Last weekend, I attended my first writer’s conference. I arrived with no expectations, no readied sales pitch of my book, no friends and no plans other than to enrich myself through the workshops. In many ways, the conference exceeded my hopes.
But (and of course this is what the post is all about….the “buts”), I discovered some things I didn’t realize were a part of a conference of this type. Here are my secrets:
First–Find someone to attend the conference with you. It seemed like a lot of people knew each other either from past conferences or they teamed up immediately with someone. I don’t know which. I knew no one (except my great husband who came along for the weekend and goofed off) and occasionally people spoke to me. Okay, that’s not really true. They rarely spoke to me UNLESS I spoke first. I spent a lot of time smiling at folks, asking them questions about themselves (people love to talk about themselves) and attempting to make conversation. I don’t know if I looked like I had antennae growing out of my head or what, but for a bunch of people hankering to impress the powers that be (I suppose that would be the agents, publishers and published authors), they sure were clique-ish.
Secondly–Attend everything offered even if you if you don’t imbibe in alcohol. There seemed to be a lot of time spent in the hotel bar. I get it–it’s a way to network with folks. My suggestion to the conference sponsors would be to have a social in a coffee house or something. And for the record, I do enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail from time to time.
Third–Even if you have worked on your book for twenty years, had everyone under the sun read it and give their suggestions to you, taken writing classes, etc. if you aren’t in a critique group before you arrive, you are at a disadvantage. Most people who read my blog know that we live in the mountains and joining a critique group is near to impossible for me. Critique groups are probably very helpful. I suppose they could help you work out the kinks in your writing. I thought my book was past that point. The kinks, that is.
Fourth–Be careful what you sign up for. I signed up to have a one on one critique with an agent. It was great help and the agent was nice enough to allow me to send more of my book to her. In the afternoon, I was to be part of a small group critique session with a very successful author. Things changed and instead I ended up in a session with an egomaniac of an agent who spent a lot of time talking about her successes and not much time actually helping us. By the way, she HATED my book (or at least what she thought I had written–too bad she jumped to conclusions) and was very little assistance to me. These extra sessions cost extra money–make sure you know what you are paying for and it’s worth spending your hard earned money. Was the second session worth it? Not so much.
Fifth–If you could read just about every book ever written it would help. No seriously. I can’t even count how many times someone said, “This book is similar to blah-blah-blah’s book entitled blah-blah-blah”. I understand that reading successful authors’ books is vital to one’s writing, but I don’t think people should look down their noses at someone because they haven’t heard of the book. Give me a break!
Sixth–Lastly, there are no secrets to being the newbie. As in any new situation, one is a newbie. Perhaps the newest attendees could have networked over a drink in the bar (har har) with the opportunity to meet with the agent, publishers and authors all by themselves. In theater, we have professional auditions we call “Cattle Calls”. Cattle Calls are two minute auditions for performers hoping to be employed to sing, dance and act in such a fashion that directors notice you and want to hire you. This conference felt a lot like a cattle call. “Notice me! Notice me!” Oy..
One short story here at the end–I met a wonderfully, enthusiastic woman from Kansas who told me that she was attending four regional conferences all in one month. She is determined to get her book published. I admired her tenacity and that, my friends, is what I walked away from the conference thinking about–tenacity. So I repledge myself to be tenacious about Meanie Bea (notice no apostrophe–the nice agent suggested it) and keep on keeping on.
Hi Deborah, Thanks for the conference de-brief and I hope you put some of your conference ideas on the feedback survey we’re supposed to get. I feel bad, personally, that I was not more outgoing. I did know a lot of people there and was indeed happy to see them, but I didn’t stay for the dinner or any of the Sunday P.M. sessions. Having been down the rapids a few times, I’ve learned to be as selective as possible, and even then the targets wiggle. Like you, I live too far away from anything to be in a critique group. I tried one for a while, but I was teaching full time then, and it did me in. I, too, have been the victim of a negative critique, and sensitive me, it completely stopped me finishing one of my books. So, if you still believe in your project, don’t quit!!!! I now have three books in print via the traditional publishing route, and I’m just now trying self-publishing on a re-written out of print book. Lots of choices, and lots of ways to accomplish what you want. Hang in there, keep networking, and keep exploring options and your project will come together. Feel free to contact me. Website: http://www.nancyoswald.com or main email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sounds like you learned a lot! Great advice and great writing as usual. 🙂
Thanks, honey. Now just need time to submit the book to the agent.