This week, I took a big step in furthering my writing career.
I signed up for my first writers' conference.
I've been to conventions before, of course, places where indie authors host panels on different aspects of writing and publishing (self-publishing and small press publishing, usually) and sell their wares.
These experiences have certainly been valuable, but more often than not, the people I've met at conventions are in the same place I am. They've been writing for years. They've sold a few pieces to presses of various sizes, usually on the smaller end of the spectrum. They aren't agented, usually--in fact, I think I've only met one author with an agent at a convention. I've made some good connections at these events, and they're how I first heard of my two current publishers.
But as far as making the transition from being an indie author selling to small presses to deals with larger publishers that won't review a submission from an unagented author, conventions haven't given me what I need.
I've written in the past about my attempts to get an agent so far, where my struggles and successes have been and what I've learned from the process. I've been largely self-educating through this process. I look up articles on how to pitch, I dig through lists of agents trying to find ones who represent my genre and who sound like they might be on the same wavelength as I am. I peruse Manuscript Wish List and I keep up with the Writer's Digest blog looking for new ideas of people to query and tips on refining my pitches.
I've been doing what I can, but what I really want, what I think I need, is guidance. A chance to talk with the people on the other end--to the agents and editors I'm trying to get my work in front of. I want a chance to hear what they themselves have to say and to ask questions, maybe even to sit one-on-one and talk about my pitch, specifically.
There are meetings all over the country that offer opportunities like this--writers' conferences (conferences, not conventions--one's focused more on the craft where the other is a little more sales and entertainment oriented) and writers' workshops hosted by agents and editors that offer panels on querying and critiques and short sit-downs with agents.
But these events tend to end up where there are communities to support them--which tends to translate to larger cities or places that tend to draw a lot of tourists and conventions (and so tend to have better infrastructure for dealing with the influx of people). Which is fine.
Unless you can't afford to travel and live in places that aren't exactly hot spots for convention hosting. Most of these meetings have been out of my price range and too far out of town for me to reasonably make the trip.
So I was pretty excited when the Alabama Writers Workshop was announced. It's close enough to me that I can get to it and, because it's a slightly smaller meeting, it's price tag isn't as big. And it happened to coincide with a pay increase (also a workload increase, but that's another story).
I signed up. I paid my registration fee. I dropped the extra money to get a one-on-one with one of the agents that will be there. Now I've got a little less than a week to iron out my verbal pitch, print copies of my first page for review, do more background research on the agent I'm meeting, and figure out what specific questions I'm going to focus on finding answers to.
I'm not anticipating that I'll walk out of the convention next week with a manuscript request (though wouldn't that be awesome?). But I hope I'll at least leave with a better sense of where I am and what work I need to do to get my project out into the world at the level that I want. I don't know what exactly the experience will bring, but I'm looking forward to it.
And I imagine I'll tell you all about it next week.