The Writers Conference Come Down

I recently attended my very first in-person writers conference. You guys I was so excited. I want to say it was worth the money but I just can’t this time. I think the organizers did a great job, and the volunteers were amazing. And, I get it, we’re in a living, breathing economy and people need money to eat.

DUDE: How Much Did You Spend?

I’m glad you asked. I spent about $500 on the conference itself, and about $1,000 in hotel room fees. That doesn’t include the keynote luncheon (another $55) and the $50 I paid for the honor of 10 minutes with a working agent. During the social at night (during dinner hours – 5-7pm in which there were crackers and cheese) there was a $14 glass of wine to keep me company. And I don’t even want to talk about the books I bought and how much that was. (About $74…) Not to mention the gas driving there and back from the Woodlands. (I’m going to conservatively guess about $100).

What Did You Learn?

Don’t get the liquor because it’s $2.00 cheaper than the wine…just sayin’. I did receive some great tips from the agent who was nice even though my pitch was rambly and awkward. My favorite presentation was the Diversity in Kid Lit meeting with Candace Buford. She was honest, funny, engaging, and informative. I did buy her book – ‘Kneel’ and I recommend you do the same. (Y’all know I’m not getting paid for that.)

POC Characters in Fantasy Novels

I had a chance to ask if it was alright that I write a mixed-race character or POC as my main character in the YA Fantasy novel I am writing. The answer was, basically, no. I know there is a lot of controversy around this – and, at least when it comes to Fantasy, I can see both sides. My intention wasn’t to ride the ‘POC’ bandwagon but from a sincere desire to see more representation in fantasy. We’ve all seen enough straight old white men running around the Shire, am I right? I mean, it’s time for some color, literally and figuratively. Having said that – I don’t want to take away the opportunity of a young black or brown writer trying to break into YA Fantasy. I’ve decided to chuck the whole ‘white fragility’ thing and I am changing the color of my main character back to white. I have POC as my secondary characters just like I have same-sex couples in my secondary characters as well. I know not every white person will agree with me. Heck, I know not every person of color will agree with me, but that’s what feels right to me right now. There is a lot I could say about white privilege but looking around the rooms this weekend it was clear it was working well. I saw maybe 5 people of color. That says something about our society as a whole and the literary society specifically. We need to do better. We need to make these types of conferences more accessible and seen by more people of color. We’re trying, I think, but there is so much more work to do.

Saving Money at the Conference

So here are my solid tips for saving money at a writer’s conference.

  1. The Hotel

The hotel is fun if you can afford it (I brought the family and they had a nice pool outside) but it definitely isn’t necessary. I could have saved about $600 if I’d stayed off the main hotel and got an air B&B or a Holiday Inn and just driven in for the day. I will do this next time, assuming I have the money for a next time.

2. The Wine

Don’t buy a $14 glass of wine. That is ridiculous. Ditto the $12 liquor drinks. Bring your own in a mug if you need to or better yet – keep a clear head and drink water or tea instead.

3. The Extras

Skip the luncheon unless it’s an author you would shove your grandmother aside to see and get yourself another agent opportunity.

4. Volunteer

A wonderful way to save money is to work as a volunteer. This wasn’t available to me as I don’t live in Austin but if you’re nearby and your job or family obligations allow it – there is no reason not to take this opportunity.

I met some wonderful writers. Women who were funny and awesome and literary and the conversations you can have with someone who shares your passion for creativity are golden and amazing and worth any price to pay.

Having Said That…

Having said that, and here I am going to be so honest I will probably never be allowed to another writers conference ever again – I have to say I felt the jadedness. I felt the exhaustion and irritation of the agents and the desperation and confusion of people committed to writing who may never see their words in print unless they do it themselves. It kind of broke my heart. I’m not a political animal. I’m not bold or confident or loud. I’m just quietly working away at this word-craft that I love. And everything I heard last weekend told me that was not going to be enough. That I, was not enough.

It doesn’t help I applied to an actual MFA program at Sam Houston University and I found out on the way to the conference I didn’t get in. The reason I was given? It’s competitive. So, I wasn’t good enough. Whew. That’s tough.

And, in a way, that is the most valuable lesson I learned from this conference. Rejection is normal. It’s part of the process. And since no one thinks I am anything to write home about (pun intended) I am free to dance away in my own little corner as freely and creatively and backwardly and awkwardly as I want. I’m over here doing the ‘Seinfeld/Elaine’ of writing and there is no one who gives one shit. And that is amazing and wonderful and freeing in a way I can’t even tell you.

So – just go freaking create. Create whatever is inside you and don’t hold back. You are the author of your own story and you get to write it any damn way you please. Oh, and don’t you dare give up. Writing is MAGIC and you are a freaking WIZARD. OWN IT!!

Agents are Human

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I recently read an email from an anxious writer about whether or not we have to grab the agents attention in the first 500 words. Honestly I think that is probably a good buffer of about 250 words – and we need to remember that agents are human.

Sometimes as writers we get locked into adversarial thinking. Us against the thousands of submissions agents receive, and us against the high wall of the agents attention span. It can feel like it isn’t fair, or it’s too hard.

An agent’s day job is pitching the manuscripts they’ve already accepted to editors, to publishing houses, to be an advocate for their author throughout the process. When they’ve spent eight hours doing that, then they go home and start on the ‘slush’ pile. That’s right. They’re reading new submissions in their off time.

Do you know what I’m doing in my off time? Well it depends – when I’m done making dinner, packing lunches, ensuring homework and baths get done, and my two young children don’t destroy each other over the Mouse Trap game (someone needs to pick the yellow mouse! You can’t both use red!) I’m catching up on my reading, doing yoga (Adriene I love you) or if it’s a bad day, bingeing the next fantasy series on Netflix and eating ice cream after the kiddos are tucked in bed.

I assume agents don’t take the job then move to a deserted island in the pacific ocean. I assume they also have spouses, loved ones, some have young children, pets, maybe sick parents, possibly an addiction to amazon shopping, you know….they’re human.

So if it seems hard, or that good, slow moving literature can’t catch a break these days – maybe you’re right. Society in general is more distracted and our attention spans aren’t the greatest in the best of times.

But don’t let that dissuade you from trying, and remember it isn’t a fight, or a contest, it’s a marathon, and they WANT to find a good story to advocate for. Good stories are why they got into the literary business in the first place. It isn’t ‘us’ against ‘them’ it’s us against ourselves. Learn something every day. Don’t stop until you know it all. (So, never). And keep at it.

Denzel Washington once said, “If you hang around the barber shop, eventually you’re going to get a hair cut.” And if your novel or poem is the next Hemingway or Morrison, that will shine through.

Now go forth and write a lot, and when you’re ready, submit with grace. They’re waiting for the next great work of art to rock their world.

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