The DFW Writers Workshop's gong show is an epic event. Every year at the DFWCon, the writer's conference run by the Workshop, aspiring author's submit their queries to a panel of judges, high-level agents and editors, for feedback and maybe for success. The gong show's host read queries one by one. At the moment a judge finds something wrong with the query, she bangs on the gong. Three gongs, the host stops reading, and the judges provide a critique as to why it didn't work. If the host reads your query to the end, then you've hit it big. Applause and cheers. Maybe a full request.
The show's fun, but it can be brutal.
It's like a trial or a gladiatorial game. Your query versus the panel. Sometimes their critique cuts sharply or smashes bluntly.
But you can't fear the criticism. You've got to put the query out there. Make it a learning experience to hone your craft or to find out if your story is gonna work. Brave the experience, and sometimes it can lead to something amazing.
I experienced one DFWCon before, so I knew what to expect from a Gong Show. Not many queries make it to the end. But I took notes, learned from the panel's feedback, and honed my pieces with the help of critique partners.
Prepared and confident, I submitted two queries, slipping them neatly folded into the box of doom.
That morning, I pitched my completed manuscript: an MG fantasy adventure about a young chef battling it out in a magical cooking competition. Despite the nervous buzz in my gut, I managed a fine session with a fantastic agent and got a full request. Things were looking up, and I hoped my good fortune would continue throughout the conference.
The Gong Show happened the next afternoon, the last day of the Con. The final event. The make-or-break moment (If it even happened. It's not guaranteed you'll get your query read).
The two hosts kicked off the event by introducing the judges armed with a gong and mallet. That year, there were agents off stage who could be judges, too. That made the panel of ten or more judges, upping the odds for a rejection.
One of the hosts began reading the entries. Deep-voiced and enthusiastic, he was like the radio announcer for the literary pantheon.
The gong show was intense. The panel relentlessly gonged the first several queries; none survived.
Then the host began reading mine, and I braced for the worst. So much for confidence. Line after line, I could feel a buildup of energy from the crowd and the judges. One of the agents off stage got up and struck a gong. Two more would mean the end, but before I knew it, the host read the last line and held up my query. The crowd exploded with cheers. Shocking. Abso-freaking-lutely shocking. Frozen with disbelief, I sat there until my writing friends told me to stand and bow, which I did without looking too much like an idiot. A couple of agents requested full manuscripts right then and there. Crazy.
Except, the query that was read was not for my completed MG fantasy that I brought to battle, I mean, to pitch. It was for another manuscript, CARDSLINGER, which was incomplete.
You see, although it was a story I would read, I had no idea if a Wild West/card game/mythology/adventure mashup would connect with, well, anyone. I feared it wasn't worth the time and effort to finish.
But with its success at The Gong Show, CARDSLINGER got its giddyup.
Three years later, after dozens of revisions, I sent it out to the world, including one of the agents who requested it from the stage. She loved it, and I got "the call" with an offer of representation.
Now, CARDSLINGER is a real book, published on August 6th, 2019 by Carolrhoda Books. It never would've happened, if I didn't face what could've been a heartbreaking disaster.
Learn, create, and be relentless. Go to conferences. Join critique groups. Give and take feedback. Brave the unknown, the slush pile, or a panel of cold-blooded agents.