I went to a writing conference last week, and I have a lot to say about it. Most of it I won’t actually say—not because it’s terribly scandalous but because it’s positive* and thus boring. But I’ll say this: Writing conferences are very different from blogging conferences. Blogging conferences are wine-fueled bacchanals where you’re constantly gasping, “I recognize you from twitter!” and “I know I haven’t met you, but we’re best friends!”
Writing conferences are all about getting published– which is great– but it also paves the way for fringe elements to creep in and lure desperate victims into emotional pyramid schemes.
Hold on, let me back up and be less dramatic: Beware of Cool Guys in T-Shirts who pass out Kool-Aid so you can line up and plug the massive gaping cavern of their souls.
Wait. That wasn’t any less dramatic.
Here’s the thing: Writers are often needy. It’s hard to want something this badly and work this hard (while balancing your day to day life that has nothing to do with writing) all while dreaming of the moment you’ll be plucked from the dirty masses and placed on a golden throne with a sign that says YOU ARE WORTHY YOU MATTER YOU ARE A WRITER.
Except this is all in your head.
No one is hoarding golden tickets. You don’t need cosmetic surgery for your personality or to learn Jedi mind tricks in order to woo a literary agent or editor into handing you a rose at the end of the episode. They’re humans, just like the rest of us: They buy clothes at Target and drink out of water bottles that haven’t been washed in far too long.
But of course we don’t want to believe that. We’re scanning the room for someone who can MAKE US without realizing we should be MAKING OURSELVES.
And now we circle back to the opportunistic bearers of Kool-Aid: Literary Little Fingers are taking note of this perceived caste system. They hear the chaotic heartbeat of writers– VALIDATE ME lub dub VALIDATE ME lub-dub—and they’re like:
Do me a favor, all of you: When someone you don’t really know pats their knee and says “sit down, tell me where it hurts, tell me all your deep dark secrets,” then UNLESS THAT PERSON IS YOUR THERAPIST AND THEY HAVE RELEVANT LETTERS AFTER THEIR NAME you need to exit stage left while screenshotting and texting your friends about how someone is trying to abduct you into a cult.
I get it, I really do. I want someone to tell me I matter and my book is good and I’m worthy of my ambitions and that the eclipse endowed all INFJs with mystical powers to unlock their greatness, etc.
But can we all agree to please stop looking for validation and self-acceptance from other people? It’s not fair to the people we put in those roles (literary agents, spouses, friends, bosses) and it’s not fair to us.
Want to be seen? See yourself.
Want to be heard? Hear yourself.
Because there’s a pretty good chance the person who’s mining soundbites of your most cringe-worthy vulnerabilities is actively trying to convert you into a paying customer for a product that doesn’t exist.
One more thing, since apparently this is Writerly Festivus and my list of grievances is as long as a Westerosi winter: One of the speakers said this to a crowded room of people who spent over $1k to attend a conference about publishing: “None of you in this room are the next Veronica Roth.”
I’ve never read one of Veronica Roth’s books, so I don’t know if I want to be the next her (pretty sure I want to be the first Aussa Lorens…) but you know what I’d be willing to bet the naysayers told Veronica Roth? “You’ll never be the next JK Rowling.”
F that noise.
Instead of walking around with hat in hand, trying to master the right amount of quirkiness + timeliness + human appeal, let’s all do this: Put work into the things that matter.
You probably shouldn’t take advice from people who don’t have a demonstrable record of knowing what they’re talking about, so maybe disregard everything I’m saying– but I have a theory: If you want to get a book deal, the thing that probably matters most is writing one hell of a book. I think I’m allowed to say this because I’m reigning Queen of Putting Energy Into Writing-Adjacent-Pursuits-That-Aren’t-Actually-Writing. I’ve fallen into this trap so many times I should eminent domain the territory and start taxing people who dare to encroach.
Learn from my self-induced and unproductive panic: Write your book. Flee from snake oil salesmen. Develop a real understanding of what it is YOU actually want, and stop thinking anyone else is the key to getting whatever it is you want.
You are the key. You are the gatekeeper.
Now, buy my book for $30 and sign up for my webinar that’s only $759 to the first 200 attendees.
*I’m going to list the great things about the conference in the first comment. It could probably be its own post, but I had a point to make in this one.
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