up for this class. He, like me, has a completed manuscript, and his writing style could be a good fit for JP. Most of all though I hope that he will make some time again to start writing query letters.

“Do NOT sit there like ‘Oh I don’t feel like it today. I don’t feel like it tomorrow’.
Feel like it! Do it! Force yourself!” –James Patterson

I have to admit that I haven’t really been taking the time to write as much as I want. So my resolution for the next few months is to sit down a few days a week and force myself to write. Yes, I know that sounds odd. But it’s like forcing yourself to go to the gym. Even if you don’t feel like going, you know you feel better afterwards. There are plenty of days when I bitch and moan before getting on the treadmill and then enjoy it anyway. It’s the same with writing. Sometimes you don’t feel like it, sometimes your head is empty, and sometimes you can’t concentrate.  But Patterson is right. You have to force yourself sometimes, only then will you get somewhere.

One thing I like to do (and, again, don’t do often enough) is to sit down and just let my streamOfConsciousnessthoughts flow. I know that my brain can come up with all kinds of weird things, but for some reason it gets really shy when it comes to writing. The white page/screen is staring at me, taunting me, mocking me, and my thoughts are trying to hide in a very small corner of my mind. I think the most important thing to remember is that not everything you write is good or worth sharing or pursuing. Sometimes, after a writing session, I stare at the paper and I see a bunch of crap. I grimace and start laughing and then keep the paper for later, in case I need a good laugh (or for a later blog post in which I freely admit that I have an amazing talent to write something really, really bad).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of the lessons learned in this class; hopefully, some of you will find it useful and interesting.

Happy Writing!

Conjured in Gold – Part 6

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


That night, Arlia slept uneasy.

Where am I?

At the edge of the war-torn land. At the edge of flames.

A farmhouse in the distance. A withered field.

Why is it so difficult to walk? Na’Ral, where are you?

A low moan.


“I fell, and I must have hurt my leg. I haven’t been able to get up since yesterday. Thank Heavens you came by.”

“Here, let me help you.”

An old woman. Withered like the field, her face charred like the earth.

“What is your name, child?”


“Magra’s daughter …”


“I am Mila. I have known your father for a long time. I hoped and prayed that one day I would see you again.”


A shadow lifts from the old woman’s face.

“There might be hope after all.”

Arlia opened her eyes. It was still dark. She felt disoriented for a few seconds. Then she remembered her dream, remembered Mila. “There might be hope after all …”, she whispered.

Conjured in Gold – Part 5

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

cooltext165176798287221Two year later

“You can’t be serious!”

Arlia sighed. Would her father ever take her seriously?

“Father, I made up my mind. Na’Ral is one of the greatest advantages we have in this war.” She saw Magra cringe but carried on. “I won’t let him sit here and do nothing while in the North there is a war going on that kills people and animals and harms the land!”

Magra sighed, as he has done so very often in the past. He should have seen this coming. Over the past twentyfour months, Arlia had refined her magic and had bonded with Na’Ral in a manner that was almost unprecedented. He should have known that his daughter would not be content staying here, studying advanced magic and inscriptions. Should have known that she would set out to join their people in the low lands and fight.

His pride about her strength conflicted with his concern for her well-being. But Magra knew that arguing would be pointless. After all, Arlia was raised to be decisive and independent. She was raised to be a leader. And now, sitting in his arm chair glancing up at her, he could see a younger version of himself in her. The way she held her head, straightened her back, the way she spoke in front of a crowd, her voice calm and authoritative but compassionate and caring at the same time. All of this did not belong into a village, hidden by the trees on top of the Silver Mountains Ridge. It belonged with the army, the fighters, and the battle mages.

Magra inhaled deeply.

“So be it. Prepare yourself, take what you need, and join our men and women in this fight.”

Arlia smiled at  him. “Thank you father,” she said and bowed ever so slightly. “I will not disappoint you.”

Magra looked up and into her face, then got to his feet and placed both his hands on Arlia’s shoulders.

“My precious”, he said, in a low and emotional voice, “you never have disappointed me. The only disappointment I could ever feel is if you did not return to us when your calling is over”.

Arlia bit her lower lip, grasped her father’s hands and held them close to her heart.

“Then there will not be any feelings of disappointment in your future.”

With these words, she leaned in and kissed her father’s cheek, then turned around, to leave her father’s study and step outside into the cool air. Now, in the hour before sundown, she savored the stillness, the soft wind, and the faint noises of animals and people awaiting the night.

Arlia felt at peace.

But peace wouldn’t last for much longer.

Soon, she would travel to a place of anger, blood and desperation.

She just hoped that she would not drown in the midst of all of it. She had been to the border of her own land before but had never crossed it before. From afar, she had seen the charred earth, the deep scars in the land, and the withered plants, and it had filled her with a sadness that was almost unbearable.

Conjured in Gold – Part 4

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3

cooltext165176798287221Arlia hastily wiped the moisture from her eyes and squinted.

Her eyes widened when a tiny little head emerged from the flow of gold. Two blue eyes looked up at her curiously.

“Na’Ral” she whispered, half a question, half realization that it had worked.

The tiger raised a paw and playfully batted at the dust particles swirling around it.

Arlia’s lips curled into a smile while admiring the newly conjured life. She briefly felt disappointment the baby did not float above the ground, which would have been an unmistakable sign of wings. But the creature was too lovely, and so her disappointment was quickly replaced by pure joy.

She got to her feet and took a few steps forward. Then she remembered Muthra, and turned around to check on her. The old woman was just opening her eyes. She looked at Arlia, and then past her towards the marble podium. Arlia saw her hand flying up to her mouth.

“By the Gods,” she whispered, staring towards Na’Ral.

Arlia’s heart skipped a beat.

What had happened? Did something go wrong after all?

She jerked her head to the right, towards Na’Ral. With a look of shock on her face, she saw what had made her teacher gasp. The golden dust had receded, only a thin ring of gold remained. In the middle, the white tiger raised his head and looked at Arlia. With a high-pitched growl, so typical for young cats, the creature shook itself and then slowly spread  two beautiful, golden wings.  

Arlia could do nothing but stare. It was not until the little tiger growled again that the young woman rushed towards him. She picked him up as gently as possible and cradled him in her arms, her face reflecting nothing but joy and love. She lowered her head and kissed her companion on the tiny pink nose. Na’Ral looked up at her, stuck his tongue out and licked Arlia’s nose in return.

The news spread like wildfire. As soon as Arlia opened the door to her father’s house, Magra got up from his favorite arm chair and approached his daughter. There was no need for words. His eyes and the glow on his face gave away his emotions.

He patted Na’Ral on the head, and then stepped to the side so Arlia’s sisters and mother could greet the newest member of the family.

It was not long after that friends, neighbors and extended family poured in to admire the little cat. Each of them brought a gift for Arlia. Muthra handed her a blanket made of rose petals, and laughed when Na’Ral pounced on it, sniffed and then sneezed adorably.

Hours later, when all the food was gone and the guests had gone home, Arlia carried her new friend to her room and laid him gently into a wicker basket lined with soft pillows and the rose petal blanket  that Na’Ral had instantly claimed.

The little creature looked up at her with sleepy eyes and snorted quietly. The his head sank down on to his paws, and he was asleep just a few seconds later. Arlia went to bed with a smile on her face, which would remain there for the rest of the night.

Conjured in Gold – Part 3

Part 1Part 2

Conjured in Gold

Arlia’s skin started to tingle again, and her hands were freezing cold when she slipped out of her white robe and let it drop to the ground. The sunlight shone on her body as she received the golden robe from Muthra. The fabric felt warm, almost alive, and when the young woman let it slide down her body, it gave her a feeling of deep comfort and peace of mind.

She nestled at the small diamond pendant hanging around her neck, making sure it fell perfectly down the v-shaped neckline. She never took off this precious gift she had been given by her oldest brother, shortly before La’Rean vanished from the town one winter morning and was never seen again.

Arlia’s stomach tightened at the thought, and she fought to drive the thought from her mind.

She finally managed to smile at her teacher, who stepped aside and gave way to a crystal vessel. Taking a deep breath, Arlia carefully took a few steps forward. Her eyes widened when she looked down into the bowl.

Floating just above the shimmering bottom, there it was: a single bright-white feather. Arlia reached out, touched it with her fingertips and then gasped softly. Upon her touch, the feather began to glow and turn into a hue of gold that matched her robes perfectly. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. It was delicate, only about nine inches long, and now shone almost brighter than the sun. The young woman held her breath when she carefully took the end of the feather and lifted it from the crystal.

Her head was spinning.

This was it.  

With the feather in her right hand and her small bag in the other, Arlia approached the circle.

The golden dust floated lazily a few inches above the ground. But when Arlia came closer, the color became more vibrant, and the particles started to swirl around until the circle was complete; a golden disc pulsing with magic and life.

Arlia looked over her shoulder at Muthra. The old woman was sitting cross-legged, hands folded, and eyes closed. Praying.

The young woman focused on the circle in front of her. Slowly she opened her bag, and took out a handful of bright white stones. Ideally, her soul would have the color of the stones that were picked and also signified the steadfastness of the soul that was being conjured.

Carefully, Arlia distributed them on the outer ring of the golden disc. She expected the stores to fall through the fine golden dust, but to her surprise they floated just where they had been placed.

Next, she filled the circle with some wooden sticks, grass, flowers, and water. She wanted her companion to be as gentle and whole as the nature around her.

Many companions were conjured with items of war to ensure they would fare well in a battle, and oftentimes people added items that promised speed and swiftness.

Arlia used the clear water to ask for silent speed and movements as fluid as the drops that floated on top of the golden dust.

Next came sapphires. It had taken Arlia a long time to find stones that she considered perfect; they would represent her soul’s eyes.

Then she pulled a piece of fabric from her almost empty pouch. Unlike others, she had chosen to ask the tailors for their help instead of using the fur of an animal. Over the past year, she had collected petals from her favorite flower. The delicate leafs looked like a cotton ball sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was the softest material that could be found in these parts of her world. Her tiger would have the softest fur, if everything went right.

She unfolded the cloth and carefully spread it over the circle, hiding the items underneath.

She reached into her pouch one last time and pulled out a smooth, silvery-blue gem. On its surface, she had carefully inscribed the words “tiger” and “Na’Ral” in the ancient symbolic language. The second symbol was the name she had chosen for her soul: White Flame. She placed the gem in the middle of the blanket.

Holding her breath, she carefully placed the golden feather diagonally over the gem. In that very moment, the circle started to glow. Arlia stepped back, folded her hands, and got down on her knees. For a moment, everything was quiet. Then Muthra’s voice broke the silence. After a few seconds, Arlis joined her and together they sang the incantation, asking their ancestors for a soul companion that would stay with Arlia forever, that would carry her to end of the world and fight by her side whenever it was required.

When the song ended, both women opened their eyes and looked at the circle. The white blanket was gone, and so were the stones, the sticks, and the water. All that was left was the golden dust.

For a moment that felt like eternity to Arlia, she thought that nothing had happened.

Nothing at all.

Her heart sank, and her eyes began to fill with tears.

But then she saw movement. Something white and fluffy was stirring, and a glimmer of blue broke through the dust.

Conjured in Gold – Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

As Arlia stepped into the bright sunlight, she tried to slow down her heartbeat. She was excited. She had dreamt about her incantation day for what seemed to be an eternity. She pictured herself in beautiful golden robes that were customary for this day, her hair framing her face and making her eyes glow. She thought about approaching the magic circle where she would place the items she needed for the spell.

Located in the middle of the library garden, the circle was located on an elevated platform made of white marble, surrounded by lush, green grass. The circle itself was nothing special: A ring of pale golden dust. But once a person started the incantation, the circle would gain in color, density, and intensity, and it was different from person to person. For as long as Arlia could remember, she had heard stories about the incantation and the appearance of the circle.

Not many people had actually seen more than two ceremonies though. Since conjuring a soul mate was the most intimate thing a young sorceress could do, only one other person was allowed in the garden; this was usually a close friend, a sibling or parent or spouse.

For a long time, Arlia hadn’t been able to decide whom to invite. She was liked by most of the people in their village, but she had always stuck to herself. She did not like to open up to people. But this she could not do alone.

In the end Arlia decided to bring a person she greatly respected: A female Elder who was her teacher when she was very young. Now, Muthra was old and in the caring hands of her two children, Beeka and Misora.

Arlia did not know if she was a good choice or not. She loved her father, but their relationship had always been a little strained due to their vastly different personalities. A friend, then? But Arlia just did not have one best friend. She had friends, yes, but not one person with whom she shared every thought and feeling. So Muthra seemed to be the best choice. Many years ago, when she was still young herself, Muthra had witnessed the birth of a winged soul, and Arlia secretly hoped that the old woman was a good luck charm.

As for the practical details of the ritual: everything would be in its exact place, everything would be perfect. Arlia had decided long ago that her soul companion would be a tiger. For centuries, young sorcerers and sorceresses chose either a horse or a tiger. Most of Arlia’s girlfriends chose horses, magnificent creatures, fast and elegant. Arlia though wanted to be different. She rolled her eyes at the thought. She did not like to admit to herself that she sometimes felt as if she did not quite belong, or that she was bored with the way things were usually done.

Arlia walked at the edge of the garden until she reached a door that lead into a marble hallway, lined with book shelves carrying scriptures, artifacts, and the occasional floating book.

Walking through, she stopped in front of a door made of Mahogany wood. It showed intricate carvings, but no door knob or a hey hole. This door would only open when the time was right, and many students waited for their teachers to designate that special moment.

But Arlia did not have to be told. This morning, when she woke up, she knew that today would be the day. That she would take all the items needed with her when she approached her father and fight for her right to take a feather.

Arlia inhaled deeply before she slowly moved her right hand towards the door, palm facing forward. When she touched the cool wood, her body felt electrified for a moment.

Then the heavy door slowly opened. A shimmer of gold came through the first crack, and a few seconds later Arlia stood on the threshold to the inner sanctuary, bathed in light. A shiver went through her body. Then her lips curled into a soft smile. Muthra was there, waiting. Of course she knew … probably even before Arlia knew herself. The old woman carried Arlia’s golden robe. She had never seen, let alone worn it before, but the tailors never made a mistake with these robes. It was as if magic itself helped the men and women to get every single stitch just right.

Arlia felt nervousness creeping up her stomach, a symphony of butterflies going wild. She had dreamt of this day for so long, and now, all the sudden, she started to doubt herself.

What if she was not ready?

No, then the door would have opened.

Then Muthra would not be here, waiting for her.

What if she forgot an item she needed?

She clutched her blue silk bag, afraid of dropping it.

Her eyes flickered when she approached her old teacher. The woman smiled at her, full of confidence. “I have waited a long time for this day, Arlia”, she said.

Conjured in Gold - Image

Conjured in Gold

A while back, I started working on a short story that was inspired by a dream. Don’t laugh; that actually happens quite often. Inspiration comes from all kinds of places (music being the biggest one for me), and my dreams are usually quite vivid, so I took the basic idea and wrote “Conjured in Gold“. Over the next two weeks or so I will post it bit by bit to see if people like it. I am not a big believer in long posts, so the parts are fairly short. If you happen to have a few minutes, I would love for you to start reading. Comments are greatly appreciated! Please ignore the formatting though, it’s just WordPress after all ^_^


Conjured in Gold 

Part 1

“You can’t be serious, Arlia. We have talked about this. More than once! You know how rare winged souls are!”

The tall, elderly man, dressed in scarlet-red robes, stood in the middle of the town’s library in front of massive wooden shelves filled with thousands of books and tomes, his voice a mix of disbelief, annoyance and amusement. His grey hair, once so short that it barely covered even the highest tip of his ears, was now touching his shoulders, clearly marking him as an Elder. The hair blended in with his pale complexion but contrasted sharply with is his dark-green eyes, which were now fixed on a young woman standing right in front of him. She wore a silken, white robe with delicate embroidery at the sleeves. Her white hair merged almost completely with the flowing fabric. Her arms crossed over her chest, she glared at the taller figure with bright, blue eyes.

“Yes, I know, Father”, she answered, trying hard to not let her emotions take over. As if she had not studied the incantation and read the historical accounts about a hundred times by now.

She exhaled sharply. “But there is no telling when it happens … or to whom! The scriptures do not reveal anything about any kind of pattern. It can happen to any of us if given the chance. Old, young, talented or not, compliant or stubborn …!”

She stopped, almost gasping for breath.

Magra sighed and rolled his eyes. His youngest daughter was definitely a prime example of one of the more stubborn individuals of their race. Over time, as she had gotten older, Arlia had learned to put logic over emotions, and patience over being impetuous, but he sometimes wondered which blood line his daughter actually came from. He could not remember a single family member that was -or had been- as relentless as his youngest daughter. Everything she did was guided by passion rather than calculated actions.

Magra secretly admired the fire that was so obviously burning inside her. At the same time though it made him uncomfortable. Arlia shared many traits with the Dark Ones, and because of that he had been keeping a close eye on her. He had no idea what flowed in her veins, or why, but he knew that any of his children could be extremely dangerous if they chose the path that, centuries ago, had claimed almost half of Magra’s people, and had split his race into two. Ever since then, the Dark Ones and the Light Ones had been fighting a seemingly never-ending battle. It saddened the old men that there was no reasoning with the brothers and sisters that had gone astray. They had not exactly gone mad, but their irrational behavior clearly indicated that something had gone horribly wrong.

Magra was pulled away from this memory by his daughter’s voice.

“Well, since you don’t disagree with me on that, I assume I can prepare for the incantation.”

It took him a few seconds to recall that Arlia was referring to the scriptures. He sighed. She was right. Ever since the Light Ones had started to conjure companion souls, his people had been trying to figure out what caused a soul to be born with wings. But their efforts were futile. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Even the wisest of them had no answer. The one thing they knew for sure was that adding a feather from another winged soul to the ritual was essential. The feathers were hard to come by; they had to fall off the animal’s wing, could not be cut or ripped out, and they had to be found within a day of falling to the ground. The Elders made sure that feathers were distributed only to the most promising individuals. Magra looked down at his daughter. She was one of the most talented sorceresses, despite her effervescent personality. Or maybe it was because of it …

But were his fears reason enough to deny her a chance?

Magra took a deep breath.

“Fine”, he finally said, “you may take one from the vault”.

Arlia smiled up at him.

“Thank you, Father” she said, and meant it. But Magra could see the triumphant glimmer in her eyes, and her upright posture as she brushed past him and strode towards one of the exits towards the library gardens.

It left Magra standing among all the books, all the wisdom of his ancestors, wondering and worrying about his daughter’s future.

Silent Scream


Sometimes, all you want to do is scream
but no sound crosses your lips.
The pain you feel is too much to bear,
And the scream dissolves into a thousand tears.

Fire burns inside your heart and mind,
and all you want to do is die.
You’re not sure how to survive the despair
and you are too exhausted to even cry.

You have so much love to give,
so many feelings are waiting inside.
But what’s the point of even feeling,
When you don’t have any trust to give?

So you sit and watch yourself burn.
Your body, your soul, your mind, your heart,
They all long for the one that will save you
From yourself forevermore.

It’s so hard to believe you will be okay.
It’s so hard to believe that somewhere out there
He’s waiting for you to cross his way
Look at him and feel your heart stop once more.

Maybe someday you will know that your suffering wasn’t in vain.
That things happen for a reason.
Someday you will look back, with him by your side,
And together you will walk towards a new chapter in your life.

Right now, it hurts too much to even believe
In yourself, in the world, in him who you don’t know.
Please, hold on a little while longer, and you will see
That somebody loves you for all you were, and all you will be.

Books Alive! 2015 – Washington Writers Conference


This past weekend I attended Books Alive! 2015, the Washington Writers Conference in Bethesda, MD, and I had a blast! Full disclosure: Since I am working on my own novel, the most important thing for me was the fact that I could pitch my manuscript to four agents in person. However, attending the panel discussions, interacting with speakers and -even more importantly- other authors added so much more to this experience than just getting a shot at selling my writing. It was incredible to hear all the great stories that attendees are working on, fiction and non-fiction alike, and I can only encourage every aspiring writer to try and attend next year’s conference.

During the first session of the morning, How to Pitch to an Agent, the panelists offered advice on how to make your pitch successful. I was happy to hear that their advice pretty much was the same I had received during a 2-week workshop I took last November (Get a Literary Agent, Mediabistro): 

  1. Create a hook – Something that captures the agent’s attention.
  2. About your book: How long is the manuscript? Where on the shelf would you place it? (I.e. My novel [title] is a commercial science fiction novel with some dystopian and gone-girl elements, and is complete at 108,000 words). 
  3. Your elevator pitch: Give a high-level overview of what your novel is about. Don’t try to summarize the entire plot in a synopsis-like style. You want to be as brief as possible. Think of it as your elevator pitch. Mine sounded something like this (and takes me about 30 seconds): Kyra Taylor is known as a Y, one of the very small percentage of telepaths who are considered the most powerful of them all. Her world is turned upside down when she discovers her own fate: to become a Mind Hunter, an elite professional with just one job—finding rogue telepaths and bringing them in…or bringing them down. She is assigned to Nathaniel Cadwell, the most powerful hunter in service. Their relationship is torn between contempt and secret affection, and it is about to become a lot more complicated when powers unknown to both Kyra and Nathaniel attempt to use them for their own agenda: to create a new and even more powerful generation of telepaths. With Kyra on the run and Nathaniel being misled by those above him, both must find and overcome the secrets hidden in the Rivers of the Mind. 
  4. Give comparative titles. It shows the agent that you know your market and your target audience. Avoid comparing yourself to bestsellers. You want to be confident, not cocky. However, if specifically asked, be prepared to humbly mention some books or writers whose target audience you share. In my case, I compared my novel to The Office of Mercy (Ariel Djanikian) and The Mind Readers (Lori Brighton), but I mentioned that I believe my novel would probably appeal to readers who enjoy stories like Divergent  and The Hunger Games. 
  5. Your bio: Give a brief overview of who you are, your credentials (i.e. previous publications) and anything that shows the agent you are basically qualified and have worked on your craft. In my case I mentioned that I have published various professional articles, and that I have taken several writing workshops including one lead by Orson Scott Card.
  6. Be your biggest fan! Publishers are looking for people who can market themselves. Probably not what introverted writers want to hear; in fact, a good but very introverted friend of mine who hates the entire putting yourself out there-thing said that “this makes you long for the days when it was acceptable to be a writer just so you didn’t have to interact with anybody” (I am paraphrasing here). My response to this was that being outgoing and selling myself and my work to people did not come naturally to me. I had to learn and work really hard, but by now I can talk to strangers and in front of crowds with ease, and I have no problem conveying my passion for something to others. And if I can learn how to do that, so can you!
  7. Say what’s next! Are you working on other projects? Maybe even a sequel (which is what I am working on).

Throughout the day, people dashed in and out of the rooms to take advantage of the five minutes of face-to-face time with four agents. Think of it as verbal Twitter … five minutes really feel like 140 characters, much to the dismay of my above mentioned introverted friend, who hates Twitter and the concept with a passion. I was really nervous when I pitched to the first agent, but it got better each time I did it. I kind of wish that, at the end of the day, I could have pitched to the very first agent again, simply because I felt so much more confident. All four of my agents invited me to submit the beginning of my story, which made me very happy (cross your fingers!).

Whereas I enjoyed each panel and presentation I attended, I particularly want to highlight the last session of the day, From Magazines and Blogs to Books, moderated by Holly Smith and featuring Caitlin Kelly, Monica Bhide, and Adele Levine. Their stories of how they got published were fun to listen to; even more interesting was their advice on how to deal with rejection. As we writers are all well aware of, rejection is part of our craft. In fact, one panelist said that she had once been told by a mentor that “if you haven’t been rejected at least 72 times, you have no right to complain”. Adele Levine revealed that she allows herself to get angry with an agent or editor that rejects her work (“Screw you, [name]!”)

Biggest and most important take-away: Listening to their experiences and talking to the agents made me realize that just because somebody does not want to take on your project does not mean that it sucks, or -worse- that YOU as a person suck. This is something that I struggle with (and I am pretty sure I am not the only one): If my work gets rejected, I feel like a failure. We really should not feel that way though. It just means that the project was not the right one for a particular agent. The most important thing is to keep believing in you and your work! And then you can get angry all you want at the person that rejected you 🙂

Keep writing, be your biggest fan, and remember: You can live your dreams, it’s just a matter of will (and perseverance)!