Beston Barnett is a man of many talents. After working as an engineer at IBM for four years, then running Art Hurts Records – an independent music publishing company – he became a furniture maker (BestonBarnett.com). While still studying the craft at Palomar College, he began winning awards from local woodworking organizations. So what happens when he takes his first crack at writing a book? He wins a Conference Choice award from a New York editor at the 2016 SDSU Writers’ Conference.
Barnett came to the conference in search of feedback on his urban fantasy novel set in a folklore library in Berlin. He scheduled an advance reading with Jennifer Letwack, an editor at St. Martin’s Press, and ended up being her pick for a Conference Choice Award.
Every year, each agent and editor chooses their favorite project from all the advance readings and consultations that take place over the three-day conference. Advance readings require submitting the first 10 pages of one’s manuscript, prior to the conference, and consultations are a Q&A opportunity to pitch a project and discuss its viability in the marketplace.
With a long history of launching careers by opening doors, the SDSU conference was among the first to pioneer these 1:1 appointments that give writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.
Barnett shares his SDSU Writers’ Conference experience and where he is today on his journey to publication:
Tell us about the project that brought you to the 2016 SDSU Writers’ Conference.
There’s talking animals, sex, and lots of juicy stuff about cataloging.
How long have you been working on it?
I began the outline about a year ago: I’m now about two-thirds through the writing of the first draft.
Care to share the opening line?
Sybil was saved from remembering the thing she did not like to remember by a mouse.
Did Jennifer Letwack give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages?
Her margin notes were hilarious. I think she wrote “cute” 10 times. Once she wrote, “Maybe too cute?”
Could you tell she was pretty excited about your 10 pages or was it a complete surprise when you heard your name announced as a Conference Choice winner?
Both Thao Le and Jennifer Letwack read my first chapter and were very positive about it. They both asked to see the manuscript, though unfortunately, it’s still got a ways to go.
Are you still heady with euphoria?
I felt like a million bucks, particularly since I’m still convinced my first chapter has a lot of problems. But a week later, I was back to trudging along again.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
Through San Diego Writers, Ink.
Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
This was my first toe in the water — more of a warm-up for later conferences where I hope to be really pushing a finished manuscript. That’s what was best about the conference for me: a chance to see how it all works so that when I DO get serious, I’ll have a clue what to expect.
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
My childhood is a blur. My mom worked in a bookstore, and I absolutely ate my way through books when I was a kid. What stands out from early on? James Thurber, maybe.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
A. S. Byatt, Haruki Murakami, and Catherynne Valente.
What’s your goal as a writer and what keeps you going in the pursuit of it?
I’m trying to write a fun book. Not the one I always thought I’d write, but the one I’d like to read. Plot and pacing are hard for me, but language — actual nouns and verbs and things — that’s a playground.
The 33rd Annual SDSU Writers’ Conference is Jan. 20-22, 2017 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley.