Thursday, February 16, 2012

The conference is calling me

By Gayle Carline

I'm off to the Southern California Writer's Conference this weekend in San Diego. It's only a couple of hours from my house (but no, I won't be commuting). From Friday through Sunday night, I plan go to every workshop I can stuff into my schedule during the day, and join my many friends at the sushi bar each evening, until they kick us out.

If I'm lucky, I will come home exhausted, wired, inspired, and possibly with a cold.

Okay, I could do without the cold.

I don't know where the publishing industry is headed. Right now, mainstream publishers seem to be floundering about, and self-publishing is a free-for-all, but that could all change. The only thing I still believe in is writer's conferences. Here's a clip of Wes Albers, co-director of the SCWC, explaining why:

I completely agree. We need to get out of our own heads.

My first conference was in 2006, in Palm Springs. At the time, I was a newspaper columnist. I wanted to write a book, but didn't know what kind. At the end of that conference, I knew two things:

1. I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did.

2. I won the Topic Award contest, so even if I didn't know much, I didn't suck as much as I thought I did, either.

The funny thing about winning that contest is, those 250 words gave me the idea I could write 70,000 more and make a book. Or maybe it was the way the conference directors kept telling us that we didn't suck. (They're an irreverent crew, which endears them to me all the more.)

The SCWC has a couple of conferences each year, and each year I attend both. They validate my writing and smack me upside the head when I start feeling too smug. I've met some wonderful people who have become friends. I advise all writers, especially those without a steady critique group, to seek out a good, working writer's conference in their area.

Trust me. You need to get out of your own head!


  1. I like your thinking. I stopped going to writers conferences after my books started selling well enough that I felt I had to attend readers conferences instead. And I can't afford both. But I've been thinking that attending an occasional writing workshop would be a great way to challenge myself and keep improving.

  2. I heard Willard Scott say, "When you're green, you're growing, and when you think you're ripe, you're rotten." I usually don't pay a lick of attention to him, but that resonated with me. I suppose when my books start selling by the bushel, I'll do more readers conferences. But in the meantime, writers conferences are offering workshops on the business end of writing, as well as the creative part. There's always something for me to learn!

  3. I agree with you completely on the value of writers' conferences (and critique groups and how-to books on writing compelling fiction) for newbie novelists, Gayle.

    As an editor, I attend several writers' conferences a year, and sit in workshops and take notes. I've also presented at several, and of course enjoy networking with authors and handing my card around.

    I was at the SDSU Writers' Conference in San Diego 3-4 weeks ago, which was excellent. It was also a great excuse to get away from our cold Canadian winter for a week - and to meet up with two writer friends, LJ Sellers and Andrew Kaufman, and meet a new one, Teresa Burrell. Our dinner conversation was as stimulating as the conference!

  4. I'm so new that I've gotten a lot out of both types of conferences, but I tend to get more practical information from the writer's conferences. I'll be presenting workshops at the Pike's Peak conference this year and hopefully the Rocky Mountain Ficiton Writer's in the fall and I plan to take away as much as I can. San Diego sounds a lot warmer than Denver though. Do they do any workshops on the beach??

  5. Yes, the southern California venue was definitely a factor in my decision to go to that one last month, Tom!

    I've also been to Thrillerfest / Craftfest in New York City for the past two years (too hot there in July!) and am planning to go again this year, but NYC has the disadvantage of being very expensive for lodging. Thrillerfest/Craftfest attendees get a special rate at the hotel,though.

  6. I always come away with something from a writer's conference. I believe I always will. Something about craft I've heard over and over will suddenly drill itself into my head and give me a true, "aha!" moment.

    A conference, not for craft but for genre, is the Writer's Police Academy. A lot of hands on information about all things crime.

    I usually try and attend one conference a year. One of these days, maybe a readers conference will make more sense, and I'll attend LCC again.

  7. I probably should have attended this one, being it's in my own back yard, literally minutes, not hours from my house. I used to attend conferences quite a bit but started coming away with a bad taste in my mouth. I was getting annoyed at how they were so geared toward mainstream publishing and in many cases, acted as if indies still didn't exist--especially the cattle calls flooded with agents, along with writers pooling around them, trying to be noticed. I felt for the money, I wasn't getting enough out of them. But in reality, I think I was missing the point. Conferences are also about networking and meeting other writers. And things are in fact, changing. Your post has reminded me of that. Thanks for the reality check.

  8. Any time I can check your reality, Drew, I'm happy to do so. Can I align your brakes, too?

    The thing I'm really liking about this conference is that it's NOT all about the status quo. If you look at the schedule on their website, you see a lot of alternative publishing workshops.

  9. I'm actually due for an oil change, Gayle. Can you fit me in?

  10. The SDSU conference in San Diego had lots of high-quality advanced craft-of-fiction workshops, which is what I look for. Craftfest, part of Thrillerfest, is also great for that - all the presenters are bestselling thriller writers. The ones I go to are tips on how to write a highly compelling story with great characters. Good stuff!

  11. I have to admit, the focus on agents, editors, and Big 6 publishers puts me off most writers conferences. And I've turned down requests to speak at conferences that are geared toward legacy-style publishing. I'm also not sure networking with authors who are still focused on agents and contracts is beneficial to me either. I'd much rather meet with authors who attend readers conferences and have skin in the game. Just presenting another point of view.

  12. The "Legacy" approach was a lot like Jr. high school dating for me. Agents seem to treat me like a pimple-faced geek! So I guess I've had no choice but to go Indie. However, the more I read about everyone's experiences the more comfortable I am with this approach. I've never thought of myself as a "control freak" but I have to say that I love having the final word on the entire process.

  13. You know, to truly nail down those cop, firefighter, EMS, and M.E. characters, there's always the Writers' Police Academy. Where else can you shoot a Glock, handcuff bad guys, and pepperspray a cop? Seriously, we do that.

    This year we've added Taser training and emergency driver training. That's in addition to blood spatter investigation, fingerprinting, interview and interrogation, and...well, it's a writers conference like you've never seen before.

    By the way, Sisters in Crime members receive a 60% discount!

  14. I've not attended any writers' conferences for many years and it scares me to realize just how many years! :-)

    I don't have much of a desire to travel but in those earlier days it was usually an inspirational experience.

  15. Ah, Lee, it would be a dream for me to attend your Writers Police Academy! If only I had the disposable funds for the airfare/hotel/miscellaneous. Someday. Someday it will happen.


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