Writing is a solitary endeavor, right? We’re all just plunking away in whatever nook or cranny we’ve managed to turn into a home office. Or if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ve secreted yourself away in a secluded cabin in the woods or garret somewhere in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
No? Of course not. That might have worked a century ago, but today the notion of a solitary writer is a myth.
Yet it’s a myth that persists in the minds of many new writers. We tell ourselves that writing can’t be taught. Either you’re born a writer or you’re a complete fraud. Or we believe that learning from someone else dilutes our own creative instincts.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Writing is a collaborative effort which strengthens the creative power of all its participants.
I recently attended the 2018 Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This was the first conference I ever attended, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I balked at the price and probably would have abandoned the idea completely, but it happened to coincide with my birthday. I decided to make it my present to myself and not worry about the cost.
I’m glad I did. I didn’t know I needed a conference to improve my writing until I was there. Here are some of the reasons why attending a conference can take your writing to the next level.
The Unwritten Rules of Writing
I find it really ironic that writing has a lot of unwritten rules. When someone first told me I was only allowed three exclamation points in my lifetime, my reaction was NO! I will use as many as I like! It’s a perfectly valid punctuation mark!!!!
I have to admit that she was right. Using an exclamation point is a lazy, ineffectual way to convey emotion. But more to the point, how did she know this? And what other rules was I unknowingly breaking?
The answer the first question is easy: she found out from talking to other writers and industry professionals at critique groups and conferences. There are way too many books out there about the craft of writing, but I promise you, none are as useful as talking to someone in person. It gives you the chance to ask your own questions and to go in depth on a specific topic.
The answer to the second question is more nuanced. The rules of writing are changing all the time. We, the writing community, make up the rules as we go, and the only way to be privy to that is to be a part of the community. You won’t learn anything, and you won’t help shape the future by sitting alone in your garret.
The rules can include things as seemingly immutable as genre definitions. Think you’re writing New Adult? Think again. The term has fallen out of favor, and it better not show up anywhere on your query letter. Do you want to write Horror? Agents and publishers are excited about Horror right now, but by the time your book shows up in stores, it will probably be relabeled as a Thriller or something else. Some stores don’t even have a Horror section.
Trend is another word that is taboo. The overwhelming consensus is do not even try to write for the latest trend. A novel has such a long lead time that by the time your book hits the shelves, whatever trend you were chasing is long gone.
At the same time, trends are real and very relevant to the business. How you pitch your novel in your query letter can help agents and publishers determine its marketability. At a conference, you can find out from agents first-hand what they’re looking for.
Do your homework ahead of time, though. Make sure the conference you sign up for represents the type of you book you want to write. Research the agents who will be attending and figure out which ones you want to target.
The Business of Publishing
If you want to make money writing a novel, then it’s a business, not a hobby. Whether you decide to self-publish or go the traditional route, there is a lot you’ll need to know beyond the art of the craft. If it sounds daunting, don’t worry. Every writer starts off in complete ignorance of the publishing world.
Conferences are a good way to expose yourself to the business side of writing before you make any mistakes with your career. The Pikes Peak conference had lectures on everything from self-publishing and charging sales tax, to branding yourself and understanding a writer’s relationship with agents and editors.
As a writer, you need to know what to expect from your agent, editor, publisher, etc., and you need to know your legal rights before you sign any contract. Going to a conference is a great place to start.
The Perfect Pitch
Pitching is where you stand in front of an agent or editor after months, if not years, of working on your manuscript and spew word vomit on them as you nervously try to explain the premise behind your book. Or you could practice first.
Agents are usually the gatekeepers to your future career as a published author. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t looking for excuses to shoot you down. They are looking for the next great writer to make them rich. It could be you.
Conferences are your best chance to pitch to an agent in person, but it’s not your only chance. Agents to do in fact read query letters, and writers do get acquired that way. But it’s like applying for a job through someone in your network versus posting your resume on a job board. Your odds improve dramatically when you have a relationship with that person, no matter how brief or casual it may be.
Even if your pitch goes nowhere at the conference, or your manuscript isn’t finished yet, meeting an agent in person will move your query letter to the top of the slush pile. Just make sure to mention when and where you met the agent in the introduction of the letter.
You Are Not Alone
The best reason to attend a conference? You get to hang out with other writers all weekend! That sentence is definitely worthy of an exclamation point.