I don’t know how many times we’ve talked about conferences here. Probably more than we should.
But with Left Coast Crime coming up next week (holy shit, time flies!), in Los Angeles no less, I’ve kinda got conferences on the brain.
Before I sold my first book, I had no idea what a writers’ conference was. I vaguely remember something called Bouchercon — which I pronounced boo-shay-con — but I really had no idea what the heck it was, even though I knew it was named in honor of William Anthony Parker White, otherwise known as Anthony Boucher.
But other than that one small kernel of knowledge (ha!), I was completely clueless about such things.
The way I looked at it, I really only had one shot at selling my book. That shot was my former screenwriting agent, who I hadn’t spoken to in a couple years and who I hoped would agree to read what I’d written and pass it on to one of her contacts in New York. Which, fortunately, is exactly what happened.
Had my ex-agent not loved the book, I’m not sure what I would have done, because I really had no idea how to go about getting a literary agent to read my work.
If I’d been smart and had been paying attention to the novel writing community (although I didn’t even know there WAS an actual novel writing community), I would have noticed that these little get togethers are not only a great place for authors to get drunk and gripe about their lives (let’s face it, we’re all lonely, isolated sonsabitches who need some simple human interaction), they’re also a truly terrific place for unpublished writers to get their feet in the door.
When I went to my first conference — Thrillerfest #1 in Arizona, still the best conference I’ve ever been to — I was surprised to find that there were a LOT of unpublished writers there. In fact, I was surprised there were any unpublished writers there at all. For some reason I had the mistaken impression that there would be writers and readers, with no crossover.
Shows you how stupid I am.
So it surprised me to meet so many aspiring writers. But it also delighted me. Because I knew that these people were playing the smart game. There is no better way to get your work read by those who can really make a difference than to MAKE FRIENDS WITH THEM.
Yes, I put that in caps.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THEM.
So next time you’re at Bouchercon and Lee Child walks by, be sure to grab him by the elbow and shout, “Lee! Lee! I love your books, will you be my BFF?”
Because I’m sure Lee will love you for it.
Okay, maybe not. That’s actually a pretty terrible idea. This ain’t Facebook. And even though Lee is one of the kindest gentlemen you’re likely to meet, you wouldn’t want to subject him to such abuse.
So it’s probably not a great idea to grab anyone by anything. That kind of behavior could potentially get you arrested. Or hurt.
What you DO want to do is not target any author or agent or editor in particular, but to simply start talking to the people around you. Make real friends. Share the moment.
Strike up a conversation with Joe over there, and Barbara over here, neither of whom have a book deal yet but may well introduce you to Bill or Trudy, who do. And who knows, by this time next year Joe and Barbara may have deals themselves. If you’ve become drinking buddies with all these published or about-to-be-published authors, sooner or later one of them may agree to read your book and give you the help you need.
But only if you’re sincere. Because insincerity will be spotted right away. If you try to be cynically manipulative you will be ignored. People aren’t interested in that kind of bullshit. Just be honest and real and, most of all, yourself. And remember that we were all in your shoes at one time — outsiders looking for a way in. So we understand.
And unless we’re total douchebags, we’ll be happy hang out with you and offer encouragement and sometimes even offer to help if we can.
I know because I’ve done it. There are a couple of people I’ve met at conferences whose books I agreed to read — books that turned out to be so good that I sent them on to my agent.
But this was after seeing these people time and again at different conferences and signings, developing a genuine friendship with them and knowing that they are sincere, talented people who just needed a little nudge from someone who has been fortunate enough (and I do think luck plays a part in it) to get published.
And if you want to get a good jumpstart on it all, one of the best things you can do is come to blogs like Murderati, make comments, have interesting things to say. Then, when you do show up at a conference, the first hurdle has already been made. We KNOW you. And we’re happy to see you.
I think I’m rambling at this point. I’ve been working so hard lately I tend to do that. Ramble.
So, I guess the point is, if you want to get your work read, if you want to be inspired to keep writing, then don’t be a clueless clod like I was and get your butt to the next available writers conference.
There. That should do it.
I’d love those of you who have been to conferences to tell me your best author-meet story and how it affected you and your career, if at all.
Oh, and see you next week in Los Angeles. In the Omni Hotel bar, of course.