Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Conferences: As Good as Gold

by Annette Lyon

I recently returned from a fantastic writers conference, which gave me a boost as I move forward with my work.

The weekend was a reminder to me about how important conferences are to writers and why we attend them.

These are, of course, one of the biggest elements of any conference, whether they're breakout sessions or keynote addresses. No matter how experienced a writer you are, you can always learn more. Sometimes it's from someone who is farther along the path than you are, and sometimes it's a colleague who looks at a topic in a new and fresh way that can help you improve your work.

About a year ago I attended a class taught by a good friend. I did so to support her, not because I necessarily thought I needed work on my characterization, the topic of the workshop. Her approach to creating characters was so different from my own that it opened up a totally new way of viewing the process for me. I left the class with a boatload of notes and a better understanding of the heroine in my WIP.

Agents and Editors
If the conference hosts an agent and/or editor, soak them in. Hang onto every word they say—they know the markets, the business, the craft. If you have the opportunity to meet with them one on one in an appointment, do so. If you see them hanging out in the hallway, talk with them and get to know them.

Note that unscheduled meetings (sharing an elevator, cornering them in the restroom, and so on) are not the time to pitch your book. Just get to know the editor or agent and to learn from them.

This last weekend I had several opportunities to chat with both an agent and an editor, whether during a meal or in the hall. Those were definite highlights of the entire conference. Because of some of the things they shared during those conversations, I'll be doing some specific revisions on one of my manuscripts.

I think a lot of writers can relate when I say that many opportunities I have had came about in large part thanks to my friendships with other writers.

Writing is a solitary field; it's just you and your keyboard. When attending a conference, get out of that bubble and rub shoulders with like-minded people. I know, I know; it's hard. Writers tend to be shy and introverted. Break open your shell and speak up. Get to know other writers. You may be surprised at how supportive they can be with everything from cheerleading to helping you track down a fact for research.

You may also find new avenues and possibilities for your work. Best of all, you'll (finally!) be hanging out with people who think like you do and "get" the life of a writer. They know what it's like to have writer's block or have characters bugging them in their sleep or to be rejected . . . again.

Networking is so important that, to me, it's even worth missing out on a workshop if it means you get to chat with someone in the hall who might turn out to be a terrific writing friend or ally.

I recall one conference I attended while expecting my second child. I was so exhausted from the pregnancy that I was about to fall asleep during a keynote address. I slipped out of the room to walk around and stay awake. In the corridor I met up with an author also stuck outside, keeping her baby happy. We struck up a great conversation and friendship. Her first novel was about to be released, and we talked a lot about that.

In the years to come, she became a great help to me as I navigated the publishing waters. I have no memory of who the speaker was that I missed, but I wouldn't give up that friendship I made the hallway for anything.

Take advantage of writers conferences whenever you can. Then while you're there, don't waste a single moment. Learn, network, talk, and enjoy.