Last month, I attended the seventh Women's Fiction Festival (WFF). It took place in Matera from Sept. 23rd to Sept. 26th, 2010. Matera is located in the South of Italy, roughly where you'd expect the Achilles heel in the boot-like Italian country-shape. The meetings were held in the historical Sassi district, a town set like a honeycomb into stone, remarkable enough to be elected as an Unesco world heritage site. For this conference, you need the most comfortable shoes you have plus a good sense of equilibrium to manage those incredible stairs - but the atmosphere feels as if it's straight out of a romance.
"The WFF is the only international writer's conference in the world," says Elizabeth Jennings, founder and director of the WFF and romance writer. She set up this conference because she knew that in Europe, writer's conference are as rare as watering holes in the Sahara. Roughly eighty people from the US, the UK, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands attended the 7th WFF (for a full list of all international agents and editors present, you can refer to the WFF website, www.womensfictionfestival.com). I had the opportunity to pitch to twelve (!) international editors and agents, so interesting and challenging. When I saw agents pitching their customer's manuscripts to publishers from several European countries, noticed editors networking beyond the stressed scope of the Frankfurt fair, and saw how debut authors rub shoulders with the professionals of the industry, I realized that this festival is a truly international and unique opportunity.
The presentations and panels offer information about the state of the industry in several countries, about new trends in the publishing business, and about the craft of writing. As every presentation is simultaneously translated (via headphones), you don't need to speak Italian to profit from the WFF. For pitches, there are also interpretors at hand. If you get an agent or editor from another country interested, they ask you to get the first three chapters and the synopsis translated . . . so ultimately, you might end up selling your first novel to another country than your own.
However, to fully enjoy the evening program, a good knowledge of Italian helps. This year, the entertainment covered amongst others a Vampire play, walks through the historical city, and a staged murder solved during dinner. The focus of the WFF is on networking, and the schedule allows plenty of time for personal meetings, Italian food, and special inspiration by the many church bells. You might have to get used to the late Italian hours and somewhat erratic schedule changes ("If it rains, the fireworks will start at 7 p.m., if not, at 08.30 p.m."), but the same flexibility also works for you if you spontaneously decide to pitch your novel to yet another editor.
So far, I have only been to one other writer's conference - the RWA national conference in Washington DC in 2009. I imagine those two could hardly be more opposite, but both worked for me, and I thought I'd let you know!