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and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.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 Marianne Droulia Tan, who came in search of feedback on her novel, A Fine Line. Among her scheduled appointments was an Advance Reading with Nicole Sohl, associate editor at Macmillan Entertainment.
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 Tan’s was chosen by Sohl. We trace Tan’s SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where she is today on her journey to publication.
Are you a writer by profession or is it an avocation?
Tell us about your novel.
A Fine Line is second in a speculative fiction series. This story starts the journey of a desperate, damaged woman on a mission to recover her son, confined for reasons she barely comprehends.
How long have you been working on it?
Care to share the opening line or paragraph?
After the long flight, Munich looked bright and oddly familiar, as if the sun had been magnified, or doubled. Anna Doumas dropped her bag at the curb. Across the paved roundabout stood a brick wall. Beyond that, a row of suburban houses. She thought, it looks exactly like St. Louis.
Could you tell that Nicole 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 was very encouraging and requested the full manuscript, but I had no idea she’d given it an award.
Are you still heady with euphoria?
Did she give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages before sending her the complete manuscript?
She didn’t want me to rework — she just wanted to see more.
What was her response to your complete manuscript?
I haven’t heard back from her yet, but she did warn it would be at least six months.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
Research online — I wanted to find a conference to learn more about the business.
Was 2015 your first time at the conference or have you attended before?
I had attended before in 2006 and then again in 2012.
What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
Face-to-face time with writers, editors and agents. Caring and devoted staff. Great help sessions and fun, positive atmosphere throughout. I’ve learned so much!
Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
I had cold-queried a few agents with no response.
Did you take advantage of the conference’s On-the-Spot Query Letter Critique session on Friday? If so, did you get constructive feedback?
Yes, those sessions are essential. Best tip was to whittle the pitch to a few good lines — to craft it like the teaser you read on a book jacket.
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
Definitely. At my first conference I met my beta reader, Lynn Coulter, who gave me critical guidance on my first novel, Synapse. She’s reading A Fine Line now! I made several agent connections at this last conference and met local writers by joining a club led by keynote speaker Jonathan Maberry. [Editor’s note: The Writers’ Coffeehouse is the first Sunday of every month from 12-3 pm at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. Check the events calendar to confirm.]
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
A Wrinkle in Time stands out as an early favorite. By that time I knew I wanted to write.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
Favorite living author is Martin Cruz Smith, hands down.
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
My characters. Their stories compel me.
Will we see you again at a future conference?
Yes, I’m coming to the 2016 conference!
Anything you’d like to add?
Don’t give up.