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This is the first blog post on my new website. I struggled for a while to decide on a topic for it. It should be something meaningful, right? But not too self-important. Informative, but without claiming an expertise that isn’t mine. Then I thought, why not write about the experience that birthed this site? My first writing conference.
On April 24th I traveled the vast distance from Grimes, IA to Omaha, NE. Two whole hours of drive time. (said sarcastically)
The Omaha Word Sowers Christian Writers Conference was a one-and-a-half-day event. Manageable, I thought, for a first writing conference. I didn’t expect a life-changing experience or even to be nervous. Ha!
While to call it life-changing might be a bit strong, it did leave me encouraged, motivated, and very inspired. And yes, I was nervous.
So what did I learn? The first lesson actually came long before the event:
You’ll never be “ready” for your first writing conference
I’ve been dreaming for years about going to a writing conference: saving, planning, researching my “dream conferences…” But I kept putting off committing to one, thinking that to get the most out of it I needed to have a completed manuscript, a book proposal, perfect my elevator pitch, do this, prepare that, and be ready to land a big-time publishing contract or the ideal agent. Not that I was asking much of myself. I just wanted to milk every last iota of opportunity from the experience. Oh wait…
The truth is I was never going to be ready. But going to a writing conference could give me some of the tools I needed to get there.
The highlight of my weekend just might have been the coaching session I had with Rj Thesman. I asked her questions I’d asked other writing industry professionals before, but her answers were so much more clear, and I came away feeling like my question had been answered. Here’s some of the best advice I got:
Note: I’ve paraphrased and condensed her answers for the sake of this post and because I don’t have a recording or written transcript of the session. I’m working off of notes and my memory. Dangerous, I know.
Me: Everyone tells me I need to have a speaking platform for my book, but I write speculative fiction. What in the world am I supposed to talk about?
Rj: Take your main character’s weakness–in this case, fear–and speak on that topic.
My main audience are teens. Teens have a lot of fear. I should know, it wasn’t that long ago that I was one. I was afraid of not having any friends. I was afraid of going to a party and nobody talking to me. I was afraid the guy I was secretly in love with didn’t like me. I was deathly afraid of playing piano in public. Scratch that. I’m still deathly afraid of it.
Me: I’ve heard short stories are a great way to break into the market, but writing speculative short fiction is hard. What do I write about?
Rj: Write a short story about a character–or characters–from your novel. It can be a stand-alone story, but you won’t have to start from scratch building worlds and back stories. And later, when that novel is published, the short story can be a great way to draw from the interest of an existing audience.
Me: Do I need an online platform as an unpublished fiction writer?
Rj: Yes, and you need it now! The sooner you start on a website, newsletter, FaceBook, and Twitter, the better!
Me: But what do I post about?
Rj: Post about what you’re reading. Post quotes or memes about reading or writing. Post about the progress you’re making on your book–or the struggles you’re having with it. Post snippets from or about your book to entice future readers. Post questions on subjects dealt with in your book that spark controversy. Controversy breeds interest. You don’t have to self-promote. In fact, please don’t!
Rj had so much more brilliant advice, but I’m writing a blog post, not a book, so I’ll stop with the big three.
So what else did I learn?
The #1 thing:
Stepping out of your comfort zone can have unexpected results
Several editors and agents who didn’t attend the conference in person were available for on-the-phone interviews with attendees. At the urging of the leader of my Word Weavers critique group, Elaine Cooper, I signed up for one with Rowena Kuo, the managing editor of Brimstone Fiction.
I wasn’t planning on pitching my unfinished manuscript–editors don’t usually want to hear about those from unpublished writers–but Rowena asked me about my book. Even though I stumbled through the synopsis (translation: I butchered it), at the end of our conversation she surprised me by asking for the complete manuscript and book proposal with it was finished. Mind: blown.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind of information. Writing craft workshops, Lunchtime conversations with writers and editors, a session about how to be a DIY techie by Angela D. Meyer–which was very helpful these past couple weeks as I’ve been setting up my web presence–and of course, all the fellow attendees I was able to connect with! Who knows? Some of those acquaintances might even become friends.
If you’re reading this post and you’re a writer or an aspiring one, here’s my best advice:
If you haven’t gone to a writers conference yet, make it happen this year.
Pick a small, local conference. One day long, maybe two. Believe me, a low-key one will be more than enough for your first conference. And ready or not, step out of your comfort zone. Because you’ll never be “ready.” But why let that stop you?
Now it’s your turn:
Have you gone to a writing conference before? If so, what was that first experience like? Did you learn something you didn’t expect to? If you haven’t been to one yet, are you planning to?