When I arrived at the Airport Marriott in Pittsburgh Friday for the Pennwriters Conference, my friend told me about a “read and critique” session happening after the keynote dinner. All I needed was two pages of my manuscript and a one paragraph synopsis, formatted correctly. No name. Easy, right?


I sequestered myself in my hotel room and kludged together a one paragraph synopsis from my existing five paragraph version that I hadn’t looked at since my last cold query. While I was at it, I further tormented myself by scrolling through 315 pages in search of the two pages that best displayed my work (turns out they only wanted my first two pages). I then found the hotel’s business center, retrieved the doc from gmail and printed. Easy peasy. Raced through the hotel in sky high heels and arrived at the room — just in time — to learn they needed not one, but three copies.

And that wasn’t all.

The moderator was to read everything aloud to a room full of my peers. What if the agents hated it? Tore it apart? And then I had to pitch it the next day? But in my own moment of truth, I was forced to make a decision. I decided to take that leap and put, if not myself, my manuscript out there.

While my heart pounded out of my ears, I sat through one full peer critique and then stole back to the business center to fix my cobbled synopsis and print two additional copies, which involved stealing paper from another printer, and more running on said impractical heels.

After an hour or so of listening to and observing moderator reading and agent critiquing, it was my turn. They had time for one last piece. Mine. And then something incredible happened.

I got actual feedback. From industry experts.

I could hug them.

This didn’t involve the sting of an email rejection, or worse, no reply at all, which leaves even the most confident writer wondering what went awry (an indiscriminate delete?). No, this forum allowed us an inside peek at what agents want.

Why did I put myself through such trauma? If I wanted to hear how wonderful my manuscript is, I’d ask my mother. And I’d appreciate it. But it wouldn’t make my manuscript better.

Nobody said a writing career would be easy. Nobody said agents, editors, and publishers would find us and knock on our door. But, with top-notch conferences such as the one Pennwriters organizes year after year, anything is possible.

Thank you, Pennwriters.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I’d do it all again tomorrow.