Midwest Writers Workshop 2017
Margaret S. Hamilton
The third week of July, I attended the annual Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I was alone, as I was last year, but joined conversations every time I sat down at a table. Writers like to talk, about everything from books and movies to what to wear while pitching an agent when it’s ninety plus degrees outside, and not much cooler inside (a sleeveless business dress and cardigan for the occasional frigid room).
On Thursday, Matthew Clemens taught an intensive, five- hour developmental editing class. Because I am preparing for a developmental edit of my debut novel, I was anxious to learn how the process works. Instead, we reviewed an editing checklist and received individual critiques.
Friday and Saturday were devoted to fifty-minute workshops. I found Jess Lourey’s sessions on plotting a mystery and editing a novel invaluable. I endured an agent’s fifty-minute power point presentation on how to stalk an agent on twitter without being creepy, and learned the importance of a clever profile photo. Good fodder for a short story.
During the twenty-minute “buttonhole the experts” sessions, Brenda Drake discussed Pitch Wars and Dianne Drake, an accomplished author of medical romances, talked about navigating publication without an agent. John Gilstrap walked me through how to give an author presentation, and Jane Friedman discussed the time-saving software she uses to organize her schedule and business expenses.
I finished up my three days at the workshop with John Gilstrap’s guns and explosives session, which gave me enough information so that I know what questions to ask my local police department.
I received two informative manuscript critiques and query letter critique. I was astonished by the responses I received from the two agents I pitched my debut contemporary mystery:
"You can’t write about THAT!”
"I don’t rep genre fiction.”
I don’t think the first agent was familiar with the broad scope of mysteries—cozy, traditional, historical and contemporary. I learned that “genre fiction” is another term for “commercial fiction.” Agents are looking for the next best thing in literary fiction, but that’s too exclusive a category, with a limited market, so they term literary fiction with a compelling, character-driven plot and movie/television potential “upmarket fiction.” In other words, the next Gone Girl.