A Day with Best Selling Author Claire Cook at the Atlanta Writers Conference

By Mayra CuevasLast weekend I attended my second writers conference organized by the Atlanta Writers Club. If you read my previous post about my first writing conference you will know the bar was set pretty low. Last time, I walked into my agent pitch session with a tear in the back of my dress and my underwear showing. This time, I am happy to report my garments were properly stitched. Sadly that was not the case with my writing. The threads of my first chapter came undone after I received an agent critique that reminded me that I have many, many drafts ahead of me. But more on that later.As part of the conference, I got to spend a day with award winning best selling author Claire Cook, whose story and advice I found very inspiring.Cook began working on her first novel at age 45, after a career as a teacher. Five years later, one of her books, Must Love Dogs, had been adapted into a movie and Cook was attending the Hollywood premier. She has written one novel a year since her debut. Her eleventh novel,Time Flies releases in June.Here are 10 things I learned from Cook:1. Cook writes 2 pages a day, seven days a week. The result is a rough draft in 6 months. During each writing session she quick edits her last two pages to get back in the grove and pushes two pages forward.2. The biggest mistake writers make, she said, is “premature submission”. Most agents will only give you one read. Cook advised to take your time with self-editing. Finish your draft and put it away for six weeks, she said, then re-read it with fresh eyes. After you have a self-edited draft, send it to six readers of your choosing and ask them to bracket anything that is confusing. Include return postage if you are sending them a hard copy. When you receive all six copies compare them and see what areas were marked by the majority of your readers. In this way you will know if you really need to fix something or if it is just a matter of opinion. Your readers are not telling you how to fix the book, but what works and what doesn’t.3. Join a group. Either a critique group that meets regularly or a Facebook private group that can help you build your promotion and exchange ideas.4. The most important thing is your voice, not the story itself. There are no new stories, just your spin on them. It is important that who you are in real life if the same person the reader meets in the pages of your book. The heart, personality and authenticity need to come across in your writing.5. Stick to categories that editors and publishers know how to sell.6. Re-read the books that you loved when you started reading, they will give you structure.7. At the stage of starting your writing career, a big publisher can launch your career and give you access to places you can not reach on your own. When you have built a following, you can consider owning some of your own books. Cook, who self-published two of her titles, said, there comes a time when you need to consider what books you are giving to your publisher and which ones you can self-publish.8. On query letters, Cook said, you should find agents by looking up their names in the acknowledgment section of the books you like to read. When you query them, mention their client list and how you fit in it, then give an elevator pitch about your book and talk about yourself.9. Cook said it is important to meet people at events, such as writers conferences.  She encouraged everyone to exchange contact information and use those contacts to begin building your sphere of influence.10. On rejection, Cook said, it is part of the process, so be open to it. When an agent rejects your book at a conference, you should not waste your time trying to change their mind, but instead ask poignant questions and ask for advice.What bit of Cook’s advice did you find helpful as a writer? I would love to hear about it, please leave your comment below.