The SDSU Writers’ Conference has a long history of launching careers by opening doors. This annual conference was among the first to pioneer 1:1 appointments with agents and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.
Among the more than 300 writing enthusiasts/aspiring authors who descended upon the 2015 SDSU Writers’ Conference was Julieta Querol, who came in search of feedback on her paranormal romance, Wings. Among her scheduled appointments was an Advance Reading with Sarah Younger, an agent with Nancy Yost Literary Agency.
Advance Reading appointments require submitting the first 10 pages of your manuscript to be read prior to the conference. Attendees also have the option of scheduling a Consultation appointment, which is a Q&A opportunity to pitch your project as a whole and discuss its viability in the marketplace.
Every year, each editor and agent chooses their favorite project(s) for a Conference Choice Award, and Querol’s was chosen by Younger. We trace Querol’s SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where she is today on her journey to publication.
As you a writer by profession or is it an avocation?
Writing is a passion I discovered only three years ago. I have always loved reading, and as a professional translator I write thousands of words daily, but it is different to express your own thoughts and “translate” a story from your own mind into paper.
What is Wings about?
It’s a paranormal romance — a story I dreamt and began writing, then somewhere down the line it turned into a real novel.
How long have you been working on it?
For about two years. Since I first started, I wrote several versions of it, then following an agent’s suggestion, I took the challenge to strip the paranormal aspects and re-write it as a contemporary romance. It was fun and I’m pleased with the end result. Since then, I’ve written a sequel and an additional (non-related) contemporary romance.
Care to share the opening lines?
That morning, the morning of the old man and the speeding car, the morning I met Him, didn’t start any differently. Life chuckled at me from above, nothing tipping me off on how it was about to mess with me, BIG time.
Could you tell Sarah was pretty excited about your 10 pages or was it a complete surprise when you heard your name announced as a Conference Choice winner?
She had been very positive about my work and gave me excellent feedback prior to the announcement. I was still shocked out of my socks when I heard it. I love writing, but I didn’t know if my work was any good.
Are you still heady with euphoria?
My level of euphoria varies almost daily. I have days when I’m focused solely on learning and I read and write for hours, then the day ends and I still think my work will never be good enough. On other days, I read something I wrote and I’m proud of my progress, or I receive a compliment from someone that has read my work and that’s always a rush.
What was Sarah’s response to your complete manuscript?
In the end and after the edits, the finished product was not quite what Sarah was looking for, but she was still very positive about my skills as a writer and left the door open for future projects. There are so many components to take a book to publication, and as a writer, you can’t always hit every mark. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of timing, or giving your story time to season and breathe. I put that manuscript aside for a few months and I think I’m just now ready to take another look and see how it can be improved. In the meantime, I’ve worked on other stories.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
I heard about it on Linkedin, from [conference director] Erin Quinn. She was wonderful and after reading my submission, awarded me with a scholarship she was offering. [One complimentary registration plus one Advance Reading or Consultation appointment.] It was a fairy-tale moment!
Was 2015 your first time at the conference or have you attended before?
It was my first writing conference ever! I loved every minute of it. It truly felt like a dream come true.
What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
Hands down the opportunity to meet one-on-one with seasoned agents and editors. Even after the conference, they were all very responsive and offered me feedback on my work, that was incredibly valuable. Most of these people are very busy and get thousands of submissions weekly. If I hadn’t attended the conference and met them, I would have been one more name on the pile.
Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
Actually, no. I wasn’t very familiar with the process and the conference taught me a lot on how to do it right. I followed the guidelines and even though I have only queried a handful of agents, I got a detailed response from each one.
Did you take advantage of the conference’s On-the-Spot Query Letter Critique session?
I did go because I had no clue on how to write a query letter the right way. To me, it felt incredibly daunting, even though I followed the formulas I found online. At the conference, I got the chance to read mine out loud and got real-life feedback from an expert. Moments like that are priceless!
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
Yes, several! And that was one of my favorite parts of the conference. The effects lasted long after the sessions ended! I connected with local award-winning authors like Jonathan Maberry and Kathy Hegarty Krevat and they have shared many amazing resources with me that I would have never had the chance to enjoy had I not met them personally.
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
Hmm… That’s a tough one. I grew up in South America (Argentina) and read a ton of Argentinean, Spanish, and Latin American authors. One that I connected with personally was The Shadow of The Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. [Editor’s note: This book will be featured at the OLLI Book Club on Monday, March 21.]
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
I guess it depends on the genre. I love Leah Raeder for contemporary romance because she is fearless. Carlos Ruiz Zafón is my favorite for novels, and also Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina).
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
Writing to me is not only a passion, but also a need. It is inside of me and it wants to flow. The stories swirl in my mind until I decide to put them on paper. It is strange to hear that others want to read them because it feels incredibly personal. I pour my soul into them and sometimes it still feels like a bunch of garbage. But it feels good when someone tells you they loved something you wrote.
Will we see you again at a future conference?
I would love to attend again! I run my own business and have three kids so it is definitely a challenge, but it is truly important to me!
Anything you’d like to add?
As a new author, it’s sometimes hard to find encouragement to keep going when things don’t go the way you wish. Writing can get lonely and you lose that connection with other people and a fresh set of eyes and thoughts. The conference is a way for authors to connect not only with experts, but also with peers who share that same loneliness that can get painful at times. Rejection is inevitable at some point. Not everyone will like your work. When you get a rejection letter, your heart sinks. But it’s not so bad when others tell you their stories and how they deal with that.