There was a conference recently, held virtually because, COVID. When Worlds Collide is a writer’s conference that happens annually in Calgary. Last year was their tenth anniversary, but they held off on the celebrations because, COVID. While things were still virtual this year, the organizers proceeded to pitch it as the 10th.
I’ve never gone to the conference for three reasons.
1) I wasn’t really involved in the writing community until 2018.
2) We are usually camping.
3) Conferences overwhelm me with all the choices.
I was pleased to be in town with good wifi for this year’s WWC conference. I printed the three-day schedule, read up on all the offerings and pulled out my favourite orange highlighter. I knew some of the sessions were being recorded through Zoom, easing my anxiety over missing some good presentations, panels and discussions. I could catch them on the replay.
One of the events was called Live Action Slush. Now, as a person who loves a bellini, this sounded exciting. But in publishing, slush has nothing to do with slurpees, or sugar, or alcohol. It’s more closely related to that gross, dirty crap that collects at sidewalk curbs in the winter.
You see, agents and editors get hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts every month, sometimes even weekly. Any submission that comes in the door without a connection to another author or agent or editor goes directly into a massive pile.
The slush pile.
It’s here where most manuscripts go to die, or at least function as an extension of the desk and a place to put your coffee. In the context of WWC, Live Action Slush was an open invitation to submit 1000 words of your work for review. Having just completed the first draft of a young adult (YA) novel, I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity.
I put it out of my mind for a while. I wasn’t ready. Submitting your work for critique by agents, publishers and other writers feels much like falling up an escalator: you step on with confidence, stumble, then rip your skin open on the sharp teeth. As the deadline approached, I controlled my inner monologue, setting it to “feedback is helpful” on replay.
When the event started, my stomach was bubbling. A reader started reading and the panelists were to virtually raise their hand when they got bored and would have put the manuscript aside if they had pulled it off an actual slush pile. I sipped my mint tea, trying to calm my nerves. They randomly selected one, then two, then three manuscripts, all offering feedback. Most of it was kind and constructive. After the comments, the author could activate their video and identify themselves or remain anonymous.
We were nearing the end of the hour and I was a little sad that maybe my submission was near the bottom of the slush pile with the other dead bodies. When the reader started reading my pages, my heart hammered in my chest.
Did I really want to play this game?
I watched the thumbnails, waiting for the adjudicators to raise their hands. As the reader continued reading, I was looking at their faces, trying to read reactions. It was the moderator who stopped the reader because we were running out of time.
“No!” one said. “I was so getting into this.”
“I was about to raise my hand but then it turned and I was riveted,” said another.
The third judge said “I’m in love with the setting and the suspense. I want to know more.”
All three were very disappointed that we ran out of time.
With the biggest grin on my face, I enabled my video and identified myself. I floated around the house for the next day and half, running on the only fumes an author needs: validation. I felt like I had opened my mouth under the slush machine and all the sweetness filled me up.
I acknowledge it’s a first draft and there is still lots of work to be done, but I KNOW those first 1000 words are strong. This book was my most challenging project to date. It started as a middle grade, morphed into YA and then was banished to my own slush pile of partially written novels before I took it up again. Yeah, I’ve got a few of those.
Next month, I’ll start the edits, getting the manuscript ready for my agent who will send it back to me with more suggestions for edits. And one day, I’ll have an actual bellini in hand, celebrating the work and the book it will become.