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Head in the Clouds

clouds over Austin

I’ve read that aspiring writers should go to writers’ conferences. Austin has this agent conference coming up. Now, if I could get an agent and sell a novel, the advance might be, oh, let’s be wild optimists, $5,000. Something like 15% goes to the agent.

How much is that conference? $439. Plus $50 if you want a professional to critique your synopsis and query. Plus $50 for a prep-your query workshop. Plus $35 if you want to attend the luncheon with a keynote speaker.

Whether or not such events are useful are beside the point since I don’t have $439. Not to mention I’d have to take the kiddo with me–which is probably frowned upon. No matter what people say about equal opportunities for women, they still don’t want you to bring the kid.

But would you go? Do you think these things are worth saving up for (there’s always next year!)?

6 thoughts on “Head in the Clouds

  1. It’s hard to generalize. (If I had the money, I’d go just to see Austin but, of course, that’s not much of a motivation for you. :)) If you got an agent and/or book deal out of it, well heck, it’d be worth it. But it might be worth it (given $, some way of accommodating the kiddo, etc.) just for the experience of seeing if you’re on the right wavelength as some agents.

    You probably saw the writers auction over the last two weeks, to benefit Nashville flood-relief efforts. A lot of agents and editors put up for bid manuscript or query critiques, a 30-minute one-on-one phone call, etc. Boy, I thought, I’d like to have that up-close (however artificial) contact with somebody like that… But then I saw bidding get up into the high three figures, even four figures probably, and thought: No way. What the heck sort of writers are these who can afford to blow, er, excuse me, to donate a thousand dollars for a half-hour of a professional’s time? Even if I had a thousand and one dollars, would I be that desperate, whoops, generous? I actually hope not.

    Now, would I spend a couple thousand for a week or two of isolation in a cabin in a writers’ colony? Oh boy. You bet I would.

    I think you need to invent your own fairy tale, about an earnest, insecure, but completely serious writer who gets stumbled upon by an agent. Sorta like a princess sleeping in the forest, when along comes the agent on a white horse. (Adjust for gender as desired.)

  2. The only publisher I know of who specifically does not want agented submissions is Gray Wolf in Minneapolis, which does you no good because I don’t think they’re into the focus I take to be you, having read some of your material.

    Some–not by any means all–writers’ conferences are inspirational and afford some potential for learning. I don’t believe you require inspiration, rather I believe you provide it with your dedication and determination which, you’ll have observed by now from your own reading, actually trump technique in some of the material that gets into print. Austin is one of the cities agents and editors, particularly from the east coast, would kill to be in during the late Spring/early Summer months, thus their appearances in conferences. The fee you note for the Austin conference is not unreasonable, although the add-on prices tend to make me wonder if the conference is a financial fishing expedition rather than a one-stop learning source. If finances were no object, I’d estimate a fifty-fifty probability that you’d come away from the experience having learned something worth keeping and about a one-in-five probability of meeting an agent who encouraged you to send her/him a proposal. Speaking of which, many times an agent at such meat markets will simply respond with a “Sorry, that’s not for me.” All this tells you is that there is no chemistry between that agent and you. When an agent or an editor begins to discuss specifics with you, then it’s time to listen. More often than not, agents at conferences are not willing to discuss specifics, lest the specificity be taken as encouragement.

    Accordingly: Set aside a change jar into which you plunk spare change for next year; don’t allow yourself the sting of thinking you’d be missing an opportunity for the advancement you so pointedly seek; electronic submissions are becoming the rule, particularly in agencies and houses with assistants in their late twenties and early thirties; Google a service called Marketing the muse, run by a good friend of mine, Marla Miller, which allows you to sign up on line for a free proposal evaluation. Worst case, email her at OCwriter@cox.net and ask to be put on the Marketing the Muse Newsletter. Tell her Shelly recommended. Continue with what you’re doing. If at times it seems senseless, set that particular thing aside and start something–anything–else. Complain, obsess, compulsion away all you want so long as they don’t interfere with your actually doing some work; it is, after all, your talent you are exercising, its very muscles you’re strengthening. Everyone who gets into the tent gains admission in his or her own way. Some even sneak in. There is pure Darwinism at work here in the sense that the fittest survive and what you are doing has already caused the ripples of fitness to appear in the muscles of your work. Meanwhile, read everything you can get your hands on, and write everything you can wrap your heart around.

  3. I can’t really comment on this, never having been to one. Like you, I’m short the cash to attend, but if I could, I probably would just to see what it’s like. That’s just me.

  4. What Shelly said. Also, the one I attended two years ago was a mixed bag- an agent requested my manuscript but then she waited almost four months to say a brief no thanks, something I could have (and have) gotten from email queries in a shorter amount of time (and for free). And people are so anxious, so eager- I found it difficult to tune out the charged atmosphere.

    BTW, I did notice two different women with young kids at the conference. Anyone who gives you a hard time about that doesn’t understand what it means to be both a mom and a writer.

  5. Okay, not being a writer, take this with a grain of salt, but I think those conference things are a waste of time and money. I think they’re nothing more than part-time gigs for agents who want to earn a few bucks on the side in addition to their day job.

    But like I said, just my opinion. šŸ™‚

    I say keep doing what you’ve been doing, writing, start querying, and looking for an agent, You know the drill. šŸ™‚

  6. I went to a con before I got my agent, and one after. The first one I was scared and green and pitched my novel to a completely unsuitable editor, but I was very happy to be there. The second one I felt like there wasn’t much for me because the programs seemed to cover everything I’d spent the previous two years learning on the Internet. It was still enjoyable, but I went alone so it wasn’t the same.

    I say it’s worth it to go once, and it might be best if you have a few people to hang out with. It’s exhausting talking only to strangers. The pitches were both important experiences for me, even though they weren’t fun in any way.

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