Today was the 2nd conference I have attended within the last few weeks. First I attended the SCBWI Fall 2015 conference (an annual occurrence for us local Alaskans) a couple of weekends ago. Then today I attended the first ever Picture Book Summit on-line. These were both opportunities to be able to go to a conference without having to pay for travel or hotels. Whenever possible, writers who are interested in pursuing the craft (and not yet seriously published) should look at attending these things. Why? Well let me explain why I’ve found them to be absolutely invaluable for multiple reasons.
1) You meet other writers like you who are trying to get started on the publishing journey.
You might be at different levels (some just have an idea and are curious, some have written a few novels and want to know “now what,” some have self-published, etc.), but you are meeting people who are WRITING and potentially pursuing it as a career. This is a hard and solitary career path full of rejection that will wound your ego. It is absolutely vital to form a writing community that will support you in your endeavors (and whom you can also support). It is also a great place to start for a writing critique group. Not everyone likes to admit that rewriting is necessary (but it is!) or that we as writers can become blind to the flaws in our brilliant little creations (but we can!). This is why a critique group is SO vital to polish your work before you can submit it professionally. After all, you want to present your best manuscript possible to professionals (agents, editors, etc.).
2) You learn about the craft of writing.
It might only be to learn about current market trends, or genre parameters, but sometimes you get a class or “session” that reminds you of a finer point of craft (like creating 3D characters) that you either didn’t know about or you have forgotten about. Now, once upon a time, I was an English major with a writing emphasis. I have learned a lot about the craft and some of this can feel like “I’ve heard that before.” But let’s be honest, that was SO long ago, I’ve forgotten most of it. And while I know it, sometimes I forget to apply it (yet another reason for a critique group!). For some people who never went to college or have never taught themself about writing, it’s the first time they’re ever hearing this stuff. It’s a great place to start that journey of learning about the craft (because it is a craft!). Plus it’s refreshing to hear other perspectives and insights from authors I may have never heard of before.
3) You meet successful authors and possibly your writing heroes.
It never ceases to blow my mind when I meet a published author and get to hear what they have to say about books (reading, writing, the craft of writing, their life, their inspirations, etc.). Conferences are where the successful authors are paid to go. Sometimes. They have to be willing to mingle with other writers who may be prone to lunatic ravings of “OMG! I LOVE YOU!” but more often than not, they are more than willing to help fellow writers to get started on the right path as well. And when you get to meet a writing hero? It really is epic! Today, I got to hear Peter Brown talk about where he gets his ideas for picture books, Andrea Davis Pinkney talk about how to make Nonfiction picture books sing, Emma Walton Hamilton talk about how to tell if your Manuscript really is submission ready, and Mac Barnett talk about the ART involved in making a truly memorable picture book. I’m SO blown away and inspired by everything I heard today from everyone that I can’t even find the words.
4) You will be inspired.
It’s easy in this solitary pursuit of trying to get published to become discouraged. If you are submitting, rejections usually have no problem flowing in at this stage of the game (before publication or “discovery”). When you go to a writing conference, you will hear others talking about WHY we do this. You will hear stories of other writers and HOW they made it or had their big break. And every time you hear writers talking about writing, you are inspired to go write again. And again. And again. You will be overwhelmed with information AND ideas. You will be brimming to produce. You will be re-energized! And for some of us, that is a critical jolt as necessary as a morning cup of coffee.
5) You will make connections.
It may be that a conference is where you will be discovered by that editor or agent attending and hoping to find a writer exactly as you are hoping to find them. If not, it could still be where you meet people who are in the industry you are interested in pursuing when there is no other way to do so. I live in Alaska. It is as far away from the hubs of publishing as you can possibly get. And yet, when a conference brings these people here to my own backyard, I jump at the opportunity to meet them. And today’s on-line conference? GENIUS! I was able to meet people from all over the world, and not a single one of us had to travel. We just turned on our computers and had our conference in cyber space. It is forums like these where you have the opportunity to get to see and be seen by those you are most hoping to impress. Think of it as a high school dance. If you are a teen girl longing to be kissed, but you stayed home every night, how would that wish ever come true? You have to get out and go to the dance. It would be a great place to start meeting boys, or in this case Agents and Editors. You’ve got to start somewhere.
If you’re serious about pursuing writing, you’ve got to treat it like a business endeavor. You’ve got to invest in yourself and your work. This is the best place to start.