To Conference Or Not To Conference

By Susan Mary Malone

Writer’s conferences abound. And it’s tough sometimes to know at the onset whether a conference would pay dividends, at this specific time in your writing career. A., most cost a pretty shiny penny, and B., also require time and often travel.

So, to go or not to go? My writers ask me all the time whether a conference would help them. And in almost every case, my answer is an unequivocal yes.

First off, I speak at a lot of conferences. And with every one at which I’ve presented, the conference coordinators strive to give writers break-out sessions that are truly helpful. Whether these sessions deal with the elements of plot, or how to write a great query letter, or simply picking an agent’s brain, there’s a ton that can be learned here. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned writer trying to break in, you can always pick up more tips and pearls to help hone your work into a shining gem. The folks who present know the game, and are there to teach it to you. You can learn not only from the presenters, but also from other writers as well, who are sifting the wheat from the chaff as they go along their paths. Sometimes you learn what not to do by visiting with them! But we can all learn from one another.

Second, publishing on the inside is a far different business from how it appears on the outside. The industry is actually very specialized, from what an editor at a house does in this day and time (and those jobs are differentiated depending upon whether said publishing house is of the big New York variety, or a smaller, regional press), to how books are selected for individual lists, to what agent sells to which imprints at the particular houses and to which editors working where.

In other words, this is a multi-layered industry, and nothing is much as it seems from the outside looking in. Now, you don’t need to understand the inner workings of publishing in order to break into it with a bang-up book, but it sure helps to get a grasp of the way it works. You can’t just write a fabulous book, sit back, and say, “Publish me!” Having at least a working knowledge of how the business runs helps you to sort through where you might fit, with the kind of work you write.

Finally, conferences are networking bonanzas. Although this is a word-on-the-page business (and the right words absolutely have to be on the pages, in the most creative ways), it’s also and somewhat oddly very much a people-oriented industry. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve introduced to agents or editors (or both, sometimes forging a publishing deal over coffee, right there) at conferences, which led to book sales. Agents and editors are folks just like everybody else, and it helps them to put a face with a name as well. But most importantly, they can sift through quickly whether a book is right for them.

Most conferences offer manuscript evaluations with the presenters — fifteen minutes or so of one-on-one time, after the evaluator has gone over your work. The only way I know for an aspiring writer to meet an agent or editor, face to face, is to sit down or mingle with one at a conference.

So, take the plunge. Research different conferences and go. Find one in your area, or across the continent that has agents and editors and authors you want to meet. An added bonus is you’ll meet like-minded folks, and realize you’re not alone on this crazy road to writing and publishing — a great boon for anyone who knows what it’s like to sit quietly in a room for time on end, writing and writing and writing . . .

 

About Susan Mary Malone

With a BS in Political Science and minors in English and Journalism, Susan Mary Malone’s professional background includes working as an editor, columnist and reporter for newspapers and magazines. In business since 1993, her edited books have been featured in Publishers Weekly, and won numerous awards.

Her clients include NY Times Bestselling author Mary B. Morrison, and Essence Bestselling author Naleighna Kai. Other notable edited books include: The Things I Could Tell You (Jeremy Woodson was nominated for an NAACP Literary award); O’Brien’s Desk (a Publishers Weekly Spring Pick to Watch); Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea Party (made into a Hallmark film), among many others.

With many published works to her credit, Editor Susan Mary Malone applies her skills at editing books to her own book writing, and those of her clients. Susan’s success as an award-winning book author of both fiction and nonfiction, as well as her short stories, is highlighted in the list of her works at http://www.maloneeditorial.com/Malone.htm .

She also participates as speaker at many literary conferences, including the Harriett Austin Writer’s Conference (at the University of Georgia), the Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference, the SouthWest Writer’s Conference, and the upcoming Golden Triangle Writer’s Conference, among others.