Writers choose to spend a considerable amount of time sitting alone at home staring at a computer screen. Whether we write at home or at our favorite coffee shop, the truth is these stories of ours don’t write themselves. I once left my computer alone for an entire week, and when I came back do you know what I found? Not one single word had been added to my WIP in my absence. The story was exactly as I had left it.
Apparently the keyboard fairies didn’t get the memo.
But I digress.
Once the writing is done, there’s more writing to be done. Query letters. Synopses. Blurbs. And then there’s the editing. And the editing. And the editing.
Did I mention the editing?
But eventually, each of us needs to break out of our self-imposed cocoon of writerly solitude, get out among the people, and more importantly, find an agent or editor to take our project to the next step. A good place to look for an agent is a writers conference.
I have attended several writers conferences over the last seven or so years, and I’ll be honest; I don’t think I’d be published if I hadn’t. You can learn some craft as well as have the opportunity to meet with that big New York agent you follow on Twitter in person. Also, they’re a pretty good time.
The SEAK Writers Conference
My first was the SEAK (Skills, Education, Achievement, Knowledge) Writers Conference, an event that specializes in doctors (and to a lesser extent, lawyers) wanting to pursue a second career in writing. I attended the conference two years running when I was still early in my agent search. The venue for meeting agents was basically a free-for-all, where the agents each sat at their own big table and the writers would line up at the table of the agent(s) they’d like to meet.
I learned on my first trip that I simply wasn’t ready to talk to agents and that my manuscript wasn’t ready for prime time. The second time, I learned how to pitch, how to follow up, and, unfortunately, how to handle an all-new form of rejection. The waiting in line let me hear a lot of pitches, good and bad, taught me a lot about patience, and brought the cold realization that I was far from the only person in the United States trying to get the attention of the few literary professionals in the field.
DFW Writers Conference
I have also attended the DFW Writers Conference twice, both times with a friend and fellow writer. My recommendation? These things are way more fun with a wingman, as I’ve flown solo to most of the others I’ve attended. This one was a hike from North Carolina to Texas, but it was totally worth it. At this conference, the price of admission granted you an appointment with one or two of the agents in attendance. Otherwise, it was whoever you could meet in the hallways and bars. Remember, following an agent into the bathroom or other such cringe-worthy behaviors are not likely to produce the result you want.
I learned through this system that it’s important to do your research and ensure that you are pitching to the right person. Not every agent represents every genre and it’s important not to throw a football to someone wearing a catcher’s mitt, if I may insert a sports metaphor. I also learned the importance of preparation as well as spontaneity. You need to know your book inside and out, but you don’t want your pitch to come across as robotic or overly prepared. The Gong Show, where they read query letters and the various agents on the panel gong when they would stop reading is a thing of legend. My buddy Matthew and I also learned that crowd-sourcing a novel plot is anything but a good idea.
But again, I digress.
Backspace Writers Conference
My favorite of the conferences I have attended is the Backspace Writers Conference. This no longer occurs live and in person, but has recently been resurrected as an ongoing online conference. The way the mornings were set up at Backspace was by far my favorite of the conference writer-agent interactions. On each of the two mornings of the conference, two agents and twelve writers, all interested in the same genre or type of book, would sit for two to three hours and have round table discussion about each writer’s stuff in turn.
On the first day, the two agents would read the twelve writers’ query letters and tell them not only where they would stop and say no, but more importantly, why. On the second day, the first two pages of your book got the same treatment. Similar to The Gong Show from the DFW conference, this let you know what was working and what wasn’t. This kind of direct and specific feedback was some of the best I’ve ever received.
These are just three of literally hundreds of conferences available out there. Each taught me many things, both tangible and intangible, and as my Backspace experience ultimately led to my agent, I think they’re a pretty good place to start. For more information, here’s another article from Chuck Sambuchino on Writers Conferences along with links to a few conferences that are coming up in 2015. These events may be expensive and involve some travel, and therefore aren’t for everyone, but I recommend everyone who can afford the time and expense to make it happen.
First and foremost, when a bunch of writers gather in one place, you are likely to find members of your tribe, a tribe you may not have even realized existed. Hang on to these relationships as no one understands a writer like another writer. You could be making a friend for life. Second, meeting a publishing professional live and in person is so much better than the cold call of the unsolicited query letter. Third, being immersed in writing and nothing but writing for a weekend or even a week can be like drinking a canteen of ice-cold water after walking for days across the desert. These experiences can reinvigorate you when the writing well has run dry. Last, and most importantly, they’re fun.
And if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong 🙂
Darin Kennedy is the author of The Mussorgsky Riddle, a paranormal thriller published by Curiosity Quills Press. Doctor by day and novelist by night, he writes and practices medicine in Charlotte, North Carolina. When not engaged in either of the above activities, he has been known to strum the guitar, enjoy a bite of sushi, and rumor has it he even sleeps on occasion. Find him online at darinkennedy.com.