June 12, 2019

Why Go to Writing Conferences?

By Paul Atreides 

I was speaking on the phone to a member of our writer’s group, and conversation rolled around to the upcoming conference. She happens to be putting the finishing touches on a follow-up to her previous Indie best-seller. She wasn’t planning on attending for a variety of reasons. Then she asked why conferences are important. “What’s the point?” she asked.

Outside of landing an agent or publishing deal, there will be an expansive array of subjects on the craft and business of writing. The experiential effects are accumulative; success stories from faculty and attendees alone can inspire.

“I’ve had a top-notch editor tell me my work is exceptional. She said, ‘you don’t need classes or workshops.’ And I ran a newspaper, too.” Her response took me aback.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’ve heard that about my novels, plays, and published non-fiction work (Thanks, Honey! Thanks, Mom!). My response to anyone heaping such praise: “Stop blowing smoke up my back end.”

Regardless of how many novels you sell, regardless of how many shows up on best seller lists, regardless of how high they rise in the Amazon ranks, there is always something to learn. Our industry changes, it’s in constant flux. If we don’t change with it, we’ll eventually find our work hitting the bottom of the slush pile. And that’s not a pretty place to be.

Honing your craft is about more than learning proper punctuation, or when to use upper case or italics from the AP Style Guide (a new edition is out, by the way). It’s about more than being able to join the Grammar Police on Facebook (we know that can be fun, but still…).

Agents and acquisition editors who attend conferences as faculty, and are there to accept pitches, know you’re serious about your craft. That’s why you’re there. To soak up every scintilla of information. To head home with your head spinning, drunk on new knowledge and eager to put it to work, your publishing track record notwithstanding.

Perfecting craft, though there is no such thing, is the ability to build a new world, or even describe the one we live in with just the right words to captivate readers. Finding the right turn of phrase that makes a character pop and remain in readers’ minds makes you, as an author, remain there as well. That helps sell the next book. And the next.

These are all the things faculty at a conference is there to teach you. No matter how long you’ve been at this writing game. The most surprising thing I ever witnessed at a conference, though it shouldn’t be, was faculty slipping into a workshop. I mean, these are the experts. These are the folks who control the whole shebang. They decide which queries get the rejection letter and who receives the multi-book deal. What in the world are they doing in someone else’s workshop?

Believe it or not, they’re honing their craft. Just like that member should. And there is no better place to do that than a writing conference. Unless, of course, you convince Stephen King, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, or the like to mentor you one on one.(And, if that happens, give me a call, would you? I’d like that inside track.)
Paul Atreides is a theatre critic and columnist for EatMoreArt!, and contributor to Desert Companion, a NevadaNPR/PBS publication.  He is the author of the series World of Deadheads, a paranormal humor series. Social Media: Facebook:

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