There’s so much to learn about the publishing world. All writers experience hard knocks as they maneuver along this learning curve. As I mentor or have discussions with fellow writers, similarities emerge about their journeys. Beginners are often resistant to certain stepping stones to further their careers.
Fear of the unknown.
One avoidance in particular stands out—writers’ conferences.
Within this resistance are specific reasons for not attending. Again, nothing new under the sun. I say this because they were also my reasons.
I can’t afford to attend. This is a valid reason. I remember when scraping together $100 for a local day and a half conference was difficult for me. I couldn’t justify spending money that could be used elsewhere in the family budget. Even so, it also served as a mental crutch to avoid attending.
· Label an envelope “writers’ conference,” and every week put a few dollars in it. Add to it when you receive an unexpected windfall like birthday money or a work bonus. Tuck the envelope away in your desk and don’t touch it, no matter what. Well, unless the power company is threatening to turn off your power. J
· Christmas is less than two weeks away. My family complains they don’t know what to get me. They say I never want anything, and whatever I need, I can buy. If you’re asked what you want, don’t be shy. Speak up and say, “I’d love to attend a writers’ conference in 2014, but I need a few sponsors to pay the fee. A donation of any size would be appreciated.” Then, make sure the gift is tucked away in your conference envelope and not used to buy socks for your kids. J
· Garage sales are a great way to raise money. Or sell items you’re not using anymore on Craigslist. This is found money, not paycheck money designated for bills. Ask your spouse to agree for a percentage of the profit to be set aside for your “writing fund.”
· Look for free or inexpensive local writing workshops. The first writing workshop I attended was free and hosted by a local writing group at the library. Christian suspense author Lynette Eason was the featured speaker. We became friends through that workshop and subsequent e-mails. She was one of my first mentors. I learned a great deal from her about fiction writing and the publishing industry. I also attended a half-day workshop with guest speaker Cecil Murphey for only $15.
I’m an introvert. Another valid reason that’s also a mental crutch. Your thoughts may sound something like this: “I’d die if an agent/editor/published writer speaks to me. I won’t know what to say. I’ll probably babble something incoherent and blow any chance of getting a contract.”
I’m not sure if anyone has ever fainted in front of an agent or editor. If they have, no doubt everyone involved survived. And, look at it like this. You’ll make a lasting impression.J Yes, you’ll probably babble a little. I’ve done it and survived.
Seriously, very few writers are more introverted than I am. I prefer communicating through my keyboard, and it’s not just a case of being shy. God wires introverts to thrive in solitude, whereas extroverts get their energy from crowds of people. Conferences can be exhausting for both types.
· If it’s your first conference, your goal could be to simply learn and network among other writers. Unless you have a polished, complete manuscript, don’t plan to pitch to an agent or editor. However, if you do have a book manuscript in progress, have a basic premise memorized (a pitch) in case you find yourself at a dining table or standing next to an agent or editor, and they ask about your work. If you have a short pitch memorized, you have some hope of coherent words coming out of your mouth. I promise, as you mingle with writing industry folks, you’ll get more comfortable.
· If you’re attending a local one or two-day conference, use your break time to get away. Resist the urge to always network during this time. It’s called a break for a reason. For overnight conferences, I’ve used my lunch break to catnap to rejuvenate for the afternoon/evening sessions. Solitude is a must for an introvert or you’ll burn out. The last conference I attended, I skipped a session on teen writing because it’s not my area of interest. Instead, I hung out in my hotel room and worked on my current manuscript until the next class. Pacing myself enabled me to handle the rigors of the 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. day.
There are other ways to get published. Sure, many paths to publication exist. But remember how I started this post? It’s what you don’t know that increases that time frame or might lead you into prematurely e-publishing a manuscript that’s not ready. Most published writers will tell you that attending conferences to network, gain writing education, and build friendships with other writers will cut your time tremendously to becoming published and help create an invaluable marketing platform that’s necessary for whatever route you choose to publication.
One caveat. Don’t network solely for the sake of networking. These are people you’ll build friendships with and receive support from on your writing journey. Christian writing is a ministry. You have “someone” with a vested interest in your failure. A support system to work against the negative is imperative.
I’m going to attend Writers Advance! Bootcamp at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in North Carolina in February 2014. I’m also working toward attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, also in North Carolina, in May 2014. My dream is to attend American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) national conference one year. Maybe the year it comes to Nashville (only five hours from my home).
It's your turn. I want to hear about your plans to attend a writers’ conference in 2014. If you haven’t made plans, what’s your “dream” conference? If you’ve attended a conference, what did you learn from the experience you didn’t expect?
© Laura Hodges Poole