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If it weren’t for the Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference in Columbus, Georgia, I would still be searching for an agent or a publisher for my first novel. I attended the 2011 conference at the urging of my mother, who lives in Georgia and who has been the number one fan of my writing for a very long time.
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I didn’t know anyone at the conference when I arrived at the Columbus Public Library in late September two years ago. But I met two people who turned out to be instrumental to me and my book. The first was the Florida-based agent Nicole Resciniti, who critiqued the first few chapters of the novel (which was then titled An Incident in Paragould), and was very enthusiastic about my work, even using the word “brilliant” a couple of times to describe the book’s characters (I have never in my life been associated with anything that someone described as “brilliant,” so my conversation with Mrs. Resciniti is forever wired in my memory synapses). While Nicole did not decide to represent me, she did help make my book better, getting me to rewrite the first 20 pages so that they were more action-packed and arrived at the story’s key conflict – a small town’s struggle with its diminishing fortunes – more quickly.

The second person I met was Dr. Marc Jolley, director of Mercer University Press, who handed me an entry form for the 2012 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction. Luckily, I kept that form and entered my book, revamped chapters and all, the following spring. A few months later, I got a call from Dr. Jolley, and my 10-year quest to become a published author hit the fast tract to reality. A Plot for Pridemore will debut as a paperback in May 2014.

If you’ve written a book, or have a good idea for one, I strongly encourage you to attend a writer’s conference. There’s nothing quite as effective as meeting face-to-face with people who might directly influence your career. I attended exactly one conference – after two years of sending out unsolicited query letters to every literary agency I could find – and I managed to land two key contacts. So, if you have the money, go to a conference. And if you’re in the South, consider The Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference on Sept. 26-28. I highly recommend it.