San Diego State University Writers’ Conference Attendee Lands Agent and Book Deal

Liz Lawson

Liz Lawson

In January 2017, a very pregnant Liz Lawson drove down from Los Angeles to attend the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference in search of feedback on her Young Adult novel, The Lucky Ones.

“The access it gives you to agents and editors is unparalleled,” she says. “The one-on-one, 10-minute appointments are really something special that you don’t find at most other writing conferences.”

Lawson shared the first 10 pages of her manuscript with agent Melissa Edwards, who selected it for a Conference Choice Award, which meant it was the most promising project she’d seen during the three-day conference.

“She was very complimentary, so I knew she was excited by it,” says Lawson. “She also asked me for a full manuscript during that meeting! But still, hearing my name announced was an amazing feeling!”

Two weeks later, Lawson went into labor. “My son was born over a month early! Thank god I didn’t go into labor DURING the conference,” she says. At the time, Lawson’s novel was just over half complete. Once she completed it, her journey toward publication took off.

Lawson answered a few questions about her book, and her experience at the SDSU Writers’ Conference.

Are you a writer by profession or is it an avocation?
It’s now a profession, since I’m getting my book published, but I do have a day job, too! In my other life, I work as a music supervisor in film and television.

Tell us about The Lucky Ones.
It’s a contemporary Young Adult novel which follows May and Zach as they struggle to heal in the aftermath of a school shooting that ripped their worlds apart. May’s twin brother, Jordan, was killed in the shooting, and Zach’s mother is the lawyer defending the shooter. Told in two POVs, the novel explores grief, survivor’s guilt, PTSD, and learning to trust again.

Was it your first novel?
It wasn’t! I wrote a women’s fiction novel a few years ago that never saw the light of day, and then queried another YA novel after that which garnered some interest from agents, but ultimately ended up being shelved.

Had you tried querying agents prior to the conference?
I hadn’t queried any agents for this particular book prior to the conference.

Did you meet with other agents at the conference?
I met with Hannah Fergesen from KT Literary. She also asked me for the full manuscript! That was when I knew I was on to something.

Was the full manuscript a simultaneous submission to both agents, and did the first-one-done-reading offer to represent you?
Yes! Once the manuscript was ready to be queried, I emailed both Hannah and Melissa to make sure they were still interested (it had been SEVERAL months since the conference at that point) and was excited to hear that they both were! I also queried about 18 other agents during the two weeks after I queried them. I normally wouldn’t have gone out so wide so fast, but the response I got was overwhelmingly positive (I had a 50% full request rate, which was very different from my previous experience querying!).

I was actually offered an exclusive R&R [editor’s note: revise and resubmit] from another agency fairly quickly and so other agents still had my full manuscript. I went to all of them and explained the situation and asked that if they were interested and had the time, if they might bump the read to the top of their piles, and everyone was gracious enough to do so. The main response I got was that other agents also would have asked for a revision, so I realized that doing the R&R was the right course of action. I finished that in about three months and resubmitted, and luckily they loved it. I signed with Andrea Morrison at Writers House shortly after!

Care to share the opening line paragraph of your novel?
I bolt across the lawn, squinting through the inky night. The streetlamp behind me casts a pool of light, but it’s weak. Clouds block the moon.

As I run, I wipe my hand across my forehead and it comes back wet. It’s hot as shit out here, even though it’s January in Southern California and that’s supposed to mean something. It’s been like this for weeks—hot and still. Earthquake weather, Lucy’s grandmother claims, even though I keep telling her it’s been scientifically proven that you can’t predict an earthquake.

Do you have formal training as a writer?
Oh man, I’ve been writing as long as I can remember! My parents recently found the first book I ever wrote (ha!) which is a story about a dog and a cat who get lost in the woods — I think I was about 7 when I wrote it! In terms of formal training, in high school I took online writing classes from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and in college I was an English and Philosophy major. I have my master’s in Communications with a concentration in Rhetoric. Since, I’ve taken several writing classes at UCLA Extension Writers Program and a few short story classes, too. Outside of that, I have always been a HUGE reader!! I was the kid who read under the covers after bedtime. My parents had to limit my for-fun reading time during the week so I’d actually do my homework. Reading is hugely important for writers — you learn craft from seeing how others have used it.

Did you work in solitude on your manuscripts or were you part of a writing critique group?
I’m a pretty solitary writer! I’d love to find good CPs (and would really love to be a part of an in-person critique group!!) but I haven’t managed to do that quite yet, unfortunately. That said, I’ve been very lucky that my husband is also a writer, so he’s a huge help in talking through key story points. And now that I’m agented (she is AMAZING! Hi, Andrea!), I’ve found that she’s a great sounding board for that sort of thing as well.

What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
The first one I remember loving so much that I read it a million times (until its cover finally fell off!) was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
Oh man! That’s so hard, but I’d have to say: Agatha Christie, Tana French, L. M. Montgomery

What’s your goal as a writer and what keeps you in pursuit of it?
To keep writing and publishing (hopefully!). At this point, it’s something that I can’t imagine ever giving up. I think about my characters all the time, and they feel so real to me. If I stopped writing, it would feel like I was abandoning them!

Anything you want to add about the SDSU conference?
I loved how you had editors and agents seated at all the tables for meals. It was fantastic having the chance to ask them questions in a more casual setting.

When does your book come out?
The Lucky Ones will release from Delacorte Press/Random House in 2020 (most likely Spring) so I hope you all will check it out! In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @lzlwsn, and on Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/book/show/42104979-the-lucky-ones.

The 34th annual SDSU Writers’ Conference is Jan. 31–Feb. 2, 2019 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel San Diego – Mission Valley. Register by Jan. 7 for the early-bird discount and automatic entry into the opportunity drawing for the all-new Kindle Paperwhite reader. January 7 is also the last day to schedule an Advance Reading appointment with agents and editors. Register at neverstoplearning.net/writersconference. Questions? Call (619) 594-0670 or email sdsuwritersconference@sdsu.edu.