Writer’s Conferences In The Brave New World

By Susan Mary Malone

Last weekend I spoke at the first annual Lexicon Writer’s Conference, which promises to be a big player as time goes on. I’m a conference proponent, as I’ve written about before. The information is almost always useful, and the networking, a huge boon.

But as the publishing world changes, so too do writers conferences. Yes, they still offer sessions on the nuts-and-bolts of writing, author panels that address experiences, expert sessions on technical issues such as police procedures or poison deaths in mysteries, research for historical novels, etc. The focus is still on writing great and believable books. But a seismic shift has occurred in the “business” angle these days. Because before, the focus regarding that was on agents and publishing-house editors. And now, given equal billing (and sometimes more), that focus is on self-publishing—addressing book printers and book covers and e-book conversions and marketing the finished product. Today, as we’ve seen the e-book revolution turn traditional publishing on its head, writers come looking for not only writing tips, but also entrepreneurial skills and business acumen.

Wow, what a brave new world it really is! We’ve all watched our “revolution” spin publishing in a 180-degree different orbit, in such a very short time. And this was the first conference at which I’ve spoken that has changed direction with it.

While so very many of the old stand-by conferences have shrunk to mere skeletons of themselves, or disappeared entirely, Mitch Haynes, the mastermind behind Lexicon, has formed a new model. And that model was not only successful last weekend, but will be hugely so in the future.

We are in a new world. And as has happened since time immemorial, those who adapt progress. I won’t talk about the dinosaurs regarding everyone else.

Another thing that was in stark contrast with this conference was the camaraderie. At so many in the past, writers entered wide-eyed with terror at having to convince agents and editors of their books’ worth. Because those folks spelled life or death for any writer’s dream. And while I always work with my writers about letting go of that fear (agents and editors are just normal folks, trying to make a living as well), it’s an uphill battle. The thing in most stark contrast for me, however, was that at conferences of old, you could feel the competition between writers, as if there were only a precious few seats at the table (which in reality, there were), and one had to “best” another writer to grab that spot. This isn’t true, of course, as agents and editors just look for something they can sell! But writers felt the pressure nonetheless, and often left feeling jaded and unappreciated.

At Lexicon, the attitude was 180 degrees opposite. The feeling was that everyone was in this insanity together, and I can’t even list all the times I saw folks helping one another, making connections, touting each other. “You’re selling how many books? How’d you do that?” Response, “Let me show you!”

I’ll confess to being a true Pollyanna; I like for us to all get along. But you have to remember I’m a pretty danged jaded editor myself, so when the converse happens, I’m not surprised. However, when the true spirit of cooperation and support occurs, it makes my heart sing.

Writing and publishing have always been such difficult endeavors. And that remains—getting a truly publishable book out there requires copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears. No way around that. But how fabulous to watch writers finally be on the same team, cheering and helping one another along.

Now, that’s a brave new world I’m proud to be a part of!