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Writing Conferences in the 21st Century: Are they worth the cost?

Yes. If you can afford it.

Recently, an author’s agent stated that each agent at her agency receives upwards of 200 queries per day!  Agents and publishers are now flooded with queries in epic proportions. The nice thing is that they acknowledge that it’s almost impossible to fairly assess a writer’s talent with just one query in a pile of thousands in one month.  So if you’ve received a form letter like this recently, don’t take it personally, and most certainly don’t throw in the towel.

Benefits of Attending a Writer’s Conference

Attending the right conference can get you a face to face meeting with an agent or publisher.  In person impressions is a very strong option to at least pitch your work.  It’s hard for an agent or publisher to take a chance on a random query in an inbox of over 1,000 in one week, as opposed to hearing your passionate novel premise in person.  It is even more difficult for someone to be as invested in your vision as writer if they’ve never met you.  So, if only for the reason of being able to meet agents or publishers in person, I’d say attending the right conference can be beneficial.

I was recently invited to attend an academic conference unrelated to my writing.  To my surprise, there were several vendors of small university presses selling academic books.  Though I hadn’t planned it, I took a chance, and  pitched my novel to one of the publishers. Right on the spot, I was invited to submit my manuscript to a publisher that accepts fiction by invitation only.  What did I learn from that experience? There are more roads to getting published than just one, and that ultimately, my fate as a successful writer is fueled by my own initiative, not solely depending on an agent to get me there.  

Conferences also act as a great way to learn more about the current writing market, although you can just as easily get this information on the internet or through writer’s magazines. At a writer’s conference, you can meet other emerging writers like yourself, and hear how they were able to get their debut novels published.  If anything, the social contact with other writers can fuel a great boost of motivation.  With the current market the way it is, it can be a hard road to publish without some kind of writing support from others.

Alternative to Not so Affordable Conferences

As far as the price of writing conferences…This week I researched the cost of upcoming conferences within my state of California.  The average prices are starting at $400 up to $1,300. These prices don’t include lodging or travel expenses.  Personally, I know very few writers that can afford this kind of investment, unless they are invited to be on a panel.  And for writers with families, attending a writing conference is almost impossible.  What is the alternative?

Start a writing group.  Take a few months to get an established attendance, then research to see if there are any literary agents or publishers in your area. Invite one of them to meet with your group.  I know this sounds unprecedented, but an established writing circle can accomplish many things.  Make it worth their while. Serve up a nice brunch. Or if they can’t make it out, offer to host a skype conference.  Be creative. You’d be surprised at how some of the more local presses may be willing to spend an hour or two to offer advice to serious writers.

Finding the ‘Right’ Conference

  • Go online to research each agent, publisher, & writer who will be presenting at the conference or hosting panels.  See if they are the kind of people who would even match up with your genre of writing. If you write romance novels, and the conference panelists represent sci-fi/fantasy or crime novels, you’ll have a better chance of finding a date than an agent (if you’re into the Lord of the Rings type of partner).
  • While checking the publishers or agents web pages, make sure that they are currently accepting submissions.  After meeting an agent or publisher, you may be invited to submit your work in person.  However, I have heard that many agents/publishers present at conferences, and then writers go online to submit their work post-conference only to find that these same agents or publishers aren’t accepting submissions. 
  • A few conferences have sliding scale and/or scholarships.  In order to take advantage of these options, if offered, you want to sign up sometimes months or weeks in advance of the conference dates.   

 If you want a career as a writer, and if you’re in it for the long haul, in this current market, one has to embrace ingenuity, and a sense of boldness to step forth in the world to be discovered.


The Plan is Not the Goal…


Why I write.

I write well.

I have an endless amount of energy.

I have something to say.

It is important to stay on track when you decide you want to write.  What keeps you writing is knowing why you’re a writer.  Or an artist, or why you play the guitar in front of the local bus stop.  As you can see, my list is not that deep. I can add a few more things, but it’s pretty simple.  It took some time for me to simplify & summarize my intentions to tackle such an arduous task as that of a novelist.  There is the quality of potency that a clear intention can possess, and that potency can fuel the fire of your creative journey.

I’ve seen many writers stop dead in their tracks and give up completely because the task either seemed too daunting or whatever plans they concocted didn’t work in their favor.  We have to remember, the plan is not the goal.  I’ve seen writers focus so much of their energy on being published, that once they’re published, and the book doesn’t sell, they don’t write again.  They miss that their intention was to “be published.” These writers get their wish, and wonder why nothing else happens.  If you don’t put intention into what you truly wish to come to fruition with your writing, it will be in a stasis state.  If you’re not clear about what you want to do, you will be frustrated with seemingly puzzling outcomes. I speak from experience.

My advice to myself at this stage of my career as an emerging writer is to make lots of plans.  Experiment.  If one route doesn’t seem to be opening up, I can always try something different.  I can shop one book to agents/publishers, and I can have fun and see what happens by e-publishing another.  If I can’t get a job as a writing instructor at the local community college (which was the plan) due to the recent layoffs, then I can teach my own writing workshop.  And if that doesn’t keep me excited, then I can check out venues that sponsor book readings and try that route to meet and connect with other writers.

Plans are finicky things.  It sucks to know and accept that, but the wisdom to not allow this truth to deter me from the ultimate goal is what sustains my commitment. 

 The plan is not the goal…Ralph Marston

Writing & Music, the symphony…

It is with a light sorrow that I write this post today.  I have just a few minutes ago learned of the passing of a musical artist who produced in the independent realm of music. This is an appropriate time for me to express the importance of how music interlinks with my writing process, something I’ve always wanted to write about.

Last year, I happened upon a piece of profound music while streaming online.  The artist was Marjorie de Muynck, a Santa Fe based musician who produced “sound healing” work through music.  I purchased her CD that became the inner soundtrack for a piece of writing that has now evolved into novel.  I was told that it is always good practice for a writer to thank other artists who offer inspiration so that they can hear from others in the world who appreciate what they do.  Since I had yet to even get going on the inspired writing in a serious way, I thought I would wait to contact Marjorie when the project was underway.  Today was that day, and while I searched for her email to write to her, I learned I was two months too late. 

I’m not sure if its coincidence or not, but the piece of work that has evolved into a novel inspired by Marjorie’s music is the e-book I plan to publish at the end of the month, a decision I just made only a couple of weeks ago.  That novel has morphed into a trilogy, an endeavor I never imagined I would take on, however, the work gives birth to itself.  Marjorie’s music has played an integral part in all of this.

Every piece of writing in my world is always accompanied by its own choice of music.  I say “its own choice” because there is a magical quality of how a story and a certain piece of music can work in concert to transport me into the world my writing creates.  It is as if the music and the story have chosen one another, creating its own symphony, and I act merely as the tool to put pen to paper.  Most often, it may only be one or two pieces of music that I will stumble upon that will carry me through weeks or months of writing one story. This is all I need to transport me into the world of the fictive dream, the experience where time ceases to exist, the “zone” as I call it.

I don’t usually divulge my musical inspirations, as I find it a private matter, at least until the work is out in the world. However, I felt moved today to open up a little, and to remind myself on a bigger level how important it is to not put aside or procrastinate an offering of thanks or generous words to those who have inspired me, whether it be another writer, artist, or someone in my personal circle.  If you are moved by someone’s work in a profound way, let them know.  You’d be surprised how a few words could make an artist feel good about the work that they’re doing. Maybe your letter will catch them on a down day, and wind up turning their day around.  And this is not something contrived. I’ll end with a short story to prove this.

When I was in grad school, I had just begun to write my first novel.  Each month, I had to submit excerpts of the novel to my faculty advisor.  I won’t divulge her name, but she is a well known writer whom I was told is one tough cookie to have as a critic. One particular month, I submitted an excerpt of my novel to her.  She was delayed in sending me back my work with editorial comments as she had been quite ill (I didn’t know that. I thought maybe my writing had sucked big time).  When she finally mailed my work back to me, she called me and told me that she had spent an afternoon with a bad headache in bed and my work was the last for her to edit.  She didn’t wish to do it at all, but she forced herself to read the 40-50 pages I had written.  Not only did she read the entire thing, she told me her headache went away, and that she loved the writing that jolted her awake.  She was the first successful, veteran writer to tell me that my writing made her day.  Those generous words made my day, and even now, inspires me to keep writing.      

So if there is an artist out there, whether it be a writer, musician, painter, that inspires you or your work, or both, let them know.

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