Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Writergirl: Which writing conference?

Dear Writergirl,

I've decided it's time to go to writing conferences to help me polish up my writing and find an agent. But there are so many--how do I decide which one(s) to attend?

Almost Ready for Publication

Dear Almost Ready,

You’ve gotta love the writing life. You live in your head - flipping words, swapping commas, conversing with people who say what you tell them to. Every so often you meet up with a real person, someone you didn’t make up, and you mention you’re writing a book. “Nice,” she says. “Cool.” Then she quickly changes the subject.

Never mind. You’re comfy in that mental turret otherwise known as your book. Comfy, that is, until presto change-o, the end’s in sight, and now you have to get out and SELL THAT BOOK.

A cruel irony, yes, but getting out is in fact the best way to get your book before readers. And once you adjust, it’s actually kind of fun hanging out with people who understand that it’s a really big deal that you’ve written a book.

They get it because they’ve written their own books and they want agents too. There is generally a little schmooze-festing at a writing conference. But I’m not worried about you, Almost Ready. You understand that conferences are about relationships: you and your book, you and your fellow writers, you and (you hope) an agent. You’ve got realistic expectations.

And yet – and yet – you’ve heard how so-and-so found her agent at thus-and-such conference, and now her book has topped the New York Times list of bestsellers for, I don’t know, 386 weeks. Is it so much to ask that when you step into an elevator, your dream agent is there (heck, go for real luck: the car gets stuck between floors), and by the time the doors open, she’s signed you.

You’re level-headed, A.R., so you’re not choosing your conference based on the number of elevators in the hotel (though you practice your pitch, just in case). You know what you want: to polish your work and to land an agent.

Now take the long view. Though you have no idea where the money will come from, pick your top conference out of each of three types: the industry conference, with a focus on publishing; the genre conference, with a focus on your kind of writing; and the juried conference, where you’re accepted based on the quality of your work. Maybe at one there’s an author or editor you hugely admire. Maybe one’s in a place you’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe one's in your area.

Don’t worry. I know you can’t afford three conferences in one year. You’re a writer, love. Make a three-year plan, or if you can only scrape up the cash for one conference every two years, a six-year plan. The point is, think broad and big. You’re in this for the long haul.

Whatever you choose, A.R., be yourself when you get there. Don’t be put off by a few writers who run around with BUY MY BOOK stamped on their foreheads. They’re still adjusting to life outside the turret. Have fun. Learn all you can. And go ahead, skip the stairs.

Truly yours,


 Send your questions on writing, publishing, or anything else to Writergirl at askwritergirl@gmail.com. Don’t be shy – your identity won’t be revealed.


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Good advice, thanks!

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

And there's also the idea of going to a conference not to sell anything, but just to meet your tribe, and spend time in the wonderful company of other people who take reading and writing seriously. It's possible to come away with new lifelong friends, especially if you end up ridesharing, roomsharing, or just hanging out.

Aside from that less-commercial comment, I love the idea of a 3-year or 6-year plan. Good advice, Writergirl.