Today, I am attending a writing conference. (In case you’re wondering, I’m at the Middle of the Map Conference in Overland Park, Kansas.) While prepping last night, I began thinking about how much I love conferences—and about how many writers are on the fence about attending them.
I always tell writers to attend conferences if they can. Why? Because they might surprise you.
You see, I attended a different conference back in March with the wild hopes of snagging a literary agent.
When the conference was posted, I paid to attend. I also volunteered to help.
Here I was, thinking “volunteering” meant I’d hand out water bottles or get to chat in the early morning hours before arrivals…and then, they asked me to pick up agents and editors at the airport. FYI, I’m TERRIFIED of driving. Like, seriously, I’ve been in three major car wrecks. (None of which were my fault.) I had to go to therapy over it, but I’m much better now, and I wanted to stick to my word and help. So, I diligently practiced driving the route the day before. Later, one of the attending editors complimented me on my driving through the city in the rain. (This was a major accomplishment for me, who’d struggled for so many years with driving. I was really proud of myself for not backing down.) That was the first day.
To give you a better idea of my personal life and how this conference affected me, I work two jobs on a nightshift. I’m awake from 3 PM to 3 AM. On average, I get to bed about 7 AM. I had to attend this conference at 8 AM the very next day. I was exhausted and running on coffee-fueled adrenaline. Like many writers, I’m not wealthy, but I work my hardest, and I often work every day. Still, I paid $300 to attend and an additional $150 to pitch three different agents. It took me WEEKS to save up that money, and I don’t regret spending that money because something amazing happened.
After pitching three different agents, I walked away with three full manuscript requests and endless hope. Seven months later, one request resulted in a denial after we discussed a potential publisher who pushed it through acquisitions (a publisher that I LOVE, but who also didn’t work out in the end). One requested a R&R, and one request is still pending. Back in March, I naively thought I’d found the one, and though I’m still agent-less (and no longer actively querying), I still had a blast.
You see, while I waited for my turn to pitch, I began a conversation with another volunteer. She was a local writer, and we started talking about publishing/writing/reading/everything. She kept cheering me on, and I really appreciated how much she helped me keep my head up, especially since I was so bone-achingly exhausted. At one point, she mentioned her writer’s group, and I mentioned that I’d been struggling to find an in-person one. She invited me to attend hers later that month.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was, an awkward/exhausted/out-of-money author, who’d been looking for a local writer’s group for MONTHS, only to be invited to one when I wasn’t actively searching. My hopes soared. I was so excited—and terrified.
What if they hated me? What if they hated my writing? What if I got a taste for an awesome group, only to be rejected when I asked if I could become a member? What if, what if, what if?
Later that month, I attended a meeting, not knowing what to expect, and now, I’m a regular part of the group. I look forward to our monthly meetings, and I’ve already grown a lot as a writer. Even better, I made friends.
I didn’t find an agent that day, but I did join an amazing writer’s group that changed my life for the better.
Publishing is an awkward, exciting, terrifying road, but more than that, it’s unpredictable.
So attend those conferences if you can. Those surprises can change everything.