Great! You registered for a writer’s conference. It might be your first, or your twenty-seventh. Maybe it’s a regional SCBWI event, like the one I’m helping to put together in Seattle next month, which explains why I’ve chosen to blog about conferences. My brain is filled to the brim with conference. I’m so distracted thinking about conference tasks, I just splashed my own face with coffee. For everybody’s safety, we'll just stick with conferences as our topic.
You’re signed up, you’re excited, you’re ready for the most part— but why are you going? Do you know?
I attended my first writer’s conference in 2005. I didn’t really have any purpose other than seeing what it was all about. The faculty intimidated me and I remember talking to only two attendees. One asked if I was published and turned away when I said no. The other pushed postcards of her illustrations into my hand. I learned things about craft and the publishing industry in the sessions, but I walked away uncertain if I would invest in a conference again.
Why did you sign up for a conference?
Really think about your expectations. Think about whether they’re realistic, and if they’ll help you to gain what you need from the experience. I know. We’re writers. It’s hard to be realistic. Our brains go off on “But, what if…” tangents that color everyday activities. If we’re preoccupied with an upcoming conference, there is the potential to come up with some doozies just short of glass slippers and winning lottery numbers. But, what if (you ponder) Editor X stops the proceedings to proclaim that your prose made her weep, she was writing up a contract, and could everyone just rise for a spontaneous standing ovation? Alas, that is something that would only happen in our overworked imaginations.
Even if the conference stars aligned for the perfect ingredients to give your career the boost it needs, your serendipity would probably be such a gossamer web of small events and lumps of knowledge, you may not even be able to recognize it even in hindsight.
I (well, you know, Sara) sold my debut middle grade novel last month. I strongly believe that would not have happened if I hadn’t attended the writing conferences that I did. Not even if I had kept plugging along with classes and craft books for years and years. I’ve gained a ton of knowledge at conferences that I haven’t found anywhere else about the craft of writing, as well as the market. I’ve been looking back at all the wonderful fortuity and opportunities that brought me to this place, and a great deal of it came from attending writing conferences.
I signed up for manuscript consultations that offered critiques and constructive feedback. Sometimes editors and/or agents request to see more of your manuscript after a consultation, and sometimes they don’t. It’s a great confidence boost (and what writer doesn’t need that?), but the editors who asked me to send them the whole thing weren’t the one who wound up with the manuscript. And I’ve had critiques with authors that were just as, if not more, helpful.
I got to know my critique partners at conferences, and some of my best friends. Writing is lonely! Most of the time, I don’t mind. I’m an introvert at heart. People never believe me because I spend a lot of time up at the podium at our conference, and running around chatting at the others I attend. But, I am indeed an introvert. I hid under my bed at my own birthday party. It was my fifth birthday, but still. I wanted to hide under my bed at a few of my grown up birthday parties, too. But something about being around a bunch of people that get jazzed about books for kids the same way I do…that charges my batteries.
Let’s operate under the assumption that you are going to get published, if you haven’t been already. Congratulations! The market is not a place you will want to be in isolation when your book goes out of print, or your option isn’t picked up, or your cover gets whitewashed. When you’re stuck and discouraged? You need your writer friends. Who can help workshop ideas? Writer friends. Our non-writer friends are supportive, but they don’t really get it.
I considered quitting writing altogether last December. The thought hurt my heart, so I don’t think I would have gone through with it. I was just stuck on a revision and feeling frustrated. I went to the annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York that January and really listened to the keynotes. I went back home inspired and wanting to write again.
So, what is your primary reason for shelling out the registration fee and signing up for a conference? Is it a book deal? Save your scratch and stay home. If it’s inspiration, community, or honing your craft that you are after, you are on the right track. And if you just want to be surrounded by a bunch of likeminded book loving neurotics with big dreams and weird ideas, you will be in the right place!
Make a note and remind yourself while you’re there what makes it worth it to you. Don’t waste an opportunity like I did my first time.
The important thing is being there and being open to all of the lovely (realistic) possibilities. And be careful with the coffee.