Friday, October 27, 2006

Confessions of a conference slut

I’ve been to a lot of writing conferences this year. So many, I’m embarrassed to admit the number (6).

In my defense, I started 2006 determined this would be the year I’d sign with an agent. To that end, my motivation for registering for 3 winter conferences (in Florida, San Diego and Arizona) was to meet and pitch as many agents as I could (and to get a little winter warmth at the same time). I carefully picked conferences which had agents I wanted to meet in attendance (and writer friends I wanted to connect or reconnect with). But since I actually got the offer-to-rep-call from one of my dream agents, Pamela Harty, a day before the first of these three “meet agents” conferences, I guess that excuse for conference promiscuity doesn’t hold water. (I actually picked up the message at the conference. Story here. Scroll to February 8.)

When I decided to do the winter conferences, it was supposed to be in lieu of going to RWA Nationals in 2006. But that plan fell apart too, because the agency I signed with is The Knight Agency who were throwing a 10th anniversary party at that conference. Couldn’t miss that, or the opportunity to bond with my agent, could I?

For attending the NJRWA conference in early October, I have few reputable excuses. Basically, I wanted to go to have fun with my fellow drunk writers. Nuff said.

The Surrey International Writers Conference in mid October? I wanted to go to a conference outside the RWA world (which is great, but a tad insular) and also wanted the opportunity to do the “Blue Pencil Café” sessions, during which best-selling authors (including Jennifer Crusie, Diana Gabaldon and Bob Mayer) read 3 pages of your work and then discuss it with you for 15 minutes. I really wanted to get Jennifer Crusie for this session, but who knew Bob Mayer would help me solve the biggest problem I was having with my book! Yippee! Thanks Bob.

Not conferenced out yet, I’m still cooking up new reasons for going to more, so I thought I’d put together a list for others searching for reasons.

Reasons for the newbie writer:

  • Learn the basics about the craft of writing. If you’ve never been to a conference or taken a (recent) writing class, you probably don’t know as much about writing as you think you do. (Your high school English teacher thinking you were talented doesn’t count. Sad, but true. Chances are he/she didn’t know as much as he/she thought either.)

  • Learn the basics about the industry. (If you’ve done your publishing industry research by watching movies with author protagonists, you’ve got a few rude awakenings ahead. Publishing is like no other business (and it’s certainly nothing like it’s depicted in movies). If you want to be part of it, learn as much as you can.)


  • Reasons for the intermediate writer:

  • Explore craft topics in greater detail. Are you using POV to greatest advantage? Will using the hero’s journey help to deepen your character’s arc? Will 3 (or 4) act plotting improve your pacing, make your stories more compelling? Are your characters’ motivations rooted deeply in human psychology?

  • Engage in drunk (or sober) writer talk. This recent conference has reminded me how much I enjoy talking about writing with other smart writers. Fun, fun, fun. (This reason stands for all stages.)

  • Meet other writers for support, for critique partners, for connections, for friends. (This reasons stands for all stages.)


  • Reasons for the advanced writer:

  • Share your wealth of knowledge with others

  • Argue with the instructors to spark interesting discussion

  • Get strokes if your work is praised (we all need strokes)

  • Think critically about your work

  • Perhaps be humbled…(okay, what is an advanced writer? IMHO anyone who claims to be one may just not have realized what else they have to learn yet. Or worse, may have stopped learning too soon.)


  • Reasons if you’re submitting:

  • Conference pitches can help you avoid the dreaded query letter stage of the submission process. (Skip query, go straight to submission. Sadly no $200.) While many agents I’ve spoken to say they’ve found more clients from their slush than from pitches, there’s a lot to be said for skipping over the query stage.

  • Seeing agents in “real life”. I think this is often overlooked, because when you’re looking for an agent, it’s hard to remember that writers have any control in this whole process. At conferences, you get to meet agents to help determine whether you’d want them to represent you. NB. Only submit to agents you’d love to have as your representative.


  • Reasons if you’re “close” to selling

  • Madeline Hunter does a great workshop on “Surviving Almost There” and I’d suggest that simply attending conferences and meeting other writers in a similar position can help survive almost there. Acutally, I could have simply listed Madeline Hunter as a reason to attend conferences. And Jennifer Crusie. And Bob Mayer. And Eloisa James… and lots of other good writers and editors willing to share their expertise and experience.

  • Making your own luck. There’s a lot to be said about luck and timing in this business, but if you’re not putting yourself and your writing out there, you aren’t creating opportunities for luck. Diana Peterfreund sold off contacts her critique partner made at a conference, co-drunk-writer Molly O’Keefe became involved in a Valentines anthology WHO NEEDS CUPID? based on contacts she made at a conference. Eileen Cook got a great blurb (Jennifer Crusie) for her January 2007 release IN THE STARS based on a contact at a conference.


  • Reasons if you’ve just sold

  • Writers are voracious readers. If you meet lots of writers at conferences, you’ve created a pool of people more likely than the general public to purchase your book when it comes out. At least they’ll know the book exists!

  • Writers (for the most part) support other writers—especially those they’ve met and who’ve made a good impression. Therefore contacts made at conferences can lead to future help via buying books, recommending books, reviewing books, giving cover-blurbs, blogging about books, cross-promotional ideas. All these types of things can happen via contacts made at conferences.


  • Reasons if you’re getting stale

  • Writing never gets easy. Markets change, readers get bored, writers develop blocks, editors leave, agents disappoint us—they also retire. There are lots of reasons to keep learning and keep making contacts throughout your career. (So I assume. I’ve been hypothesizing for some of these stages.)


  • Wow! There are plenty of reasons to attend a good writers conference. I’d better think about going to some more. If you’ve been looking for a good excuse and I've provided you one?—you’re welcome. Always happy to help rationalize an expensive (but smart) decision.

    5 comments:

    Sinead M said...

    Maureen, so true, and you were absolutely right to go to those conferences. You have met some amazing people and made some great friends at conferences.

    I wish I could have gone to more..

    sigh.. in the future, perhaps

    Sara Hantz said...

    You've totally got it nailed, Maureen. This is why I'll be coming over to US in 2008!

    Marley Gibson said...

    Great post, Maureen! And all very tried and true advice.

    You should turn this into an article for your RWA chapter. Really great stuff that people should read.

    Kudos!

    Marley = )

    Jordanne Ford said...

    I've only ever been to the NEC conference and it's been wonderful each time. I've learned a lot, met a lot of really nice people. And you just never know when you're going to run into another Leaf fan, right Marley?
    *waves frantically*

    See you in March, MG.

    Marley Gibson said...

    >>And you just never know when you're going to run into another Leaf fan, right Marley?
    *waves frantically*<<

    LOL!! That's right, Jordanne! GO LEAFS GO!

    ;- )

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