Why are you going to a conference?
If the first thought that pops into your head is “to sell my book” then you are going for the wrong reason.
At least IMHO. I think I’m the only person I know who has ever sold a book at conference. Oh, and Gerri Russell with the American Title contest. And even then, the decision to buy those two books had been made weeks earlier–not at conference.
Believe me, editors do not wake up in a strange hotel, surrounded by hordes of ready-to-be-published authors and think, “wow, I could buy all the books I want today.” Not unless they want to start a feeding frenzy and find themselves missing limbs and fingers before the mystery chicken lunch.
Oh, I can hear you muttering the next question already. “So, if I’m not there to sell a book, why would I spend all that money, take away all that time, burn up vacation days, leave the family (okay, that one perhaps is justification for a whole lot of things) or eat conference lunches for three days straight and not want to sell my book?”
And here is my first and foremost answer:
Or in other words, education, baby, education. This is the perfect time to fill in holes where your writing may be lacking. Yes, Lacking.
We all know where we bite when it comes to our writing. What it is that is keeping you from selling. And if you don’t think you have anything that is holding you back, then ask your critique group or a writing friend you trust to give you the straight poop.
And then listen. No, I mean it. LISTEN.
This is often the hardest part, but the most necessary one. And don’t think, that just because you’ve finished more than one book, written (or sold) a dozen plus books, that your writing is all it can be.
Mine isn’t. That’s why about once a year I pin my editor or agent down and ask them what I should do to make my writing better. What about my books could be improved? I look at reviews from reviewers that I respect and listen to their comments. I listen to my readers and know where I have my work cut out for me. Then I pinpoint what I need to do and I work on it–with books, articles, and podcasts. And the bestest of all: conference workshops with seasoned writers.
That is why a writer’s conference can be your best leg up. Not to sell, but to IMPROVE.
If you have a weak spot or two, then this is your chance to make the real difference in your career. When will you ever have the time to spend 3-4 days just learning about writing? We all make great plans to learn, but when the time comes, it gets gobbled up by families, jobs and, well, writing. But having the tools and knowledge to craft a great book is the most important thing you can ever invest in.
And that toolbag should be nourished and revitalized at every opportunity.
Books don’t sell because you you spent hours stalking editors in bathrooms and at luncheons. Books sell because the writing is smooth, the story compelling, and the characters are crisp and interesting. That takes being skilled, or at the very least, pretty competent on all the elements that go into a book.
Plotting. Motivation. Conflict. Dialogue. Rewriting. Rewriting again.
Knowing that you need to revise it a third, fourth or fifth time and being willing to make that commitment no matter how tired you are of that story.
It’s craft that sells books. It’s craft that keeps readers buying book after book after book.
So go to conference and learn everything you can. Plug those holes in your arsenal. Go to workshops. Take notes. Ask questions. Ask table mates at meals which workshops they went to and how good they were. And if they come with a good recommendation, go hear what else that speaker has to say.
Make sure you have the skills to write a book that will make an editor jump up and down with excitement. And she isn’t going to buy it thirty seconds after you give your absolutely perfect pitch. (Don’t know how to do that? Read my post on Have You Packed Your Pitch.)
She’s going to buy it when she reads the pages. All of them. Months from now. After you’ve applied everything you’ve learned to make your story worth her while.
So what do you need to learn?
Note: Conferences aren’t cheap. And maybe right now you can’t get to one for a myriad of reasons. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own conference at home. Take a look at one of my most popular posts: Feeding the Muse. There you’ll find a list of the best books on writing. Get your craft on at home!