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I went to my very first writing conference a little over 9 years ago. I was a brand new writer, full of aspirations, and whole lot of naiveté about the publishing industry. Even though the conference was a huge eye-opener for me (what on Earth was I getting myself into?!), I had a wonderful time, learned a ton, and I’ve been going to as many writing conferences as I can ever since. Well, a week ago Saturday, marked a brand new first for me. I attended another writing conference, but this time I was one of the presenting AUTHORS, and not just one of the students. The event was for a group called WRITING FOR CHARITY and was founded last year by the wonderful Shannon Hale. This year, the event was a day long writing conference organized by picture book author Anne Bowen, and hosted by the Tree House Museum in Ogden, Utah to raise money to buy books for low-income elementary schools. 

I was extremely honored to be asked to participate as an author, and believe me, I felt exactly like I did 9 years ago at that very first writing conference. And I learned just as many new things as I did then.

So for my TENNER TOP TEN, I present to you: The Top Ten Things I Learned at My First Ever Author Event:


1.      Be on time. Know where to park. Look your best.


Yeah, so due to a 7-year-old who refused to get out of bed at 7:30 am, and a 3-year-old who kept claiming he had to poop while we were on our way to the babysitter’s house, I ended up getting to the Tree House Museum a few minutes. A problem compounded by the fact that there was NOWHERE to park! I circled around and around the museum, watching the clock on my dashboard tick away more minutes of lateness, and finally found a place to park a few blocks away from the museum. I grabbed my bag, jumped out of the car, and dashed off to the event. As I walked/jogged there, I realized there was something wrong with my shoe, and as I rounded the corner into the museum’s lobby, I remember thinking, “Oh great, I better not be walking into my first ever author event with toilet paper stuck to my shoe.” Um, no . . . it was a maxi pad. (Not mine!)


2.      There are A LOT of awesome authors and writers in Utah.  


Over 20 Utah authors/illustrators taught at the event (free of charge!) and almost 150 writers came out to support the charity event. And we earned over $8,000 to buy books for low-income kids!

Almost all the authors who were there—so many I can’t even name them all!


3.      When participating in a multi-author panel, you have to learn how to speak up.


The first event of the day was a huge Super-Panel with about 22 participating authors. Shannon Hale was the MC, and she claimed if you went over 2 sentences with your answers she’d blow a harmonica at you . . . but the whole thing was pretty much a giant free-for-all of author goodness. Little debut author me felt very intimidated at first, sitting up on that stage with really bright lights shining in my eyes, surrounded by so many awesome authors. But I decided that I had to answer at least 3 of the questions in order to justify my even being there. And once I answered one question, it was a lot easier to find my voice.

Some things I learned during the panel:

Jessica Day George (author of THE DRAGON SLIPPERS trilogy) became an author because “It was either that or become a museum docent.”

And James Dashner (THE MAZE RUNNER, October 2009) isn’t afraid to admit in front of about 170 people that he has no idea what a docent is.

To which Shannon Hale (Newberry Honor winner for PRINCESS ACADEMY) responded, “See, there’s proof you don’t have to have a good vocabulary to be a successful author!”

4.      Writers really want to hear about how to get an agent. 


After the Super-Panel, the authors and students were split up into smaller groups for a Q&A session. I was privileged enough to be put in a group with Shannon Hale, Sydney Salter (one of our Deb sisters and author of MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS), and Dan Wells (I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, Tor, April 2010). I found it quite interesting that most of the questions we were asked were about how to get an agent, write a query letter, and whether or not to send out multiple submissions. I had just as much fun listening to the other authors answer the questions as I did lending my advice to the mix.


5.      The author critiquing your writing may very well be just as nervous as you are.

After the Q&A, we broke into even smaller groups for a critique session. Each student brought copies of their first (and most important!) page for us to read as a group and critique. I always get nervous about having my own stuff critiqued, but I was surprised that I was almost just as nervous being the author in charge of the critiques. Luckily, Sydney Salter and I got to do the critiques together, and it ended up being a (hopefully) helpful and motivating experience for everyone involved.

6.      If you pack your own allergy-free lunch, remember to NOT leave it in your car so you don’t have to hike several blocks back to the car in order to get it—and miss almost all of the lunch break.


7.      Fellow Tenner Matt Kirby (THE CLOCKWORK THREE, Scholastic, Fall 2010) will dance on demand, is an all-around awesome person, and has a bit of a potty mouth. 


Which surprised Sara Zarr (National Book Award finalist and author of ONCE WAS LOST, Little Brown, October 2009) because she thought she was the only Utah author who ever dared to drop the “S-word” during a panel discussion. 


But be sure to ask Matt to dance for you the next time you see him!


8.      If you want to feel good about yourself as an author, request NOT to be seated in-between Brandon Mull and James Dashner at a signing—especially if your book isn’t out yet so you don’t have any copies to sign.


After lunch, they set up signing tables with name placards for all of the authors. I hadn’t expected there to be a name placard for me (I mean, my book doesn’t even come out until December) but alas, I was told to go take my place . . . right between Brandon Mull (multi-NYT-best-selling-author of the FABLEHAVEN series) and James Dashner (THE THIRTEENTH REALITY series, and THE MAZE RUNNER trilogy).


Yeah, so I totally didn’t even want to sit down! But James was like, “Don’t worry, you can just talk to us.” Which lasted about 2.5 seconds before they had huge signing lines (Brandon’s wrapping around the museum’s lobby) and were completely engrossed by their adoring fans. I sat at the table for about 10 minutes, drumming my fingers and smiling at people, before I got up and walked around for awhile. Once my courage simmered up again a bit, I went back and sat down between the two publishing studs—which I’m glad I did because I ended up getting to talk to a few people, sign a few bookmarks, and hand out a few bottles of Dark Divine nail polish. (Mostly to curious people from Brandon’s line who were like, “So, um, who are you again?” But hey, it was still awesome . . . and neither Brandon nor James had nail polish named after their book!)


9.       Being “one of the authors” is totally like having a backstage pass to hang out with the cool kids. 


The thing I enjoyed the most about my first ever author event was how awesome and nice all the other authors were to me. Nobody treated me like “just” a newbie. Nobody pointed at me and called me a fraud and told me I didn’t belong with all of these talented authors. They all treated me as a respected peer . . . and the best part of the event was getting to go out to dinner with some of these awesome authors afterwards. We laughed, talked, joked, ate tortilla chips as big as our heads—and even got in a few more jabs at James Dashner for having no idea what a docent is.


Me with a tortilla chip as big as my head


From left to right: Emily Wing Smith, Anne Freakin' Bowen, Bree Despain, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, Matt Kirby, Sara Zarr, Brandon Mull, Sara Bolton.

And here's a pic where I don't look quite as dorky.  Left to right: Me, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, Matt Kirby.


10. Shannon Hale and Brandon Mull both admitted that each time they start a new book, they feel like they have no idea how to write a book, and they don’t know how they ever even wrote their earlier novels in the first place.  


Shannon also told me that no matter how big most authors become, they never feel like they’ve truly “made it.”

Wow, I can’t tell you how reassuring it was for a debut author like me (who is trying to work on a sequel) to hear those words. 

Here's to many more author events, with many more amazing authors!!  Thanks for letting me share.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 7th, 2009 08:20 pm (UTC)
Youre head's not that big, Bree!

Awesome top ten! I admit, I'm horribly nervous about the concept of author panels. Thanks for sharing!
Sep. 7th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
Hi :)
Thanks for the fun blog post.
It sounds like a great event and that you had a terrific time.
I think it's awesome you have nail polish named after your book.
Thank you for sharing Bree!
Looking forward to reading The Dark Divine when it is available.
And I totally Googled "docent": a museum guide.
Now I know.
All the best,
Sep. 7th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
What a delightful post, Bree!
I felt like I was almost there.
And your advice is duly noted. Also, stepping on a maxi pad? OH dear me. Can you imagine if you would have walked in with that stuck to your foot.

Loved it!
Sep. 7th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
Looks like SO much fun! I'm jealous. :)
Sep. 7th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Great top ten! It looks like it was a very fun event.
Sep. 7th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Bree, this was awesome (and hilarious - the whole maxi pad thing!!!) Great top ten :)

Sep. 7th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Such a cute top ten! I love the part about sitting at the signing table.
Sep. 7th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Good times it was
Hey, thanks for spreading the word on what an idiot I am! The only thing stepped on more than me in this post was that poor maxi pad. hahaha

Great post. It was so awesome to have you there!!!

James (Dashner)
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
Re: Good times it was
Oh James, at least you are man enough to admit that you are an idiot in front of hundreds of people. :-)

Thanks for being a great author friend. You are one of the reasons people were so nice to me.
Sep. 7th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Wow! Sounds like an awesome time! Woot! And, your book isn't even out yet - double wow! (BTW - you look like you fit in quite nicely as one of the fabulous authors!)
Sep. 8th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
I love no. #10 because I am really glad I'm not the only one who doesn't know how they managed to write a novel.
Sep. 8th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
You are just awesome, awesome, awesome! Can't wait to meet you in person in a few weeks, and to get my hands on The Dark Divine!

Loved the list, Bree!
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
Thanks, Linds!

I can't wait to meet you in Denver!!
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:06 am (UTC)
They tried, but my moves are just too fast!
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
Ah, my one regret from the conference is that I don't have video of Matt's dancing. It would be a Youtube sensation for sure!
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
A sensation for all the wrong reasons. A Star Wars kid kind of sensation, I'm afraid.
Sep. 8th, 2009 01:38 am (UTC)
That sounds like it was so much fun!
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
You should have been there, Sarah!
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
I really should have. I thought it was for those of us who already have their books on bookstore shelves for some reason. Rats. Next time. I'm glad you all had so much fun!!!
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:11 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot for this, Bree! I learned a lot from your list. I will tuck this away for future reference.
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
Great list, Bree. I guess there are worse things to be known for than being a potty mouth (I'm really not!) and spontaneous dancing.
Sep. 8th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
Wow, Bree, it looks like so much fun!

I met Matt Kirby at SCBWI, but I didn't know I could have made him dance!!
Sep. 8th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)
Awesome top ten list! And my mouth gaped open in shock when I read about the maxi pad stuck to your shoe--hilarious!
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
MAXI PAD!!!! hahahaha

Potty-mouth Kirby dancing!!

Tortilla chips from the land of giants.

Good times, great memories. Thanks for sharing them with us!
Sep. 10th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
How cool, Bree! I LOVE Shannon Hale's books, and it's so great to hear she's nice and a regular person. Sounds like a blast!

Sep. 12th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I'm reading this a bit late but wanted to say that I really enjoyed it! It was fun to learn about what such a day might entail, and thanks for being willing to admit to everything I'm sure I would have been feeling. Just like your #10, it helps to know we're not alone!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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