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Chicago Bean Reflection

“Cloud Gate”–often referred to as “The Bean”–didn’t have many crowds when I went for a run at 6:30a on the day of the conference.

Last month I not only attended the Chicago Writers Workshop for the first time, but visited Chicago for the first time! If you’re looking for a one-day writer conference in an easy-to-navigate city where you can get one-on-one exposure with literary agents, this is definitely one to add to your list.

The main factor I’ve considered when choosing writing conferences this year is time with literary agents. As I continue to seek representation for my story collection, I want to make sure any expense toward a conference will help support that search.

One of the nice things about the Chicago Writers Workshop is that 10-minute pitch sessions are held all day long, and you can sign up for as many pitches as you’d like to pay for (pending schedule availability). This way you can step in and out of panels and presentations for your pitch(es) without missing out too much on the conference offerings.

networking with literary agents

The agent pitch sessions were held in a room with a glass wall, so you could watch writers pitching!

I pitched to one agent and she requested a few stories from my collection. I’ve sent some of my favorite stories and now I’m waiting to hear back! Even if things don’t work out for this book with this connection, I consider attending this conference a success because it helped me make a connection with an agent who could turn into a long-term professional relationship on other projects.

The other benefit of this conference is that it was held at the Congress Plaza Hotel, just a few blocks from the Art Institute of Chicago, “The Bean” (“Cloud Gate”), and the Lakeshore Trail along Lake Michigan. So if you’re looking to balance some sightseeing and foodie exploration with your conference time, you’re in a great spot! (While this is only a side note and deserves a full post all on its own, the buttermilk traditional doughnut at Do-Rite Donuts is one of the best I have ever had.)

I had the personal benefit of meeting up with my writer-friend Courtney Carter at the conference, and the bonus that her old college roommate now lives in Chicago and showed us around. Courtney had a dynamite experience at the conference–she pitched to three agents! All of the agents are interested in learning more about her manuscript. Check out Courtney’s experience at the Chicago Writing Workshop.

A few things that surprised me about the conference:

Some sessions were very elementary. A few morning sessions centered on ultra basic writing elements. I didn’t think at this point in my writing career that I would find myself in a session about show don’t tell, or hearing that we need to read submission guidelines before submitting. It surprised me that a conference that offered all-day pitches with agents–which attracts writers who have a manuscript far enough along to warrant time with an agent–would offer sessions geared to “green” writers.

No coffee or snacks. This was the first writers conference I have ever attended where no coffee was offered to attendees. No food or snacks were provided either. Only water. I’ve organized a lot of events for writers. Food and beverage budgeting can easily be tied into the overall conference fee–especially for an annual event like this.

No swag. Instead of a tote bag, journals, pens, and writing-related swag, each attendee got a label-less white folder with a one-sheet abridged version of the day’s schedule, and a flyer promoting a mystery writing event. I would have gladly donated tote bags to conference attendees if I would have known the conference was in need of swag! If you’re looking to get exposure among writers–definitely reach out to this conference and offer some swag–and maybe snacks too. 😀

If I’m still looking for an agent next year (hopefully not  🙂 ) and I see a potential good fit on the conference list then, I will definitely make an effort to attend again. Chicago is a great place to explore and, based on a conversation with an Uber driver during my visit, is a good hub for other travels. The Uber driver had just gotten back from a trip out to Glacier National Park, and he got there by taking a 30-hour Amtrak from Chicago. Sounds like a great writing-hiking-retreat opportunity!