Saturday, June 26, 2010

Writers' Conferences

A writer who aspires to be published (or an aspiring writer) may wonder if attending a writers' conference is a good idea. My vote is YES, based on having attended just one of those conferences.

Writers' conferences come in all shapes, sizes, locations, you name it. Some are customized to particular audiences and/or genres. Some are focused on the craft of writing, some are more about the business of publishing. It can cost a little or a lot of money to attend one, so doing your research ahead of time to find the one that suits you best is a good idea. In 2009, I chose the San Diego State University (SDSU) Writers' Conference. I wanted a medium to large-sized conference that would attract good quality (so to speak) agents and editors. I wanted a general conference, not one specific to a certain genre. I could have chosen a conference closer to home, but any excuse to travel to my home town of San Diego is always welcome. Also, this was my first trip back to San Diego since I finished SHADOW POINT, so I was curious to return to many of the locations described in the book and see them again through that filter.

The conference was held in a large hotel and I elected to stay there. This turned out to be a good idea -
  • Early morning session? No problem, I was already in the building.
  • Parking? No problem, as I was a guest.
  • Too much Coca-Cola, if you know what I mean? No problem, I could just whiz up to my room (pun intended) and not have to stand in line with 40 other women for the restroom near the conference rooms. Not to mention having a stash of Co-Cola in the little refrigerator in my room! (I know, I know, the first step is admitting I have a problem...)
  • Need a moment of privacy when the 600+ other attendees started getting on my nerves? No problem.
  • Having a room in the hotel was also great after that late night Saturday session ran until 1:30 a.m.!

Meeting other unpublished writers was interesting. Well, semi-interesting. I'm not much of a people person, to tell the truth. I was amazed at the number of people there who were hoping to get their memoirs published. Most people - like me - lead Really Boring Lives. Nevertheless, those earnest autobiographers were undaunted. In general, if you're looking to meet large numbers of Truly Dreadful Writers of both fiction and non-fiction, a writers' conference is the place for you. Not trying to be mean - just keepin' it real, people.

I didn't go there to meet writers, however. I went there to meet editors, agents, and writing teachers who were invited there by the conference. There were panel discussions where one would hear them speak on publishing industry topics. There were breakout sessions where query letters, opening paragraphs, and the first three pages of manuscripts were read and (usually) (and justifiably) eviscerated. There were an awful lot of oysters and only an occasional pearl, but it was all very educational.

There was also the opportunity (for a modest additional fee) to meet one-on-one with an agent or an editor. The former would evaluate your query letter or answer questions, while the latter would review your first ten pages (submitted ahead of time) and offer constructive criticism.

There was also a luncheon for all the attendees where they attempted to group people - writers, agents, editors, everybody - at tables by genre. Would you believe there was NOT a lesbian ghost story table? I know, I was bummed. I was really glad I didn't ask to be seated at the horror table, because that was a bunch of creepy-looking older dudes with a lot of facial hair. (I'm sure they were fine folks, just not my group, you know what I mean?) Unfortunately, I did, however, make the tactical error of checking the "chick lit" box on the lunch card. Oops! Apparently, I do not know what "chick lit" means. I ended up sitting with a bunch of (hetero) romance editors and agents. (again, fine folks - again, not my group!) Live and learn.

Was it a worthwhile experience for me? Absolutely! I learned a lot that weekend. I highly recommend attending a writers' conference if you are an author who aspires to be published. You need a thick skin to be a writer, but getting that feedback is invaluable. And the chance to talk with industry insiders - priceless! Do read the books and surf the net, but actually talking with someone who does the work every day - and talking about YOUR manuscript - is fabulous.

Do I need to attend another writers' conference? Uh, no. Now that I've come out the other side (so to speak) and have had my novel accepted for publication, the information I gained from the conference continues to serve me well, but I don't feel the need to attend another one. Unless, of course, maybe someday they want to invite me to be the keynote speaker! Preferably the speaker during the luncheon, so I avoid the whole table debacle. I'll even bring my own Coca-Cola.

Seriously. I will.

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