(Jittery) Thoughts Before the AWC Writer’s Conference

I love writer’s conferences. I’ve got a manuscript critique and one (possibly two) agent pitches scheduled. I get to meet writers from all over and agents and editors from New York. I get to sip drinks and chat about upcoming projects, both mine and others, at a lovely hotel near the Atlanta airport.

I also tend to stand out because I’m usually one of the youngest there by 10 years.

My first writer’s conference was last spring, where I fumbled a pitch to an editor so badly that we decided to walk through what worked and what didn’t in my query letter instead. It felt like all the pressure of a job interview plus everyone around me was a working professional adult plus I was running on adrenaline and internet advice about how to handle this. She was very kind. Internally, I needed chocolate.

When you’re just starting out, the idealistic part of you dreams of an agent or editor falling in love with your manuscript at first sight and then a year later you’ve got a book deal then a movie deal then fame and fortune and the privilege of quitting your day job. The realistic part of you knows that agent or editor might like your story but it still needs work, and they may take it or they may not. And, of course, the pessimist in you is pretty sure no one will ever like anything you ever do, because you’re more acquainted with your failings than anyone else will ever be.

The best advice I’ve heard for people just starting out in the conference scene is this: Approach it to make connections.

Regardless of industry, size, or location, every conference is an educational networking opportunity. What matters at first glance might be getting published and being successful, but what matters at a deeper level is the people you meet. I met one of the best beta readers I’ve ever talked to at my first conference, and I made friends that I say hi to at every Writer’s Club meeting months later. I got business cards for agents that I can reach out to in the future. I picked up some contact info for local critique groups.

If anyone out there is thinking of publishing a book, I strongly recommend you attend a writer’s conference—there are several coming up this year. Get your query letters, manuscripts, and business cards ready. I can’t wait for my second, even though I’m a snarl of anxiety, and I’m all hopes that it’ll be ever better than the first.

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