The Writer’s Life: Should You Attend Writer’s Marketing Conferences?
My students always ask me if it is “worth” going to writing conferences. I always reply that there is nothing like actually meeting and talking to live people and that the connections you make, and the information you receive cannot be obtained any other way.
Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday I attended Author101University in Los Angeles. This is a conference that helps mostly non-fiction writers publish and market their books using Social Media.
I sat on several panels with top-level agents, publishers, editors, attorneys and Social Media experts. We discussed, from each of our unique perspectives, how best to succeed. Of course, since the focus is on the business aspects of the book, the actual writing tends to get short shrift, and is referred to as “content.”
My job is to stand up for that process of creating “content” which used to be called ”writing.” I always remind my fellow panelists and the audience that without us writers creating material, THERE IS NO BUSINESS for them to conduct.
One of the agents suggested that all writers work in a collaborative setting with input from other writers; another suggested that you have a string of “beta” readers and that the writer shape the book based on their feedback. My comment was, “This is all very good advice – but NOT at the beginning.” Every writer needs the opportunity to create a first draft for themselves, one that allows them to get the story out of their head and down on paper. A draft is not about being bad or good, marketable or not, but rather, it is an exploration. This exploration is key for two reasons: one is that it allows the possibility for true originality, and secondly, a shared creation can never be truly owned by the creator.
An editor pushed the idea of having an editor to help you turn your rough musings “into a book.” Once again, I protested, “Yes, but not before the writer has taken his or her first draft of ‘rough stuff’ and revised it.” The job of the editor has changed and, all too often, an editor has no compunctions about making suggestions that would affect the actual content instead of limiting themselves to finding the best presentation of the writer’s story. More head nods and smiles at me from the audience.
Then, one of the agents offered this nugget, “Don’t worry about the writing being great.” I hid my shock and replied tartly that each and every word in a book or screenplay reflects back on the writer’s ability, and that while perfectionism is not a goal, Mark Twain once commented that the difference between using the right word and the wrong word can be the difference between “Lightning and a lightning bug.” I suggested that writers stand up to their editors to use the word they feel best expresses their story as they intended. At which point, there were more audience smiles and nods.
After the panel was over, attendees had the opportunity to “meet and greet” the panelists one-on-one for five-minute advice sessions. At the end of each five-minute period, a buzzer (!) went off and the next person sat down in the chair. In my line, the next writer waiting literally stepped forward and physically pulled the person in the chair out of it so they could sit and talk to me! I have never seen anything like it! While I was flattered, I was also unnerved. This was unfair to both the attendees and to us and I hope in the future to have them extend the time to at least 7.5 minutes. However, much was accomplished.
I am going to share my overall suggestions to the aspiring writers and hope you will find them helpful.
- Make sure the concept will appeal to an audience.
- Write your own story first before showing it to others. Don’t be so quick to get others involved.
- Tweak the work based on a consensus of opinion, not one person’s comment.
- Revise the work before going out with it.
In conclusion, attending a writer’s conference can be very informative and helpful in terms of making connections, but remember to honor yourself as the creator of your book or screenplay. Make sure you are happy with your creation before you let other people read it. Once you have shared it, look for consensus before you agree to make changes. Remember that all good writing is the result of rewriting and be prepared to do several revisions. Lastly, give the work time to process, but also use a deadline to make sure you finish it.
Professor Marilyn Horowitz
Copyright (c) 2015 by Marilyn Horowitz.