A satisfying weekend on many fronts is in the books. Beginning on Thursday and running through Saturday night, I attended several sessions of the Cape Cod Writers Center’s 57th Annual Conference. Super convenient location in Hyannis at the Resort & Conference Center, 4.5 miles away, made for easy back and forth travel in between sessions. For me, it was also a trip down memory lane. The Center is the former Hyannis Sheraton. What a laugh I had with the bartender in the current hotel bar when I asked him if he knew what the bar used to be called. “Yeah, it was a disco.” A disco, called Tingles, where in 1981 as the disco era waned and punk was rising, I met a guy whom I ended up dating for 5 years. In two weeks, we’ll celebrate our 33rd anniversary. Hey, and thanks go out to my friend, Stephanie, who luckily knew the bouncer that night to admit two under-age girls, and the rest is history.
No disco balls hang from the ceiling anymore, but there were plenty of lights shining on the faces of eager writers like myself looking to learn more ways to hone our craft, pitch an agent and dream of publishing. I’m using the word dream in the loosest sense. One of the key takeaways I learned is the nightmarish road ahead to publication.
First, my “query letter” needs more work as I was told during a one-on-one critique of my query which is the initial outreach to an agent. In a one, single-spaced page, I need to acknowledge why I chose to contact a particular agent, who is the audience for my book, outline a short synopsis, my experience as a writer and details on my social media platform. Once you’ve written a succinct query letter, customize it for each agent, and send it out to 100 of them – individually. UGH. UGH. And, UGH. Further harsh reality hit when one of the agents who presented shared he receives over 500 queries every month, and he works for a small literary agency in CA. From those 6,000 queries a year, he’ll sign on 10-12 authors. From there, the expected “close rate” to secure a publishing contract is around 80%. From 6,000 to 8. The odds are daunting and dismal.
The bright spot of the Conference came at the close on Saturday night when I signed up for a 5-minute reading of an excerpt from Eliza’s story. I didn’t agonize over my choice for long. I wanted a single scene where the themes of medicine and women’s friendships and support for one another would shine. I found those three pages in Chapter 8. And, I found interest in Eliza’s story and accolades for the descriptions and emotive explorations from the audience of 15 people who stayed late on Saturday for the readings. Other readers received suggestions to improve their scene. So, it wasn’t like critical feedback was being withheld. I’m going to cling to the idea the comments and praise I heard were genuine.
I begged out early from the readings to get home to bed. I had a 3:50am alarm set for Sunday morning. Even though I was mentally drained from the 3-day conference, I woke easily and walked the mile up to our Village center with my friend Judy where we reported for a 4:30 A.M. start to our volunteer shift at the water stop of the Pan Mass Challenge. For anyone outside of MA, the PMC is a two-day, 190-mile bike ride from central MA to the tip of Cape Cod which aims to raise $60 million for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Jim and I support a few friends who ride every year as a way to honor and remember Jim’s brother and my sister-in-law, and so many others who’ve we lost to the cancer crisis. Seven years ago, I decided I wanted to do more than write a check which meant for three hours this morning Judy and I slapped together, cut and served a few hundred PB&J and Fluffenutter sandwiches to the 7,000 riders coming in after their first leg of 20 miles.
Inspiration comes from the most unlikeliest spots, including at 6:00 A.M. when you peel off the plastic gloves covered in PB&J and look out to a sea of colorful shirts, decorated bike helmets, tight bike shorts on every shape and sized body, and you begin to clap. Thank you PMC riders. You’ve inspired me to continue my trek despite the hills and bumps in the road which may lie ahead.