As you know, if you read this blog regularly, I am often out at events for writers. The last few weeks have been particularly busy, culminating in the wonderful SCBWI agent party.
As much as I enjoy going to these events I do occasionally wonder if it's actually worth going out in to the Big Book World and if I'd be better off staying in and, you know, writing.
I decided it was worth analysing in more detail, what do I really gain by going to these events that justifies the amount of time, money and effort that I put in?
1. Connection with other writers.
You've heard it said before but writing really is a lonely business. At times the self doubt and the revising and the rejections are enough to send you quietly mad. Which is why I've put this as number one on my list. Going out and talking to others, finding out you're not alone, the giving and receiving of sympathy, the drinks, the chats, the laughs, the bonding of people who all want the same thing. Who all understand. It is priceless.
2. Pulling back the publishing curtain.
Like many writers when I first began to think about publication I was desperate to find out more. I trawled the internet, read blogs and books and tried my best to educate myself in the art of writing and submitting. The one thing that was really hard to find though was what the agents and editors were actually like.
My first submissions were made using the Writers Handbook and based on a very short paragraph. It was hard to imagine them as real people and when the rejections came in it seemed as if they were the gatekeepers. Barring my way into publishing, stopping me achieving my dream.
The first events I went to gave me the chance to see the people in the publishing world as actual human beings. All of the ones I've met, without exception, have been passionate about what they do, giving up their free time to attend events and talk to would be authors. They are unfailingly kind when we flub our pitches, they excuse our stammering attempts at conversation, they know how hard it is and they do our best to help.
It helped me understand that they are all looking for something fabulous and that what that was would differ from person to person. It enabled me to tailor my submissions, to prove that I was serious about what I was doing and to accept the rejections as a business situation, not a personal reflection of me.
3. Managing Expectations
Meeting with professionals and other writers has helped me understand so much more about the process, the hard work, the difficulties, the things that can go wrong.
I know now just how long it could take to find an agent and get published, I know how much work is required, how much patience and perseverance. I understand much more about what's involved in being an author, the school visits, the deadlines, the marketing and social networking, the economic instability, the bad reviews, the bottom line.
And I know that being published will not change my life. I will not become rich or famous. I will not be happy forever more.
But somehow knowing all that and still wanting it makes me quite philosophical. I'm doing it for the love of it and that is a wonderful thing.
Are there any downsides to going to events? Well, I'm not the most sociable person nor the most confident so I've had to push myself to talk to strangers, to pitch to agents, to mingle with the crowds. If anything though it's all been good for me. For example, my ability to converse with five agents at the last agent party with some modicum of dignity and to give a decent pitch at the same time is only because of the previous stuttered and embarrassing attempts of previous years.
The other aspect that can be hard is that being at publishing events moves your focus from the actual writing to the process of submitting instead. It often makes me want to send things out even when they're not done, I feel rushed into submitting so I can make use of the contacts I've made. I feel pressure to just get on with it, to get published now damn it!
I've learnt to my detriment that this is always a bad idea so now I refuse to give into the feeling and after a day or two it tends to fade and I can get back to writing.
Overall then I'd say that going to events has helped much more than hindered. I've learnt huge amounts about writing, submitting and the mechanics of publishing. When I'm finally ready to go into my next round of submissions it will be with an understanding of what I'm doing, an idea of who might best be suited to not just my work but to me as a person and with a few hard earned personal contacts.
Best of all though, because of the events I've gone to in the past I will have a group of people who will be there to help me through the inevitable rejections, to encourage me to keep going and to help me improve for next time. Best of all is knowing you're not alone.