What can you glean from a writers conference?



Each year about this time, I anticipate the annual meeting of the Northeast Texas Writers Organization (“NETWO”), a group to which I have belonged for a decade or so.

When I first attended NETWO, I was on the front end of the writing gig, longing to write a full-length novel, afraid I did not possess the chops to pull it off.

I suppose the jury is still out on the chops question, but a lot has changed in my part of the writing gig since then.

First of all, ten years ago eBooks were considered a high-tech fad that would have its day, wither and die.


Also, in those days the question that dominated each conference was: How do I become traditionally published?

Each year we would see a parade of agents, editors and publishing reps who would opine from on high about the keys to the kingdom, the keys they clutched tightly in their hands, hid behind their backs.

A strange thing happened.

As the years piled on top of each other the presentations from the folks at the trad houses evolved.

First they denigrated what they called with derision “self-publishing.”  It is the kiss of death they would say.  It is the mark of amateurs, they would emphasize.

A few years later they retained the same disdain, but then would add something about how eBooks and KDP would spell the end of the publishing business.

Then fewer agents showed up at the conferences.

Then publisher reps told how advances had dried up.

Then a new breed of speakers appeared.

These were the Indie publishing success stories.

The young woman who sold 80,000 copies of her first novel in the first month.

The mid-list author who the trads had dropped and who now made  more money selling his books than he ever did when he was under the big house’s umbrella.

People presented about a deal called social media.

Authors created webpages that garnered tens of thousands of visits per month.

Fewer agents showed up.  Fewer trad publishing reps.

People spoke about Create Space and audiobooks.

Along came iPhones, iPads, and other smart phones and tablets.

The world went mobile.

Fewer agents showed up and those who did also had started their own publishing houses and begun offering ancillary services to authors such as editing, book design and cover art.

The people who used to sit in the back of the room moved a little closer to the front.

So what can an author glean from a writers conference?

The main thing is that she can catch a glimpse of the state of the publishing business at a certain point in time, a snapshot of what has been and what is coming.

She may also pick up a few tidbits of writing advice.

And she can fellowship with other authors and learn that we are all in this crazy thing together.

But she also learns to take today’s advice with a grain a salt.

Next year she will hear something different.


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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Going to a writer’s conference is like prospecting for gold. You hope to find one good nugget and possibly two, which makes the conference worthwhile. There is definitely a new way of publishing, and it always surprises me to hear speakers hold on to the old, traditional agent/publishing way of getting published.

    • this is a time of great adaptation. Those writers who don’t embrace the new publishing paradigm will be left at the depot wondering when the train left town.

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