Friday, August 27, 2010

Chapter Nine: State and Regional Conferences

During lunch a few months ago with Nancy Sales Cash, published novelist and friend in North Carolina, we talked about the importance of attending state and regional writers' conferences. We're both members of the North Carolina Writers Network and, in fact, we met at an NCNW conference several years ago. We've kept in touch and get together when I'm in NC. Not only do Nancy and I share our mountain heritage and love of writing but we both had the unique experience of living in Australia.

Agents and publishers like writers who join state and regional writing groups and attend conferences. Writers who invest time and expense improving their skills and learning about the publishing business show they're committed to writing - a major step beyond the folks who talk about writing but never get around to putting anything on paper. Being active in the writing community is a big plus.

Writing conferences offer a variety of services for writers. Workshops, catering to the needs of different kinds of writers, continue throughout the conference. Attendees make workshop choices at the time of registration. My most helpful workshop was about using details in writing. The suggestions of the instructor stuck in my head and influence many of the word choices in my work. My least favorite workshops were those in which the instructor threw out a topic for a short paragraph to be written in a few minutes. Since I write deliberately and edit things into the ground, this hurry-up stuff made me edgy. It doesn't suit me and I wouldn't do it again.

Before the conference began, I submitted a few pages to a literary agent for a manuscript critique. Then I had a brief one-on-one meeting with her during which she gave me suggestions for improvements and submission. A similar service, speed-pitching, gives writers a few minutes to present something like a verbal query to a literary agent. I went to a preparation workshop for speed-pitching but I'm not sure I'd be good at it.

I think I got more out of meeting and networking with other writers than anything else at the conference. Talking to so many talented and enthusiastic writers about their work, the dreaded query letter, and publishing was a great experience.

I went to this conference without knowing anyone or even much about how it worked. Unknowingly but very lucky for me, the first person I approached was Glenda Beall, Netwest Coordinator at the time. Netwest is the western division of the NCNW and covers the mountain area of the state where I grew up. Hooking up with this group made the conference so much better. I met a lot of people and made several friends - not bad for a weekend.

By all means, if you go to a conference, start meeting people the minute you arrive. Take business cards to pass out and ask new acquaintances for their cards.

Let's get published!

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