Friday, May 8, 2015

Scared in Seattle: A Conference First-Timer Shares Her Journey

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one night a few months ago, and I noticed a Writer’s Digest link for something called Seattle Writer’s Workshop. It intrigued me, so I clicked on it. I read through the information and thought it sounded fantastic! Attendees could have their query letter critiqued by Chuck Sambuchino, listen to him speak all day about the ins and outs of writing and publishing, and pitch a manuscript to an agent. A REAL LIVE AGENT! AN AGENT! I thought that was huge! Where else could little ol’ me from the middle of nowhere ever pitch an agent? I signed up without delay and began searching airfare.

On the plane ride to Seattle, I was a bundle of nerves. What if I was making a mistake? It could be a very huge and expensive mistake. I tried not to think about it, I just kept practicing my pitch in my head, and of course, wrote a few new ideas down. I’m a picture book writer, and ideas are everywhere. I tried to sleep, but that was no use. I was far too excited.

The morning of the workshop, walking down the hallway to the workshop felt surreal. My heart raced, but I steadied my pace and adjusted my shoulder bag.

“What is your name, please?” the woman asked.
“Barbara Siemen.” I pointed to a name badge on the table.
“Oh hey, you’re Farm Barbie!” a man said, as he handed me a blue folder.
***Stunned and in complete shock with wide eyes and mouth hanging open***
“Yes, yes, I am Farm Barbie.” I managed to reply.

WHOA. I think that was Chuck. As in Sambuchino. The same Chuck Sambuchino that has written the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. The same Chuck Sambuchino that is presenting at today’s workshop. Sure, I had strategically interacted with him on Twitter prior to the workshop, but I did not believe he would recognize or notice me, let alone call me Farm Barbie! That was, by far, one of the coolest things that has happened to me in a long time. Thanks, Chuck.

The workshop was well organized; it was clear to me that Mr. Sambuchino is a seasoned speaker and an accomplished veteran in writing and publishing.

He spoke about the two publishing options today: traditional publishing and self-publishing. Both are good and bad in their own way and for very different reasons. 

He talked about agents; what they do, how you contact one, how to query and submit a manuscript to one, and how to pitch to one. 

He also touched on creating a writer platform and told us 10 things to remember to help us get published. I laughed out loud at one of them, “In the face of rejection, just keep moving forward. And eat ice cream until the pain stops.”

I also absolutely loved his comment about recognizing the value in yourself. Even if an entire manuscript is bad, don’t throw it away! There might be some good stuff in there you can reuse some other time. 

Finally, he told us to “put down the remote.” In other words, we need more butt-in-chair days, where we have no other agenda than to just write. He also facilitated a “first page critique fest," in which five agents critiqued the first page of several manuscripts. It was quite eye opening to see how quickly the agents blew through those first pages.

During the workshop, I befriended a few fine ladies. At first, we exchanged polite chitchat, and then over lunch we talked more about writing and I practiced my pitch on them. I confessed my nerves and they advised me to not tell the agent, Adria Olson, that I had never pitched before nor that I was so nervous I could barf up my burger.

When it was my turn to pitch, I sat across the table from her, introduced myself, and extended my hand. She, too, recognized me as Farm Barbie from Twitter, just as Chuck had in the early morning. I was flabbergasted. After I got over the shock, I began rambling my pitch to her. I’m sure I forgot a lot of key details, even though I had cheat notes written on all five fingers of my left hand, discreetly buried in my lap. 

She offered me a business card, and said I could email my query letter and manuscript. I was over the MOON! Even if the agency decides my manuscript isn’t quite right for them, I will still forever be grateful for this chance. It was an absolute pleasure meeting you, Adria! I think you are darling! If I ever write a mermaid tale, I am sending it to you.

No matter the outcome of this manuscript submission, I’m still proud of myself for the things I accomplished with this trip. The truth is, I’m a newbie writer that flew across country alone for the first time EVER (at 35 years old!), attended my first writer’s conference without knowing a single soul, and pitched my first manuscript for the first time. That’s a lot of firsts all in one weekend, ladies and gentlemen.

Barbara Siemen, also known as Farm Barbie, is a city-girl turned country-chick thanks to falling in love with a farmer. She and her husband Darrin, along with their three children, own and operate his family’s centennial dairy farm in Michigan’s Thumb region. Farm Barbie describes herself as a professional farmer’s wife and stay at home mom, an amateur photographer, chef, and fashionista, and an aspiring children’s book author. 

Barbara flew across country to attend her first writing conference and had a grand adventure, but if sticking close to home is more your present speed, SCBWI-MI's spring conference is only one week away. The Hook of the Book conference is on Saturday, May 16th in Dexter, MI.

Feeling jittery with nerves and excitement? SCBWI-MI member, Vicky Lorencen has attended conferences and workshops near and far, and she's written some excellent checklists to help you prepare:

Happy reading!


  1. I'd always blown off the idea that attending a writers' conference was the best way to get things moving toward publication. Then I went to one. As you showed, they can be an awesome experience in so many ways. Congrats and good luck on your submission request!

  2. I've been thinking about going to a conference where Chuck S. is speaking... And, now, I'm convinced it's a good idea! Great posting--thanks for sharing! And best of luck with all your writing projects.