Thinking Out Loud – Conferences

26 Jan

Let’s start with what I write for all the people who don’t typically follow my little rambling here. I write Traditional Fantasy- YA. No. I don’t write Romance. Yes, my books have strong Romances in them. No, that doesn’t make them Romances. Yes, really, there are “rules” that make a romance a Romance. No, honestly, my book doesn’t follow those. Yes, it really is Fantasy. No, MG I won’t change the end of the book for you – it’s a series. I promise, trust me. 🙂

 

OK, moving on.

 

So, I’ve told everyone who reads this and writes to look into RWA. I know several of you did exactly what I did when I was told (by 3 different STRANGERS 3 days in a row to do that) – scoffed. But I have to tell you, it’s the best thing I ever did for my writing career (for what it is thus far) — and I’m going to do my thinking out loud here and you can tell me what your thinking about my thinking is. K?

 

Last year I had a job for all of, oh, three months. It was bliss. OK, it was stressful after the 3 months was over and I realized I didn’t have a job, but during that time I sent my registration in for three conferences:

  • Boskone
  • RWA Nationals
  • RWA New England

I was so darn excited to go to Boskone it was almost embarrassing. I mean, the list of people there and the topics they were going to speak on – Wow! WOW wow! Super excited. I’d already gone to the New England Chapter of RWA’s conference, so I knew what to expect and had a fresh notebook and a couple pens, powerbars, bottled water, chapstick and a sweater for the colder rooms. What else could I need?

Well, a grip on reality would have been good.

I went expecting what I got from RWA – only more shaped to what I write. How could I not be excited by that. I found out quickly enough that other “young” writers were looking for the same.

This is what I got instead: Panels of people discussing what was the topic for 30 seconds and then drifting off onto whatever topic they wanted. One panel was so excited to have a BNA (yup, there it is again, Big Named Author) on the panel with them that they spent the entire time praising his work and asking him questions about his future stuff.

This was all very interesting, but not going to help my writing. So I looked at my little brochure and saw a topic that actually said the word “Writing” in it and went. Yup, more off topic conversation – still very interesting and valuable if that was what I was looking to hear.

Then I went to a thing where I had the opportunity to meet one of My Heroes. Lets just say that since that moment, I haven’t laid down any cash for that person’s book again.

I walked away feeling depressed, neglected and wondering about this whole sci-fi/fantasy world I wanted to be a part of.

Oh, one person took the time to answer a very quick question for me. I shot her a thank you email. She ignored it and put me on her mailing list. That goes right to my SPAM file now – I have a big big thing against adding people to your mailing list who don’t ask to be there.

 

A few weeks later I went to the RWA New England Conference. The workshops were actually right on topic. The people had handouts discussing how to better your writing around their topic. Examples were given. Authors even talked about how they got to where they were – giving EXAMPLES of their good and bad steps along the way. BNA’s introduced themselves and invited newbies into conversations. Questions where answered in workshops, over drinks, at dinner and in the hallway.

I was shocked that people who had hit the NYTBS list several times remembered my name and asked my specific questions about my book and then gave gentle nudges towards different ways to think about it. I went home revitalized and with some hands on stuff to help me with my writing.

 

RWA Nationals was an interesting blend of those two – while the BNA weren’t standoffish, it was obvious they were there for their annual meeting with editors and agents, as well as to catch up with other BNA friends they only see once a year – but, never once was a snubbed. I sat in Starbucks with my own BNA friend and we people watched for awhile with me going, “Hey! Is that___” and her just nodding and typing her deadline R&R. I watched people approach her, interrupt her work to ask her questions and never once did she say anything to make them feel that they weren’t the break she needed right at that minute to escape the work she was trying to get done – even though this was probably true. I watched this happen over and over again with other authors also and was amazed.

 

What did I learn from all this:

  1. Ignore the “genre” of the group and measure their ability to give you what you need at that moment as a writer
  2. Know what the conference you’re going to offers for real – I would have loved Boskone if I’d gone strictly as a fan
  3. There are two types of Heroes in the writing world – those you adore as writers AND those you adore as writers and people
  4. Romance may be a genre, it may be just an aspect of your story, but if you can make any claim to it at all, grab the help they give

I’m going to close with this – in my post that started out as, if I could afford one conference what would it be and ended as a defence of genre-ignored group joining:

 

RWA has its issues (I could do an entire post on those) but I’ve learned a ton from them. I’ve also had 6 (yes, that’s a six) agents tell me they can tell an RWA members query letter by its professionalism and well-written organized pitch before they get to the bio section. I’ve heard several agents discuss the fact that they’ve grabbed their best Mystery or Fantasy writer at an RWA conference. And so, I’m going to push you to look not where your genre takes you, but where your need for knowledge does.

 

And with that, there’s a great Mystery writers group I’m going to go investigate.

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