Local PR Exec Wins Award at SDSU Writers’ Conference

Mary Beth Duehr

Mary Beth Duehr of Duehr and Associates.

By day, Mary Beth Duehr runs local PR firm Duehr & Associates. By night, she pursues her passion — writing fiction. That passion brought her to the 2016 SDSU Writers Conference in January to get feedback on her novel, Love, Lies, and Glossy Pages.

Duehr scheduled an advance reading with Patricia Nelson, an agent with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and ended up being Nelson’s 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 manuscript pages 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appointments that give writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.

Duehr shares her SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where she is today on her journey to publication:

What’s your novel about?
Love, Lies, and Glossy Pages
is a work of women’s fiction, and it surrounds 25-year-old Ronnie Ricci who, after secretly taking a job as a sex columnist, doesn’t count on her fiancé writing in for advice on cheating on her. But when he does, Ronnie has to figure out how to dump him once and for all without blowing her cover and destroying her reputation.

At the conference, my goal was to connect with literary agents and get feedback on my story, as well as to meet other writers. I was not disappointed. In addition to making some new friends, I now have the opportunity to send my full manuscript to Patricia Nelson, and several other agents.

How long have you been working on it?
It’s been a few computers ago, so I’m not exactly sure how far back my first completed manuscript dates, but I can tell you it’s more than three years.

Care to share the opening line or paragraph?
Weaving on skates down Broadway’s jam of morning foot traffic, Ronnie Ricci ducked out of sight as a silver Mercedes SL rolled up to the stoplight. If Chase saw her, she was afraid he might rethink it — their relationship. Peeping out from behind a yellow cab, Ronnie let out a relieved breath. The roadster had New York tags. Chase was from Connecticut.

Did Patricia Nelson give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages?
Yes. Though she liked my voice, she thought my heroine’s boyfriend wasn’t likeable enough, and was worried readers would judge her for being with him. She also thought my heroine’s best guy gay friend was too stereotypical. These were astute observations, and I’ve reworked the first chapter to address these concerns.

Could you tell she was pretty excited about your 10 pages or was it a complete surprise when your name was announced as a Conference Choice winner?
Patricia had some great constructive criticism, so the announcement on the last day of the conference came as a complete surprise to me. In fact, I was just walking back into the conference room the moment my name was called, so the timing was pretty cool, but I had absolutely no clue I was even in the running.

Are you still heady with euphoria?
Of course initially when I received the award I was, but the day after the conference the euphoria became eagerness to sit down and apply what I’d learned.

Was she interested in seeing the complete manuscript?
Yes, Patricia said she’d love to see the full manuscript after I’ve revised the first chapter. While my first chapter has been revised, I’m taking the time to go through the rest of the manuscript to make sure it’s 100 percent polished.

How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
Through an acquaintance I’d met at The San Diego Writing workshop last October.

Was 2016 your first time or have you attended before?
This was my first time at the conference, and it was even better than I expected. The literary agents were all very nice and approachable, and overall the educational seminars were excellent. Probably the best part was the one-on-one agent meetings, which offered the rare opportunity to get the attention of literary agents interested in my genre.

Did you attend a workshop that was particularly helpful or outstanding in some way?
All the seminars I went to were informative, and many of them were also lively and fun. If I had to choose one that stood out for me it would be Alexandra Sokoloff’s “Key Story Elements for Novel and Screen.” In particular, I was interested in the examples of popular romantic comedies, which I personally found helpful, as I took a comedic spin in Love, Lies, and Glossy Pages.

What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
There were so many, but I would say the chance to meet one-on-one with agents about your book is by far the biggest strength.

Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
Yes, I’ve had a lot of starts and stops, where I send out a batch (maybe five or six queries) and then something occurs to me that I believe needs to be changed, or I get feedback from an agent, and I make the revisions before I start querying again. Overall, the response has been good. I’ve had quite a few requests for partials as well as full manuscripts. The responses I’ve received have been positive and I feel I’m getting closer with every query.

Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
Yes, the attendees were very friendly. I made several friends at the mixers who knew other people there, and we got a group together to go to dinner both nights.

What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
As a teenager, the first book that resonated with me was The Promise by Danielle Steel. I remember I was on a family vacation flight to Florida, and I was literally in the clouds with this book.

Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
There are so many. Gone with the Wind is still my favorite book of all time, so Margaret Mitchell, though for a fast, breezy read, I enjoyed Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin, and I loved One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell for its memorable characters. Of more recent works, I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time, and I can’t wait to get back to it!

What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
It’s what I feel I’m supposed to do. I love creating fictional characters that come to life in my mind. I would love even more if the world they live in became real in readers’ imaginations.

Will we see you again at a future conference?
Absolutely. I have a whole file full of story ideas with new compelling characters, pining to jump onto a page.

Anything you’d like to add?
Just that I’m grateful to be able to pursue my dreams and I encourage anyone who’s been putting off writing a book to start today.

The 33rd Annual SDSU Writers’ Conference is Jan. 20-22, 2017 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley. Register now for three amazing days that could change your writing life.