Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why You Want To Go To The Surrey Writers' Conference

At last year's SiWC conference, I tried to register for this year's conference before we left for the airport. It was that good! But, the lady at the desk just smiled and said registrations would open for this year's conference sometime in June 2010. They opened yesterday.

Conferences can be a waste of time, but not this one. This one was fun from the outset, but more importantly, it offers everything you could wish for in workshops plus chances to talk to editors, agents and authors. Blue pencil sessions allow you to have 10 - 15 minutes of a pro's attention to make a pitch, ask questions and pick the minds of some pretty heavy duty authors.

Members of our group, the Saskatchewan Romance Writers, came away with pots full of interest in their works. Offers were made to them, ranging from a request for a manuscript, to introductions to an agent. One editor asked one of our gals for a look at a manuscript that isn't even written yet, but she liked the idea and she liked our writer's work. There was a lot of interest in one author's work from one of the huge names in agents.

I lay back in the weeds last year so I could make the best pitches etc I can this year. I was greatly encouraged by the successes of SRW writers. I did get a request to sign up to write for an ezine that actually pays for submissions. Since all my writing experience so far (except for all the unfinished manuscripts around the house) has been in non-fiction it was an interesting offer.

Non-fiction writers are not ignored. There are some terrific workshops lined up for this year. I took a few workshops with a university professor who has won a Pulitzer for journalism. Wow. And that coment is definitely non-fiction. I have been freelancing for newspapers, magazines, radio and tv since 1966 and felt pretty confident about it - especially after winning two national awards, but this lady taught me things of a whole new depth.

The name of the conference is Surrey International Writers' Conference or SiWC. It started as a project by the Surrey, BC School District and it has grown to be what Anne Perry and Diana Gabaldon both commented , is the best conference in North America.

So, there is my enthusiasm reiterated, but why would you be interested?

Writers collect writing tips like kids collecting candy at Hallowe'en. There will never be enough. So, SiWC is the chance to sit at the feet of authors - actually in some uncomfortable chairs - and listen, tape or take reams of notes if that is the way you operate. You can ask questions of the presenters who are top names in the profession. You can ask authors making millions for the priceless tips on what you need in an agent or ask an agent on how to catch one. Agents are nearly as difficult to snag as publishers. The likes of Donald Maass, who is a top international agent, talks about what is needed to attract an agent and how to write the kind of novel that sells. Or you can ask known authors the details of how they got to where they are i.e. how many editors turned them down and why their agent walks on water. How do they get ediors so good they get mentioned in the thank-you-I couldn't-have-done-it-without-you-notes at the front of the book.

When you get to feeling low about rejection slips remember, these people have a collection of them too. By the way, what do you suppose the editor, who rejected J.K. Rowlins and Harry Potter, does for a living now? Walmart you say? Stock boy?

Just imagine walking into a Walmart store and casually saying to an employee "Oh, aren't you the editor who rejected my book which is now published in 30 languages, in 100 countries and just passed the one million sales mark? Dreams are free. Have lots of really good ones and find out from the pros how you are going to get that call that says you are now a professional author. If you see yourself as an author and believe in yourself and work like a dog, maybe for years, you will get that call.

And meanwhile, attend the SiWC and take in all that priceless information like a hungry man at a Roman feast. There are a zillion ideas to take in and endless opportunities to learn, learn, learn how to sell, sell, sell.

Authors - 25 of them - include names like Jeff Arch, Julia Quinn, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry and Jack Whyte. (If you haven't read Jack Whytes book Skystone, take your embarrassed little self to the library post haste). It is book one of a series and I have to pry them away from Husband to get my turn reading them. Whyte was my choice for a blue pencil session. He liked my three pages (YES!) and gave me some really useful comments.

There are two things: be mean - when the over person's 15 minutes are up, throw them aside bodily and sit down for your turn in a Blue Pencil session. I politely let the lady ahead of me gab on and ended up with only seven of my 15 minutes.

Second: getting there from the airport is a journey Indiana Jones could make a whole new movie about, as it requires, buses, sky trains, walking, more buses, a taxi. My advice? Find someone else who is going and share a taxi. It is $50 for a very long ride, but psychiatrists cost a lot more.

There are other conferences. Have you been to one or more? Have you been to the SiWC? (Check their web site SiWC for the lowdown and to register). Was it worth it? What did you pick up that was a treasure? (Not the silver, the ideas please.)

The SiWC early bird fee is $499 for Friday morning to early Sunday afternoon, Oct. 22-24 and that includes meals. Hotel rooms at a special cost are $119 per night. Most of us share.

See you there. Believe me, it's worth it!


Janet said...

Because all my friends are going and I had such a great time there last year and...

Unfortunately, won't be attending this year due to visitors descending upon us in the month of October (something to do with the autumn colors). But, I will live vicariously through all of you - so make sure you do lots of posts after the fact!

Next year - RWA New York - who's with me?

connie said...


Sorry you aren't going to make it but you will enjoy fall colours. I miss them. My street was a very old portage/road. Huge mapls and oak met across the road making atnnel of colour.

RWA New York - more info?

connie said...

Janet - maples, tunnel, awfully early in my kind of day - oh rats - truth - I didn't' edit

Karyn Good said...

I won't be in Surry this fall, but I will get there one of these years. Such a wonderful conference with an impeccable reputation and relatively close in the grand scheme of things.

I'm with you, Janet. I've got my mind set on RWA New York in 2011.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis said...

Hi Connie:

Thank you for all your wonderful SiWC feedback. We LOVE encouragement and positive feedback!

It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve on the board since SiWC began in Oct. 1996. Successes (major and minor), friendships forged, and supporting writers of all ages and genres have been the essence of SiWC success. What outstanding support you have all given us!

SiWC was actually the brainchild of local author (former Milwaukee priest and city councillor) Ed Griffin. In 1996 he asked our writer's group: "How about strating a writers' conference?". Four of us (plus Ed)agreed. Ed made a presentation to Surrey Continuing Education. It's not the their role to be involved in outside independent conferences as a progam, so it was a hard sell. However,they agreed to sponsor us by handling registration and bookkeping. They've been our major sponsor ever since. Con. Ed Principal Tara Holt has been our loyal SD#36 representative for the past three years.

The bulk of the work year-round is done by a volunteer board of seven. Increased work load drove us to employing a Conference Coordinator about six years ago. Kathy Chung of Richmond stars in that role this year. A legion of outstanding volunteers slave away for SiWC during the conference.

I serve on a number of boards, but this one, and this conference, have been more than rewarding.
We all absolutely delight in oonnecting helping to connecd the writing community through SiWC.

We look forward to welcoming you 'home' again this year.

~ Ursula

~ Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Writer. Photographer. Editor
Twitter: @YouTravel
Twitter @SiWCtweets

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hey Connie,
You're preaching to the choir here! Ha ha!

I'm registered, flights booked, hotel set up! I have my pitch session and blue pencil sessions set - and both were my top choice.

I'm stoked!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
Yes, SiWC was a blast last year. Alas, I will not be going this fall. I really need to finish the projects I pitched last fall before I go again!

The chance to meet and rub elbows with well known authors and big name agents was fabulous. Also eye-opening. In the SiWC Idol workshop, brave writers offered up the first couple of pages of their manuscripts for dissection by agents. I got a glimpse of what goes on in an agent's office when she receives a submission. Most of the manuscripts were rejected before Jack Whyte finished reading the first page, sometimes before he finished reading the first couple of sentences! This workshop reinforced for me the absolute necessity of a killer opening. That alone was worth the price of admission.

I'll definitely consider going to Surrey again in 2011, but the idea of going to New York for RWA Conference is also intriguing. Guess I'd better start saving my pennies!


Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'll be there as well! Intrigued by my blue pencil choice, and wondering if choosing the very first pitch appointment with my agent will prove smart or no. At least he won't be tired already! For my blue pencil session though, I'll be laying the boots if I don't get in that seat at my appointed time ;)

I read the directions to the hotel from the airport a few days before I registered. It's an amusing ordeal. And just think what it would have been like before the Canada Line went in for the Games!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your great post about SiWC.

Just a quick note about the trek from airport to hotel: closer to the conference, we'll post a ride share blog on our site at so people flying in can arrange to meet up and share cabs. Check that out in October.

See you in Surrey!
Kathy, SiWC Conference Coordinator

connie said...

Why is it that you edit and edit a blog until you kow for sure there are no errors and then read it published and find enough errors to send you back to a grade 10 grammar class?

connie said...

Hello Karyn

Hate to see you miss this year's conference - what is it they say - anticipation is half the pain? Trust me, the SiWC is worth the wait.

The last time I was in NYC was in 1962. We sat in Birdland and listened to Gene Krupa (yes, there were other musicians) in an after hours jam session. They couldn't have gotten us to leave with a pry bar. We walked up the middle of the street and Times Square at 5 a.m. It's a crime memories like that are no longer available.

connie said...

Ursula - it was my pleasure. I love to share good memories with others whether they would rather be doing ANYTHING else or not and SiWC is a great memory.

Thank you for straightening me out on the origins of the conference.

From acorns, mighty oaks grow.

Yes, I'll be home this October. I'll be the one with bells on.

connie said...


Way to be!

I haven't registered yet but that is next tonight after I write another column. I discovered the other day that I have written a column 52 weeks a year for 12 years and eight months, plus 40 odd years of freelance and reporting and do you know what? I still can't touch type.

You haven't found a taxi partner yet. May I volunteer? What and when is your flight?

141 days!

connie said...


You earned some really great opportunities last year. We'll miss you for sure and I hope we will hear how each of them turns out. Happy writing

connie said...

Hello Hayley

With your work, it won't matter if the pitching catcher is awake or asleep and snoring, he'll be impressed. (you can borrow the hat pin if you like)

I also will be getting my every second's worth of blue pencil time. Remember the hat pin? This year, you may see it in action!

connie said...


What a great idea - I will be looking for that travel blog.

But, will be there if I have to walk

connie said...


Yes, the trip from the airport is an amusing ordeal, very similar to a jaunt across some hot coals or losing the reins of a run away horse. I don't want to think about it without the Canada Line - in fact, I don't want to think about it at all.

Hazel did it and was still smiling, also panting and dragging her suitcase behind her....

Did you see what Kathy (SiWC co-ordinator) wrote. There will be a way to join up with some recalcitrant folk and share a taxi ride this year.