Last night about a dozen writers crowded into my small living room and kitchen for a potluck. We’d met last June at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference, and somehow we’ve stuck together since then, exchanging emails, meeting up at signings, and this time throwing our own party just for the sake of getting together and chatting.
It was wonderful. Talking to other writers is almost always motivating for me. It makes me want to work harder on my writing, and it makes me excited to do it.
And getting together reminded me of something I didn’t understand right away about conferences. Since I’d emphasized in creative writing in grad school, I had the attitude at first that conferences would be a waste of time for me because I’d already learned so much from my college workshops. Then, my second misunderstanding was that I should go to workshops to meet agents and editors. I’d heard success stories about people finding their publishing match that way, and I started to believe that was the reason for going.
Not the first time I’ve been wrong about anything.
First of all, it turns out there’s always more to learn. At the WIFYR last June I attended the class of an author I’d already worked with at the same conference three years before, Martine Leavitt. Her material hadn’t changed much, but it turns out I’d forgotten a lot of it. Having her remind us of the core issues of novel writing helped my manuscript tremendously.
Secondly, an agent or editor is going to take you when he or she falls in love with your manuscript. Sure, that sometimes happens at a conference, but it also happens the ordinary way: with a great query letter. If your manuscript is amazing, you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to go to a conference and meet up with an agent or editor. It’s not really necessary. And on the other end, often the face-to-face rejection is much, much, much worse than a form letter rejection would have been.
Third, I’ve come to believe that the “networking” possibilities at conferences are mainly about networking with other writers. Writing is a solitary activity, and I believe writers need support groups — not just to stave off depression or provide feedback, but to have a cheer squad ready to celebrate your successes, too. In our group last night, one writer’s book came out last month and has been doing phenomenally well, another writer just found a publisher a few months ago and her book is coming out a year from now, two others have acquired agents. And it’s exciting to celebrate all of that together.
If you’re a lonely writer reading this, look up your regional chapter of SCBWI. Look up conferences in your area. Find a way to attend something, and focus not on selling your manuscript while you’re there but on meeting other local writers. For me, that’s what makes a conference worth the money.
What conferences have you been to that you’d recommend? Where have you met other writers? How do you feel about writing communities?