Saturday, June 22, 2013

Writer's Conferences

Today, my mind is on writer’s conferences. Actually, my mind has been filled with thoughts of conferences for the past year and a half as I, and my other co-chairs, have been in the throes of planning one. Yes, it's just like herding cats...though cats are more cooperative!
This weekend I am running around at the Hilton in Pasadena for the California Crime Writers Conference, a biennial writer’s conference sponsored by Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. (By the way, don’t show up at the door hoping to get in. We are sold out! No room at the inn.) Being Vice President of SinC-LA automatically makes me a co-chair, and being President of SoCalMWA is an added bonus.

I can remember the first writer’s conference I attended. I wasn’t even writing mysteries yet. I was still a hopeful historical novelist, trying to get an agent. That was way back in 1993. It was held in San Diego and it was there I began learning about networking. Prior to that, I was a solitary writer, working away on my computer without really communicating with a soul about my writing. My son was three and I juggled my time with him, writing, and working on the weekends when his dad could be with him at home. I thought it would be a good place to not only learn a few things about the craft of writing, but the business of writing as well. And I knew I would be able to sit down and pitch my work to an agent or an editor. Those were heady days when all was new and I was just getting my writing legs. As it turned out, I did get my first agent from this conference and I’ve been on a learning curve ever since.

My first agent, Kimberley Cameron

I remember, at that first conference, that we were divided up into genres, and there were always a sparse few at the historical fiction table. We were the conference nerds, but that was okay. I spent all of my school years as some kind of nerd, too: a drama nerd, a literature nerd, an art nerd. But that was all right. It was good to talk and commiserate. I was learning a lot and quickly. From writing query letters to better researching techniques.

I went to this San Diego conference for years until I changed over to writing mysteries and got my publishing contract in 2007. If you do the math, you will see that there is fourteen years between that first conference and a contract. That’s a lot of time to write, a lot of manuscripts, and a LOT of rejections. And depression. Was this career choice really going to work? Would it be worth the time, effort, and money?

SJ Rozan speaking at 2011's CCWC
The first thing I really got from these conferences was inspiration. They served as giant pep rallys to encourage me and let me know that I was not alone! There were many others in the same boat as me. We weren’t in competition with one another, but cohorts in the same battle. I was able to connect with other medievalists online (which has continued to be a valuable resource) and other writers. Later, when I joined the mystery community and signed up for Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, I found a true home and concrete information I could take to the bank. In fact, it wasn’t long after I switched to writing mysteries that I got that contract.

For the writer starting out, I do recommend writer’s conferences. If you write mysteries, may I recommend ours in Southern California? You’ve got some time to plan. It won’t be rolling around again till 2015, but you’d better be ready to sign up by mid 2014. We sold out this time. Next year we might sell out even quicker.  

And if you're at the conference this weekend, stop me before I whiz by and say hello!


Janet Rudolph said...

Great post. Hope the conference this weekend is a great success!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Totally agree. I'm not at this conference mainly because I'm the program chair for the Public Safety Writers Conference which is less than a month away.

Sandra Parshall said...

Organizing a conference is a huge job, and I salute anybody who can do it well -- as you obviously can, Jeri.

Even at the mystery conferences/conventions aimed at fans (Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, for example), a high percentage of the unpublished attendees are aspiring authors, hoping to learn something useful, make contacts, and find inspiration. I always try to keep them, as well as the fans, in mind when I'm a panelist or moderating a panel.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Conferences are a great way for writers to network. It's a solitary job. Connection is important. Wishing you much success with yours!

Jeri Westerson said...

It's over! Thank goodness. I feel I had very little to do with its success. Our Sinc Prez Patty Smiley really did the lion's share and I just nodded and used my whip-cracking abilities when needed--and my loud voice. We owe the success of his conference to many, many hands as well.