Getting Energized at a Writers’ Conference

Writers Conferences aren’t for everybody. They can be expensive and exhausting—and are sometimes havens for dream-smashers and know-it-all bullies. Valerie Geary wrote a great post on the Dark Side of Writers Conferences last August that’s a must-read.

One solution she suggests is choosing a small, regional conference. Smaller conferences are more relaxed, usually take only a weekend, and are budget-friendly—especially if you can find one close to home so you don’t have hotel expenses.

This is why I love California’s Central Coast Writers Conference . It only lasts a day and a half, has about 300 participants, and costs about $150—less if you register early. Plus it’s the friendliest Writers’ Conference on the West Coast, according to Westways magazine.

At last weekend’s conference I got to take small, relaxed classes attended by writers who ranged from newbies to NYT bestselling author Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and agent Nathan Bransford (also author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow.)

Together, we participated in discussions and soaked up the wisdom of the diverse faculty. I especially loved a class I took outside my own genre—a children’s fiction workshop given by Kathleen Duey , award-winning author of over 70 children’s books and an honest, funny, and intelligent teacher. (One of Ms. Duey’s tips for writing MG boys fiction: farts. MG boys love farts.)

Of course, meeting Nathan Bransford was the highlight for me, since his blog is the center of my corner of the blogosphere. In his keynote speech, his (hilarious) query workshop and casual chats, he turned out to be the same smart, classy guy he is on his blog. And he’s full of positive energy and hope for new writers.


Really? In this nasty world of evaporating markets and shrinking advances? In a world where other agents are now telling writers—without irony—to take Hollywood heiress/reality TV star Tori Spelling as our role model

Yup. Nathan offers hope. He says that, although the publishing industry is in an era of rapid—sometimes terrifying—change, things are shifting in favor of writers. Kindle and its many cousins are shaking up the old paradigm of a few big publishing houses controlling the marketplace.

And what’s going to take its place?


That’s right. (Michelle Davidson Argyle, who just self-published her novella  Cinders , you are allowed to crow here.)  Publishing yourself is no longer taboo. In fact Nathan says it’s no longer a no-no to mention a self-published book when you query him. He says he’ll be representing self-publishers himself.  Self-pubbed writers will still do better with agents, he says, but agents will perform different functions.

He also cut us a little slack for spending so much time out here in Cyberia, instead of working on our writing. He calls the time we spend reading publishing blogs “productive procrastination.”

His #1 tip for getting an agent’s attention with your query? Personalize.

And the best way to get personal with an agent (politely of course) is to read agency websites, blogs, and interviews. So maybe you don’t have to feel so guilty you’ve been surfing the Interwebz for the past two hours instead of facing those rewrites.

Another person at the conference who inspired me was Jay Asher—a humble and generous-spirited man with a phenomenal success story. He went from being a nobody like the rest of us—with nothing but rejection slips to show for 12 years of writing—to the top of the N.Y.Times bestseller list: six months from successful query to stardom. And this wasn’t in the dear, dead days of the last millennium when multitudes of indie bookstore clerks lovingly hand-sold works of art into bestsellerdom.

It was two years ago.

He didn’t have a huge platform. He didn’t take Tori Spelling or Paris Hilton as his role models. He didn’t brand himself. (That’s gotta hurt, right?) All he had was a blog with two other children’s book writers—mostly to commiserate over rejection letters—and a MySpace page. Plus, of course, a phenomenally good book

It still happens.

So whether you want to stick to the traditional route like Jay, or hook your wagon to the self-publishing comet that Nathan sees coming, there’s hope. I’m still not sure which way I want to go, and I think I’ll want an agent either way, this time around—but I’m feeling a whole lot better about my options.

Attending a writers’ conference isn’t so much about trying to land an agent or sell your work. It’s about meeting people, keeping up with the industry, and getting energized.

The Central Coast Writers Conference sure did that for me.

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