"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Five reasons to go to the Southern California Writer's Conference

The Southern California Writers Conference, Los Angeles*, is less than a month away and I'm getting excited, as usual, to be in that warm environment of people who don't back slowly out of the room when I start talking about my characters as if they're real people.

A lot of people, though, writers and non, wonder why I still go to writer's conferences. Aren't I already a writer? A published writer?

Yes and yes, and here's why I need to go:

1. The SCWC is not just about the process of writing, it's also about the business of writing. I've already blabbed about the state of publishing, but a writer's conference is a great place to hear industry experts talk about what's being done and what's falling out of favor and what are the pros and cons of anything I'm considering doing. Where's the market for marketing? Are bookmarks still a viable way to advertise your books? Are there any good websites out there for publicizing what you've done? There's always something new to be learned.

2. Guest speakers have been through the process. Almost all of the SCWC's speakers are people who have current tales to tell about getting published. Although I love to hear from the old guard, they've had the same agent for 40 years and the same publisher for 35. When I was at Bouchercon a couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to end up sitting next to Lee Child at the bar. His advice to all the newbies was to "forget Facebook and all that social media and just write good books and be nice to people." Writing good books is good. Being nice to people never hurts. But Lee is a famous guy who is, by now, surgically attached to his agent/publisher. He doesn't need social media - yet. I'd like to hear how someone did it in this era.

3. Even though my last two books have been self-published, I still like to learn about writing a good query letter. Why? Because I need to sell my books, and part of that advertising is a good hook, a good jacket blurb, a good way to get people to want to pick up my book and plop down their money. Even if I never queried another agent/publisher, I want to hone my book's description until it's taut and enticing. I don't want to go to an author festival and tell people, "Well, my book is about this private eye who used to be a housecleaner but she doesn't want to clean houses anymore, so she gets her license and this wealthy man hires her to find out if his wife is cheating on him, but then funny accidents start happening and..." Gah. After cutting and sanding and honing and working, I can say, "A housecleaner-turned-detective is hired to investigate a wealthy, possibly cheating wife, but the wife's best friends have other ideas. After all, a friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a body."

4. My writing can always be improved. Any author who says their writing is perfect is deluded. My writing is good, but it can always be tightened or even expanded, and I can always learn new ways to use first person or write someone's thoughts without being boring or mix up description and action to keep the pace moving. Years ago, I heard Willard Scott say something interesting (okay, granted, I don't listen to Willard very often). He said, "When you're green, you're growing, and when you think you're ripe, you're rotten." I don't want to ever be rotten.

5. There is the night life. After the workshops and the speakers, etc., there's always a table where drinks appear and writers and agents and publishers and the conference staff gather to talk about how the day went and laugh and make plans for the next day. The agents don't huddle by themselves. The writers don't pounce on said agents. Everyone just talks about writing and publishing and where it's all going. At least, when we're not making stupid jokes and making the waitresses miserable because people keep arriving and leaving and joining tables until the entire bar is just one big table.

I love this conference.

*Why they call it the Los Angeles conference when it's held in Newport Beach, I don't know, but it means I don't have to get a room because I'm pretty local, so I don't care.


Joo said...

Wonderful blog Gayle! Have twittered and posted to our SC page!!!

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks, Sweetie! I mean every word.

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