Status, as they say on Blogger: I seem to be on the edge of coming down with something. I feel just lousy enough to not be up to doing anything, but not quite lousy enough to justify curling up on the couch under a blankie and not doing anything. Very annoying; would almost rather be really sick.
So, a couple weekends ago I went to A Rally of Writers
, a local writing conference. Everybody says you should go to writing conferences to further your career; this one had the merits of being practically next door, only one day long, and by conference standards, relatively cheap. So why not give it a try?
Unfortunately, the only way to find out if these things are worth going to is to go to them. So I basically figured I was shelling out $85 to find out if it was worth shelling out $85. And I did, and... it wasn't. I'm not sorry I went; it was worth the investment just for the finding out. And don't get me wrong; it was fun. The environment was very welcoming, the food was good, and I had several interesting conversations.
But, you know, I can have interesting conversations without paying $85 for the privilege. I was hoping for a bit more than that.
The keynote speaker, Loren D. Estleman, arrived a couple of hours late. Fortunately he's a better writer than he is a navigator. He's also an enjoyable speaker, with a very laid-back style such that you don't realize how much fun you're having until you notice you're smiling a lot. And the conference organizers deserve kudos for rescheduling on the fly to accommodate his delayed arrival with minimal disruption and without having to cut anything else too short.
Estleman's session on "addressing markets" was fun, if not particularly practically applicable. I also attended sessions on the "nuts and bolts" of selling your work, "voice in the personal essay" (which was more personal essay than voice, unfortunately), and "avoiding cliches", as well as the lunchtime speech on "getting published the hard way". All the presenters were entertaining to listen to; had I just been there for entertainment, I would have been quite content.
One thing the conference lacked was professional networking opportunities. There were no pitch sessions; in fact, there were no agents in attendance at all, or if there were they were keeping very low profiles. Now, I knew about the lack of pitch sessions going in; the advance info about the conference was pretty minimalist, but it did include the schedule. But the only attendees who made a profession of anything writing-related seemed to be (a) working writers, and (b) creative writing teachers.
This may to some extent be a function of the size of the conference; with about 100+ attendees expected, and only one day, it makes sense that it couldn't offer the same attractions as the big conferences like Backspace. Also, Michigan is very far from the heart of the publishing world. But it still seemed like this was an aspect of a "writers conference" that was entirely overlooked.
Another thing lacking, and this was more disappointing because the schedule hinted that it might exist, was serious professional development workshops. The nuts-and-bolts "workshop" on preparing and submitting manuscripts, queries, and etc. turned out to be simply a presentation, and that mostly on formatting rather than content. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Steven Piziks
is a very popular teacher at his day job, because he managed to make an hour-long lecture about fonts and margin sizes engaging and entertaining. However, the actual information was nothing that I couldn't find in fifteen minutes with Google. (And I have. Quite some time ago.) And yet, half the audience were taking copious notes and asking questions; clearly it was news to them.
Lest it seem that I'm being too hard on newbie writers, I should mention that I'd spoken to quite a few of these folks, and none of them were
newbies. In fact, almost everyone I talked to had been attending this conference for three years, five years, even ten years or more. When Piziks asked how many of the sizable audience (I'd guess about 40 people) considered themselves writers, almost every hand went up. But when he asked how many had finished
something, I believe mine was one of only three hands in the air. And I think one of them may have gone down when he asked who'd submitted something for publication.
It seems to me that there is a whole subculture of people who've made "wanting to be a writer" into a social activity. And that's another post, which it seems I don't have the brain for right now.
Tomorrow, I'm off to another writing conference. This one has the merit of being free. I don't have high expectations, not least because the schedule doesn't have much that I'm jumping up and down about. But for no investment beyond a bit of driving, it seems worth a try. Maybe I'll find some fellow disillusioned cantankerous cranks lurking in the back corners. ;-)