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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 Rules that Work for Me…

 

Some of the writing rules I live by:

There’s no such thing as no. Keep going until I get my ‘yes’.
If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.
Don’t workshop any part of your novel until the novel is finished.
Time to write, leave the house..
Have a social life.
You can’t do it alone.

There’s no such thing as no. Keep going until I get my ‘yes’.
-It is my belief that if you’re driven and passionate to do something, you will have your day. Visualize it, feel it, work hard for it, own it, and you will achieve it. If one person says no, there is someone that will say yes. I don’t stop until I get my ‘yes’. There are so many stories I could tell when there was something that seemed absolutely impossible to get, but I didn’t give up, and I got what I wanted. Steadfastness can produce magic, the elixir of life.

If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.
-Give the writing a break. I don’t believe in ‘writer’s block’. Everything needs to breathe. I’m not gonna die if I miss a day of writing. If its not there, its not there. I trust I will make the deadline.

Don’t workshop any part of your novel (or poetry or short story) until its finished.
-A painter doesn’t need the committee while in progress on a work, so why writers do I haven’t quite understood. I’ve seen too many writers workshop their story right into a black hole i.e. handing over what they started with only for the original magic to get sucked away to never return. You begin to write your story based on every comment rather than fidelity to your own voice.

Time to write, leave the house.
-Writing at home all of the time can lead to getting no writing done at all. The distraction of home can lead my mind to drift at times on everything I need to do in the house, the fact that I need a bigger house, the black lint ball on the rug that reminds me the vacuum cleaner is broken and where can I get a good cheap vacuum cleaner? Then I get up from my desk to pick up the black lint ball only to find myself 10 minutes later on my hands and knees in another room picking up lint balls, and discovering that sock that I couldn’t find on my way to work out earlier that morning.  And of course that leads me to pairing it with the other sock at the bottom of the laundry basket, and oh, I have to do this laundry, which I can do while I’m writing this next chapter that I haven’t started, but I don’t have enough quarters, and when I realize that, I look up at the television only to see that the episode of Deadliest Catch that I missed is coming on, and its the new season…
Thus, I’ve chosen a few gems in town where I go to do most of my writing. Each place has comfortable seating, an outlet to plug in my laptop, soft background music in case I forget my headphones, and a sandwich if I need one when I get hungry. One place has no wifi so that I am not tempted to go on the internet and watch clips of Deadliest Catch. I am forced to get the work done without the temptation of watching a hot sea captain catch Alaskan blue crab. An alternate writing atmosphere breaks up the monotony so that the cold, dark rainy days when I don’t want to go out makes staying home a cozy writing event & not a lazy, distracted grind.

I can’t do this alone.
-I do not espouse to the Virginia Woolfe school of writing. Depression & struggle are sometimes partners in living a creative life, but they don’t have to be permanent visitors. I realize I need to be fed by others along the way. I make it a point to meet other artists, musicians, writers. The presence of others, as well as having a little bit of a social life outside of writing, stimulates the endorphins, and adds energy to my writing.

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