Writers’ Conferences and Lightning

September 23rd, 2006

Emerging briefly from under the deadline rock…

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the Colorado Gold Writers Conference in Denver. I gave a workshop on designing and writing vivid fictional worlds. I did a question-and-answer session addressing all sort of topics, as well as some individual writing issues. I spent a lot of time “fraternizing.” Had a great autographing session. The hardest part was the ten-minute “writer-of-the-year” speech I had to give on opening night…which led me to think about the place of writers’ conferences (aka writers’ workshops).

For those who aren’t quite sure: Writers’ conferences are different from science fiction conventions. They are usually multi-genre. You’ll find no masquerades, fandom, gaming, anime, 24-hour movies, or art shows with buxom women and elf pottery. There are LOTS of aspiring writers, and a sprinkling of professional editors, agents, and published authors. These latter few, along with some interesting specialistslaw enforcement folks, coroners, sex therapists, hypnotists, journalists, academics, and the likegive workshops on various writing topics, from point-of-view to using the seven deadly sins as a basis for plotting your thriller.

One of the big draws of a writers’ conference is the availability of 10-minute individual meetings with the guest editors or agents. These are, in essence, a verbal query letter, where the aspiring writers can pitch their books. If the project is at all interesting, the pro might ask to see a few chapter and synopsis or even a whole manuscript. When asked about the odds of anyone actually selling work through this kind of contact, the pros are straight.. It happens about as often as getting struck by lightning.

Some people pooh-pooh writers’ conferences, saying you can get the same information from reading a few good books and studying Literary Marketplace. Indeed, I’ve heard some poor workshops with questionable information, as well as some great ones that gave me new ideas. A lot of the craft information is at a beginners level. I’ve definitely seen a few too many pasta bars and rubber chicken lunches. But I love them anyway (the conferences, not the chickens.)

It was at a writers’ conference that I first met real editors, real agents, and ordinary walking-around people who had published books. I learned that you could talk to such elevated people in the bar or at lunch. And there’s nothing that beats being around a few hundred people who are excited about what they’re doing. It’s a terrific place for introverts like me to get comfortable walking up to strangers.

Before I was published, I valued hearing that other aspiring writers had the same doubts and struggles as I did. Now that I’ve learned a few things about “real publishing,” a writers conference it is a great place to “pay it forward.” I find that I still come home exhilarated and ready to get back to work. And I can prove to hopeful writers that great things CAN happen. I sold my first books by reading the opening of Transformation to an editor at a writers’ conference and giving my ten-minute pitch. Lightning does strike.

One Response to “Writers’ Conferences and Lightning”

  1. kateelliotton 24 Sep 2006 at 12:01 am

    Wow. That is really cool about the lightning.

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