Shannon Messenger is a Middle Grade Fantasy author represented by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. She studied Screenwriting and Film/Television Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. But after working in Hollywood for about a year she realized she really wanted to write books, so she left LA for a suburban life that would allow more time to write. You can find her online at her personal blog or on Twitter.
Katrina Lantz: WriteOnCon was seriously epic, historic, unprecedented! As one of its organizers, did you expect WriteOnCon to garner as much industry support as it did? To what do you owe this?
Shannon Messenger: I think it's safe to say that we were all stunned. I can still remember one of our early group chats, where we were still trying to figure out how on earth we were going to build an online writer's conference. We ended up with a single goal: we just wanted nine contributors. One agent, one editor, and one author for each of the three days. It seemed impossible at the time--would nine people really be willing to help out? So it is AMAZING that we ended up with 59 contributors. And I think it really says something about how awesome and supportive the children's publishing industry is. We had very few people turn us down--and only then because they had scheduling conflicts. Most people offered to do more, and I'm still blown away by their generosity and support.
Katrina: What were your thoughts on opening morning when thousands flocked to the site to participate in the first free online writer's conference?
Shannon: Well, my experience was a little different than the other girls, because I'm a west coaster AND I overslept (I know, of all the days to oversleep...). So by the time I jumped out of bed and grabbed my laptop, the website had already crashed. The first thing I did was check the WriteOnCon email to see if there were any problems, and when over 300 messages popped up I realized something was wrong. From there it was a whirlwind of trying to find out what happened, trying to respond to everyone, telling them where to find the content, and getting caught up, which was pretty much an all day thing (I sent about 700 emails that day, missed all of my meals, and finally had ice cream for dinner at about 11pm.) And it wasn't until I sat down to eat my cookies and cream that I realized that all that work and chaos was because we had SO many people attending. All those hundreds of emails were people at our conference--who were patiently bearing with our technical difficulties and taking part in this thing we built from an idea and a bunch of emails. It was very humbling.
Katrina: What was the hardest part about WriteOnCon's organization?
Shannon: Keeping up with all the email chains. Since there were seven of us--and we liked to make all decisions collectively--we generated a LOT of email (I'm kinda surprised gmail didn't cancel my account). I was also the one in charge of the WriteOnCon email address, so I've sent and received more emails in the last four months than I have in the last couple of years. Good thing I LOVE email. It was just a little hard to stay organized, and to make sure I didn't forget to respond to anything important.
Katrina: What was the most important thing you learned this year that will help with future online conferences?
Shannon: Um, I guess the most obvious is that we definitely need a better place to host our website, so we don't have to ever think about error 403 again. But besides that, I think what I learned--more than anything else--is that we can do this. In the beginning we were so nervous to email people asking them to help, and I know I at least was super worried that we'd have a major website crash and it would all fall apart. But people did say yes when we asked them to help--and they went above and beyond what we asked for. And the website did crash, but we pulled it together and made it work. So this time I'm going to try not to be so worried. We want to make next year's conference even more awesome than this one, which means reaching out to even more people, maybe incorporating some other technologies that could give us issues. But we'll find a way to make it work, and with the fabulous support of the writing community it will happen.
Katrina: What's next for WriteOnCon? The discussion forums remain active. What role do you see WriteOnCon playing between annual conferences?
Shannon: We actually have big plans to keep the site active during the time between conferences, and the plan is to host some live events and maybe some contests between now and then to keep people stopping by. At the moment we don't have anything officially organized, but keep an eye on our blogs and on the WriteOnCon blog for announcements of what's to come. :)
(Update: Epic Giveaway of Epic Epicness going on right now at WriteOnCon.com. Make sure to fly over and comment to win books, critiques, and swag (I love that word)! This is all building up to the launch of their new MONTHLY LIVE EVENTS!!! They have a few literary agents listed and more names coming! Stay tuned for that, too. They're hoping to announce them early next week.)
Katrina: We think it's amazing the work you all did to put on such an amazing conference, and for FREE! Will next year's conference still be free?
Shannon: That is definitely the plan. We didn't create this to be a money making venture--and we don't want it to become one. This was our way of giving back to the writing community, and letting other publishing professionals do the same. BUT--we are realizing that there will be certain costs we can't avoid (better website hosting, for instance)--so we're adding a donate button to the website to hopefully raise enough to cover those, so that none of us have to be out of pocket. That way if people like what we gave them and want to chip in a little bit to help us out, they can. But if they can't afford it, it won't be something that excludes them from the conference.
(Update: The donate button is up and rockin'! They're halfway to their goal to support WriteOnCon 2011 (and you SO KNOW you want to be there). There's no obligation to pony up, but it will give you extra entries in the contests and make you feel warm and fuzzy. $5 from each person is a great start. It's a tiny fraction of what other conferences cost. So show your support! Shannon asked me to thank you for all the support and donations so far, and all of you who retweet and blog about the giveaways. You are what makes WriteOnCon awesome.)
Katrina: Do you know of any success stories (agents and authors who found each other during the conference)?
Shannon: I know quite a few people who emailed me to say that they found critique partners, or are now doing major re-writes/revisions on their drafts because of advice they received at our conference. I also know Mary Kole trolled the forums and requested some pages, and a couple of other people let me know that agents requested pages from them. So we're crossing our fingers that those will lead to even better success stories in the future.
Katrina: And lastly, what makes a writer awesome?
Shannon: Killer writing and great characters--of course. But I think being accessible online takes a writer just one step further. When I can follow them on Twitter or read their blog and really connect with them, it just makes me love them so much more. Especially if they take the time to respond to @replies or comments.
Katrina: I LOVE accessible writers. Made my whole week when @gailcarriger replied to my review. Great answer!
I think I speak for the online writing community when I say THANK YOU! And we want to show our appreciation by spreading the word about WriteOnCon, as well as its organizers. So here, for our readers, is every link I could find about Shannon Messenger, the legend. :-) Tell me in the comments if I missed anything.