by: Joelle Charbonneau
As I write this, I am attending Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland. It is a traditional mystery conference and filled with authors and readers of all walks of mysteries. More important--it's a lot of fun. Not only do I get to spend time with amazing friends and speak on panels with authors who bring the house down with their stories of outrageous e-mails from fans (If you ever run into Denise Swanson make sure to ask her about her Devil Spawn e-mail), I also get the opportunity to network with editors, agents and other authors. And though spending the money for the hotel and the travel and the conference fee can be painful for the bank account, I never feel as if it is money poorly spent.
Do I sell so many books that I feel like my royalties will cover the expense? Um...no. Although, every year I sign more books for readers, which is lovely. (One reader even had an ARC of The Testing today. How cool is that?) Though I enjoy being on panels and signing books, the true benefit of these conferences is the networking. Yes, I have an agent. Yes, I have editors that I am currently writing for. Nope. I'm not looking to replace any of the above in my life. But talking to other editors and agents often provides invaluable information about the industry. More than that, it makes me feel connected to the publishing community--which can be difficult to do when I'm writing on my laptop at home.
Writing is a solitary business. I have talked about that before on this blog and I'm sure will talk about it again in the future. It is often hard to feel motivated and it is easy to feel very alone. Conferences are a great place to touch base with colleagues who understand both of those things. These events are great opportunities to exchange ideas about writing habits, industry trends, thoughts on publishing and about life in general.
Do I always feel excited to come to these conferences? Nope. Often there are deadlines looming. That makes it hard to get excited about plane rides and metro trips and hotel stays. But no matter how busy I am, I am always glad I get to touch base with people in the industry who understand and share the job of being a writer. As a published author, these conferences are invaluable for keeping oneself grounded and focused. I would also say that these events are equally as valuable to unpublished authors. Conferences like this one provide opportunities to meet editors and agents who work in the genre you are writing in. Does that mean you should pitch them your book? No. Not necessarily. Sometimes they'll ask you if you are a writer. Other times they just want to chat about the conference or the drunk couple being wheeled back to their rooms by the bartenders. Even if the conversation doesn't get around to your writing, that chat is valuable. That connection will help you learn more about this business. And hey --in the future you can query the editor or agent and remind them that you watched the drunk couple get wheeled into the elevator together.
Your writing matters in this business, but so do personal connections. Meeting people online is good, but trust me when I say, in person is always better. This weekend wasn't about selling books. It was about refilling the well by talking to my fellow authors and the readers who love our books. And when I go home, I will be tired, but grateful to be a part of a business that fosters creativity and such a wonderful community.
If you are a writer and you haven't attended a conference, I urge you to find one close to you and go. There is nothing quite like being surrounded by people who understand the fear and joy of sitting alone in front of a keyboard. And if you have attended a conference that you enjoyed, feel free to recommend it in the comments to others. Yes, you need to write and polish and submit. But you also need to get out from behind the keyboard and network. Trust me when I say, you won't regret it.