Sunday, June 12, 2005

(Net) Working It

The local mystery conference went quite well, and now that's over for another year. My fabulous agent came, spoke on a panel, taught a class, and listened to local people pitch their books. Now he's on a plane back to New York. Comments I heard from various conference attendees were good. The Ridley Award (a mystery writing award named for Ridley Pearson) was given to Carolyn Hart, and her speech inspired a roomful of hopeful writers. For a smaller city, it was a very nice little conference. They want it to be an annual event, and I hope it grows into something much larger and well-known.

When I started this post, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be about. But now I realize that it's about networking. In talking to some of our locals, I realized just how many hopeful writers there are who haven't actually found any significant support systems. Sure, plenty of writers across the country hop on planes or into automobiles and travel to writers' conferences throughout the year, but for every one who goes, there must be many, many more who do not. It's not always because they just don't want to, although there are bound to be some of those as well. Some people don't take advantage of the opportunities inherent in a conference (local or otherwise) because they either don't know the conference exists or they don't know how attending one might help them. Here's a fact: When my husband mentioned this weekend's conference to some of our neighbors and some of the "guys at work," none of them even knew that our city had a writers' conference of any kind, genre-specific or not. When the Huz mentioned that I was at a conference, they automatically assumed it was out of town. And several of these were people who had writers in their families who would probably have gone if they'd known. The cost per attendee was very low, which was appropriate for what amounts to a one-day conference. Add to that the fact that the locals don't have to stay in hotels, and you have a very affordable opportunity that would be a shame to miss. How many writers out there would love the opportunity to learn more, learn how to network and connect with their dream agent or editor, hobnob with published authors and learn from them? How many missed this opportunity because they didn't know about it? Hopefully, we can get more and better advertising in future.

I know plenty of authors who don't like the limelight and don't want to network. That's fine if you're either already so well-published that people across the country know your name anyway, or if you just write for your own enjoyment and have no particular desire to be published. But my personal opinion is that if an author wants to kick-start his career and meet the types of people who can help him in his quest for publication and recognition, he has to network. He has to travel to those other cities, take and give out those business cards, talk to those people whom he might never otherwise have dared approach, and do any appropriate follow-ups. Or, if for some reason he cannot travel, then what about online communities, like Forward Motion? Forward Motion offers so much, and while you're welcome to donate for the web space if you'd like to, you aren't obligated to pay a cent for all the great advice and feedback and support you get. Another great source of info is writer blogs, from which you can often learn a lot, including what NOT to do. A knowledge of mistakes to avoid can sometimes be even better to have in your bag of tricks than a boatload of well-meant how-to advice.

We live in a world that is figuratively much smaller than it used to be, and often a mutually beneficial contact is just an email form away. In order to get published in fiction in today's market, you need a combination of factors, including:

1. a compelling manuscript
2. an agent or editor who loves your work
3. luck/good timing
4. the determination to succeed

It isn't all about the networking. But the networking is important, nonetheless. I heartily encourage all aspiring writers to attend a writers' conference at least once. Aside from meeting the "big shots," you'll meet so many other great people--hopeful writers like you who may become friends for life, crit partners, or valuable contacts in the future. And if nothing else, you can learn a lot about writing and have a great vacation while doing it.

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