Friday, April 10, 2015

The Pros of Cons! (Conferences, that is)

    Ok. It's been a really great year for me. After years of trying to get published, after dozens and dozens of rejections, my middle grade book was finally, actually, for-real, still-can't-believe-it published this January by Scholastic Press.
    Since then, I've been asked the following question several times: what is the most valuable piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to make it as a writer?
Inevitably I start with the same advice everyone gives: “WRITE TONS” (because it's, you know, true) and “READ TONS” (for the same reason). But then I get a bit more down to brass tacks, and my advice gets (perhaps) more helpful: You wanna take your writing – and writing career – to the next level? Get your rear to a writing conference.
    Seriously. I can mark with a clear, solid line the moment when the trajectory of my writing and publishing journey took a dramatic turn for the better. After being encouraged by several people for several years, I finally registered for our little local writing conference. It's small (about 100 people), short (a day and a half), and has a decidedly more adult-market emphasis. But it didn't matter. It was totally eye-opening.
    I took a workshop on crafting taut, concise scenes. I took a workshop on building believable, dynamic characters. I learned how to be smart about querying agents. I had my mind blown open by a class about how to effectively structure your plot to keep the action moving, the reader reading, and the stakes high.
   I connected with the other writers around me, something I hadn't done up until that point. My writing had always been a personal, private thing – almost a secret. To spend the weekend with a group of people who had the same passion and struggles as me was inspiring and invigorating. I was not just some frustrated hack with a pile of rejection letters – I was part of a community, part of a tribe that was working at improving our craft and learning the ins and outs of a crazy, confounding industry.
    After that first conference, I was hooked. I attended the big annual SCBWI in LA (overwhelming, but in a good way), and several smaller regional SCBWI conferences. At each one I connected with more writers, learned more about good writing, and gained more confidence in how the writing and publishing world works.
    A couple years and several conferences later, I met my agent at a conference. She liked the sound of my story, and asked for the manuscript. And it's been a wild, joyful ride ever since. And the ticket for that ride, truthfully, was attending that very first conference.
    Yeah, you can learn stuff online. Sure, you could listen to writing podcasts and buy books about writing and even read blogs about it (eh-hem). And you should. But there is just no substitute for being in the same room with other writers, for having a great instructor pull back the curtain on the writing process right in front of you, for face-to-face contact with an agent or editor.
    So look around. Find a close writing conference, or pick a farther one and make a fun trip out of it. It doesn't have to be a “children's” conference (although I can't recommend and praise SCBWI events enough) – good writing is good writing, no matter the age of the audience.
    Get thee to a conference, if you haven't already.
    I can virtually guarantee you'll think it's worth every penny and every minute.
Here's a helpful online listing of writing conferences:
Here's a link to a list of SCBWI's regions:
And here's a link to SCBWI's national annual events:

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