So, because the meeting's title "Publishing your first novel" had me at "your," I was expecting the Cinderella story we all hope for: passive writer's anonymous fan forwards her work to immediately interested New Yorker editor, publication and movie deal to follow. The literature lottery win we all secretly believe will be ours.
Not the case here. For starters, Jeff Stepakoff, whose first novel Fireworks Over Taccoa is just out and garnering quite a lot of buzz, is no beginning writer. First does not mean amateur. He's a veteran screen and television writer and so understands how to write a story. Emphasis on story.
Throughout Jeff's talk, during which he dropped screenwriter catchphrases like "process for development" "raising the stakes," "story design" "blocking," "the cute-meet scene" and "platform," I had the feeling that these were the things he really wanted to tell us. (This was confirmed when one of his students rose and called out "If you write a good outline, you'll write a good story.")
So, yes, Jeff interviewed New York agents, who were no doubt more interested in talking to someone with a 10-year+ resume as a writer, and chose one who was happy to work with him. As he pointed out, however, agents are looking for good writers just as avidly as good writers are looking for them.
When asked how he found his agent, his answer was an unequivocal variation on "do your homework."
Read the trade pubs, look at the deals. Go to the agent your favorite writers use. That's as good a way to zero in on a prospect as any I know. I don't speak as a published author but as a job searcher, apartment hunter and erstwhile SW seeks SM. Go where you want to be.
My takeaway by far was this: The story is more important than the writing. As an erstwhile literary mag editor, I KNOW this is true. As a struggling literary writer wishing for a plot line of my own, I'm afraid it's true. In fact, the book I serialized here began with a good outline. It's really a relief to plot your book (your life?) with an outline.
My other takeaway, and Jeff was very open about this, is how much marketing an author has to do on his own. If you click on his website, you'll see events, bookclubs, life history, etc. All devoted to this one little book that, frankly, is just a nice romance, written, he admits, because that's what women like to read. (Yet another takeaway: Find out what they want and how they want it, and give it to them just that way.)
So now I want to enroll in Jeff's classes. Maybe. He's recommended Story, which I've linked here and listed on my Amazon Associates favorites list (maybe that's how I'll pay the mortgage.)