Late post today, and I apologize to my fellow MWers, and to Danielle,, for not commenting on posts from last week. I was in San Jose, California for World Fantasy Convention. For those of you unfamiliar with WFC, it is a terrific convention that is geared toward writers — both professional and aspiring — editors, and agents. The programming is literary in its focus. Some panels are on topics of general interest (the one I moderated was on writing non-human characters), while others are thematic. This year’s conference theme was a celebration of Edgar Allen Poe. There are also tons of readings. A sampling of this year’s reading line-up: Guy Gavriel Kay, Jay Lake, Garth Nix, Michael Swanwick, Patricia McKillip, Peter Straub, Ken Scholes, Jeff VanderMeer. When you’re not in a panel or at a reading, you’re usually in the bar, catching up with friends, discussing publishing or writing or your latest business dealings with other professionals. I was able to meet with my agent and with my editor, and I caught up with friends who I only get to see once a year at WFC.
I’ve offered this bit of advice before, but this seems like a good time to repeat it. If you are serious about writing professionally, and if you are nearing the point when you will be ready to send out your manuscript for consideration, either to a publisher or to a literary agency, you should seriously consider attending one of the big industry conventions. World Fantasy Convention, the World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon), and World Horror Convention are the big ones in speculative fiction. The Romantic Times Booklovers Convention and the annual conference of Romance Writers of America are the big ones in romance. The World Mystery Convention is sponsored each year by Mystery Writers of America. All of these conventions are similar in a number of ways. They all rotate among cities each year — next year two of the big three in speculative fiction will be overseas: WorldCon will be in Melbourne, Australia and World Horror will be in Brighton, England. WFC will be in Columbus, Ohio. Also, all the conventions are attended by editors and agents, who go to meet with their writers and talk to other editors and agents. But they also go, in part, hoping to meet new authors. And finally, all of them cost a fair amount of money. The conference fees are high, ranging from $150 or so for WFC to over $400 for RWA. You’ll have to travel to the convention, perhaps by plane, you’ll need to eat while you’re there, and you’ll need a hotel room, although if you can share with a friend, perhaps one who also wants to get published, you can lower your costs. Still, we’re talking about a considerable investment.
So, why is it worth the money? Because it’s a chance for you to hear professional writers, perhaps some of your favorites, talk about their work and read from their latest books. It’s a chance to meet them and perhaps even ask them questions about the business. And because as any of you who have already queried agents or sent out manuscripts know, it’s a mean old world out there. Without an agent behind you, it’s very hard to get a publisher even to look at your work, and finding an agent in the first place is nearly as bad. But these conventions offer you an opportunity to meet agents and editors yourself. This is not a guarantee that they’ll want to see your work, but it gives you a chance to break down the biggest barriers you face right now — anonymity and obscurity. If you can meet an agent or an editor, if you can get them to say, “Send me a few chapters of your book,” or even “Send me a synopsis” you can at least get your foot in the door. You’re not an unknown name on a return envelope anymore. You’re not another wannabe with a manuscript in an enormous slush pile. Now you’re the person they met at the Tor Party or after the panel on “Transgender Trolls and their Role in Erotic Fantasy”. You’re the person whose manuscript they asked to see. You’re in the room.
This does not mean that you should interrupt their conversations with other writers, or that you should approach them while they’re having dinner, or that you should follow them to their rooms or to the restroom. Those all fall under the heading of “Unprofessional Behavior.” They may even fall under the heading of “Stalking.” But if you observe some commonsense standards of social behavior, if you’re polite and brief and considerate, you just might make some connections that will start you down the road to professional success. That’s why a convention is worth considering, despite the cost.
I hope to see many of you at WFC in Columbus next year.
David B. Coe