Recently I attended two conferences, one for my work in telecommunications and the second for my work in writing. The conferences were in very different fields, but I observed several common themes which applied to both events. At the conferences, I invested time in learning new things, networked with other professionals in the field and promoted my current projects.
I'm not a newcomer to conferences. I've probably attended 4-5 telecom events for the past 15 years. My participation in writing conferences is mostly much more recent. I attended a few SF conferences as a reader and fan many years back, but my participation at Boston area conferences the past two years has been as a writer. Why should writers attend conferences?
I view conferences as an investment. It's a chance to step out of the normal day to day routines and find out what's going on in the rest of the world. Publishing is undergoing a sea change which has much in common with the changes the high tech industry experienced during the past ten years. Business models are changing, there are new ways of getting products to the market and the roles of industry participants are shifting before our eyes. In this kind of environment, it makes sense for individuals to study up on the new trends, perfect one's own areas of craft and expertise and make contacts with the shakers and movers of your industry.
Muse and the Marketplace, sponsored by Grub Street of Boston, offers a breadth of possibilities for aspiring writers. The conference took place over a weekend and I chose to attend the Saturday portion of the event. From among a plethora of sessions, I decided to focus on a mix of craft, marketing and promotion.
Boston-based author Gary Braver conducted a session on ten essential elements for writing thrillers. A key point was that the mission of the thriller writer is to establish an atmosphere of dread and then build up tension throughout the novel. I'd previously read Braver's book Flashback and really enjoyed it, so he was a credible source for this kind of information.
Next up, I attended a session on promotion which was useful, but tending toward being repetitious. The key point was an emphasis on the need for author to be ready to promote their work at all times and along the way, build up a platform. Most of this information was familiar for me and the leader offered a useful reminder that we needed to be ready with an elevator pitch on our projects.
One of the unique parts of Muse was the chance to participate in their Power Lunch. For a reasonable fee, we could choose a lunch table and chat with four members of the publishing industry. I chose a table with two agents, a publisher and an editor. Three other conference attendees joined me at the table and we all had chances to talk with everybody at the table by changing seats a couple of times. I found this to be the best part of the day. My fellow authors and I each pitched our current projects and I even had enough time to chat a bit about a work in progress with a couple of my lunchmates. I put the prior session's emphasis on the elevator pitch to immediate use and got enough interest so that I've got a couple of action items to pursue in the wake of the conference.
In the afternoon, I shifted gears and went to a session called Agents on the Hot Seat. Agents are the gatekeepers for the traditional publishing industry and tend to be very knowledgeable about the market, so getting a chance to listen to four pros talk about how they chose authors to represent and how the agent's role is evolving was enlightening.
I concluded my day by participating in a Manuscript Mart session. This is another unique feature of Muse, since an author can prepare a submssion in the form of a query letter, synopsis and a 20-page excerpt of one's work, and then get detailed feedback from an agent or editor. In my case, I submitted an excerpt from my first novel, Growing Up Single. The agent I chose had done her homework and offered a detailed review of both the query and the excerpt.
I had several takeaways from this session. One key point was to sweat the details on the query. The agent really wanted to get a clear idea about the book in just a few lines and offered her thoughts about whether I'd accompished that. She'd also done a line by line review of the excerpt and gave me her take on what worked and what didn't. When I had a chance to take a fresh look at her feedback a couple of days later, I found myself agreeing on some points and not on others, but felt the overall critique was useful in giving me some direction on where I'll go with this project.
By the end of the day, I felt like this day had been an excellent use of my time and that I'd learned a few things that will help me progress as a writer. I also had some great positive reinforcement that will help me to stay motivated on these projects. And I had those action items that will keep me busy for a while.
If you're a writer, what steps are you taking to advance in meeting your goals?
Do you feel conferences are the right investment of your time and money, or would you recommend a different approach?