In all my writing classes, we have talked about the importance of going to literature conferences. I’ve always wanted to go to one, but I have never been able to make the time due my whole life getting in the way. But this year, I manhandled my schedule into cooperation and I made the time to go.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
The first day, I was scared stiff. Aside from all of the stress of taking the train to Provo and making the connection with the wonderful family I was staying with, I had anxiety and was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what it would be like, I didn’t know who I would meet, and I certainly didn’t know how I should act.
I took a bunch of different classes, treating it as though I was buzzing between courses at my university. I didn’t talk to anyone, I sat as far away from people as I possibly could and just watched. It took me a bit to figure out that there was much more to the presentations than information absorption. People actually talked and responded to the panelists and presenters and each other. That was new.
It wasn’t until my third class of the day that someone made contact with me.
For the third time, I was sitting with as much space as possible between me and my neighbor as possible. A girl clutching a tablet entered the room a minute or so after I sat down, looked around for a second and made a beeline for the chair next to mine. She plopped herself down beside me, swept her hair out of her eyes and looked at me.
“Hi. I’m __________. What do you write?”
My first thoughts: Oh my goodness! Someone actually wants to know what I write! And they care!
Usually, when people find out I’m a writer they politely ask what I write and when I begin to answer they get a glazed look in their eyes and stop listening. Then comes the “Well, let me know when you get published so I can read your book” line and the conversation is over.
Hate that dialog. I hate it with every cell in my body.
Anyway, this girl and I got talking about the projects we were working on and about the other classes we had been too that day. We talked for a good three minutes, exchanged information and bam! I was exposed to the real way to network. Everything made sense.
Lesson One: Networking does not consist solely of following people on the internet. You need human connection. You can’t just subscribe to people you think will benefit you on Twitter. Or on Facebook. Or blogs, although that is effective method. More effective than I thought, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
On the second day, I had a talk with a few of the amazing authors in attendance. One told me that coming to these literature conferences and meeting people and publishers and other writers is the best way to build your network. The more literature conferences you come to, the more people you can befriend and meet. You can get to know editors and agents and give pitch sessions. These conferences help you find writers in your own area and start up critique groups.
I ran into one of my colleagues in the lobby between sessions and he introduced me to a guy who was pretty well known in the writer’s blogging world. As we got talking, he checked out my name tag and asked me if I had a blog and what was it called. I recited it back to him and come to find out, he knew my blog! I couldn’t believe it! Up until this point, I didn’t really feel like blogging mattered a whole ton. As you may have noticed, I have a hard time posting consistently. In one sentence, I realized Lesson Two: Blogging Matters.
Seriously though. The internet is a busy, busy place. People flit across pages like moths in the night, and when that amazing porch light page is turned on, people flock to it. I’m not saying my blog is a big hitter out there in the cyber world, but I never thought in a million years would I meet someone who was reading my blog. It makes the difference.
As I mentioned before, I had the opportunity to shake hands with many talented authors. It was nerve wracking to think that I would be in the same general area as published and successful versions of my ultimate goal. And yet, once I was there, started to figure out which authors wrote what, and saw them in an environment with their friends (Yes! Authors are friends with one another!), I realized something. Lesson Three: Authors are Real People Too.
I was very surprised at how normal all these author’s lives were. One lady has a bazillion kids and is a very successful writer for teenage girls. Another knits in her spare time. And another was a lawyer before he became an author and is writing to escape the profession. All of them had diverse backgrounds and a home life. I was also surprised to find they were all very friendly, very supportive of beginning writers, and willing to give advice to anyone who asked. For example, I accidentally knocked into one author on the way to another panel and as we got talking, he asked me for my blog information because he was interested in following me! If anything made this conference perfect, it was the fact that these authors were interested in my success.
Going to Life, The Universe and Everything taught me a ton. I learned things about the writing community that I would not have learned while at school or surfing the internet. For all of you who are students out there, this conference is FREE. Take advantage of it. It is a wonderful experience that I won’t trade for the world. Even if you aren’t a student and need to pay to attend, keep in mind that the payoff exceeds the cost. Go. Get out in the world. And when you do, come find me! I can’t wait to meet you in person.