Last week I attended my first ever writers conference, the 2018 San Francisco Writers Conference. I went into it being pretty sure I wanted to make writing my new career. The experience affirmed this decision and then some.
Deciding to be a writer, if you've ever been there or imagined what it would be like, is a combination between exhilarating and terrifying. I learned so much from my experience at SFWC, including getting a peek behind the curtain of what I do not know. There's a lot yet to learn, but here is what I believe to be the most important insights from the conference.
1. It's a small big world
The picture I had going into this was that the publishing world is huge. Basically since the invention of the printing press, writers have been trying to get their work picked up by a publisher. One thing I expected going into the conference was to be overwhelmed by the massiveness of the industry itself.
While yes, it's true that it's a big world out there, it's actually pretty intimate. Everyone seems to know everyone. At least here in the San Francisco arm of the industry. This is exciting in one way and scary in another.
It makes it really easy to get a feel for what's what, and odds are you'll have a small degree of separation from someone you really want to talk to who could help advance your career. That's really cool.
Ok, well maybe not bad, but reason to proceed with caution. In a small world like this, your reputation means everything. It's important to always put your best foot forward. It's also incredibly important to always present your best work. If you query an agent before your work is ready, for example, you risk exhausting your best potential matches too soon. You only get one chance to make the first impression.
2. It's the best time to be a writer
This is something that kept getting repeated over and over. And you know what, it's encouraging. Between options of going the traditional publishing route or self-publishing and marketing your work yourself, it's basically impossible to fail. You WILL get your work into the hands of people who want to read it. That's not too bad of a worst case scenario.
From my perspective, this takes the pressure off a little bit. Even though I know I want to publish traditionally, I'm going to take my time and be really deliberate about who I partner up with. It's about finding the right fit for me and my work. It will happen.
3. Learn to love the rewrite
Oh how naive I was to think that after I finish the first draft of my manuscript I will be close to ready to publish! Oh sure, I'll need an editor to read through it and make some changes here and there, but then it will be good to go to print, right? LOL
Just in listening to all the authors discuss their process and experience, I learned that one should expect to do at least a handful of rewrites of their books, with somewhere between 15-20 being common. The amount of work involved in that is daunting in a way that makes me realize just how many people probably give up along the way.
The message that many of them pushed forth was this: if you don't love the rewrite, this probably isn't the right career path for you. It's a LOT of work to mold a first draft manuscript into something bookshelf-ready. From developmental editing to peer group assessments to beta readers, the path to making your work as good as it can be is long and arduous; yet oh so fulfilling when you finally finish.
4. It's never too early to build a platform
Whenever you go to an agent hoping to get picked up, they expect to see evidence of marketability. Part of that is showing that you have a following on social media; a pool of followers that you can potentially translate into sales and a fan base.
Instead of keeping your writing to yourself until it's polished, it's good to use your blog as an excuse to practice your craft and put sharable content into the world.
If anything it's a good excuse to challenge your creativity and have some fun!
One of the more surprising things I took away from going to the sessions is there are elements of every genre that can be incorporated in any book to make it stronger.
For example, I didn't expect to get a lot out of the panel on romance and women's fiction writing, but it was AMAZING. I feel like I've got an edge now on developing meaningful relationships between my characters.
The same is true for mystery, suspense and thrillers, middle grade contemporary fiction, and even memoir.
It may be intimidating, but the world of professional writing feels like the home I never knew I was missing. It's full of opportunities to improve skills and build lasting relationships. All you have to do is be yourself, tell meaningful stories, and put in the work.
I'm grateful to everyone that made the experience so unforgettable and life-changing. I can't wait to go back next year and see how far I've come.