Next month, I’m going to the Pennwriters’ annual Writing Conference. It’s a fairly big deal, some 450 writers, editors and others, our keynote speaker being Joyce Carol Oates, and agents and editors falling out the cracks to find their Next Big Thing.
Of course, I’ve signed up to pitch an editor, attend the critique sessions for opening pages, and meet and greet at cocktail hour. I’ve decided not to sell my book at the Author Tea and Book Signing–no one really wants to be seen buying a book on divorce. I’m also passing the Published Authors’ luncheon, even though I’m entitled to attend. I want to manage my time well, as there’s a lot of ground to cover. I was accepted (one of only 15) in the special fiction intensive workshop on Thursday, so I expect my head will be reeling with all sorts of advice and new ideas.
This will be my second Pennwriters’ event; I also attended in 2004. I’ve been to a dozen smaller conferences over the years, those mostly focused on writing and publishing from the technical point of view, i.e., how to improve your work. These big conferences, according to their promoters’ hype, are for The Purpose of networking and pitching your manuscript to an agent. Many of the people supposedly in the know jabber on about this raison d’etre at great length, and name-drop and practice their pitches incessantly.
Last time, I bought into the hype, terrified that I would do something “wrong.” I was a Pennwriters newbie and only knew a few people from the northwestern Pennsylvania region. I’m not what you call shy, but I’m just not good at professional schmoozing, unlike several of my blogroll comradettes. (Jane and Daisy, you know who you are.) I practiced my pitch, got in with the agent, who sat back, coolly disinterested, and asked me to send the manuscript to one of her fellow agents in her office. Blown away, I did–and of course got a polite rejection letter in eight weeks.
Since entering the blogosphere, I have done extensive reading on the subject of agents, at the Writer’s Digest site, and others, and what I’ve discovered is that although conferences are the place where most would-be novelists may have their only opportunity to meet an agent or editor face-to-face, that most agents and editors are not using that interface to select manuscripts and clients. Editors are reading blogs. Agents are reading synopses by email, saving time and paper. While networking is always important–you never know what connection will click in the future–the conference pitch is not the be-all and end-all some believe it to be.
So, I’m spending my energy looking over the delicious workshop list, choosing what will be valuable to my development as a writer, and what will refresh my spark. My critique partner Jean and I are traveling and bunking together, so we’ll probably divide and conquer, gathering twice as much information for our time.
I found, last time, I received as much valuable information from nameless writers sitting at the bar or those casually eating boxed lunches, and from speakers who didn’t remotely write the same genre as I, as I did from the so-called “big guys.” I hope I can return the favor for others.
Wayne Dyer says, “Just as we’re all students throughout life, we’re all teachers. In fact, we learn best by offering what we desire for ourselves to as many individuals as we can, as frequently as we can…..Following this line of thinking, it’s imperative that we make deliberate effort to increase our inspirational energy, as this will lead us to being both a spiritual learner and teacher simultaneously.” Here’s hoping that by working together, we free our spirits to express those stories within us.