I’ve finally finished off this month’s edition of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine and sent it out, so I thought I’d do a quick blog while I still have brain cells left. I’ve been blogging lately about writing conferences and have now answered a TON of questions. I emailed uber-agent Chip MacGregor a couple of days ago to see if he’d be willing to do a little role-playing with me on a “typical” pitch for a novel. I’ll be pretending to be Tom Clancy pitching my first novel, A HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. We’ll do that next week sometime, so watch for it.
In the meantime, I’d like to answer more questions my loyal blog readers have posted about conferences. I deferred this one from Susan last time I blogged:
Question: Is the one-sheet usually written in first or third person?
Randy sez: I asked Meredith Efken for her opinion, and she said she thinks third person looks better.
I’ll confess that I’m not quite sure where I was in the lineup of questions that my loyal blog readers have submitted. I think the next question is this one, from Sally:
At what point do you begin to see a payoff from going to conferences? I’ve been to several, but feel I can’t swing the cost this year. Is it better to attend the same ones every year, so that you are a familiar face, or to try different ones to meet more people?
Randy sez: This is a little like asking when you’ll see a payoff from dating. You might meet Mr. Right on the first date, but you might not meet him until the four hundredth. There’s a bit of luck involved, but in some sense, you make your own luck. You simply never know when it’ll happen, and that’s what makes the Publishing Game every bit as scary and infuriating as the Dating Game.
I’ve said this many times: life isn’t fair. I don’t know how to make it fair. But here’s what I know. When I started writing, I went to a mid-sized regional one-day conference every year for 8 years. Nothing happened. I had some close calls with success, but never won the prize. Then I decided to start going to a larger national five-day conference every year. I committed myself to going to that same large conference every year until I got published.
The first year I met my buddy John Olson and made some friends.
The second year I made many more friends and watched as John came THAT close to selling a series of novels to a major publisher. Meanwhile, I generated no interest at all from the editors, although a couple of published writers did tell me my writing was good.
The third year, I made even more friends, including one who helped me make the vital connections I needed to sell my first (nonfiction) book. A few months later, I also sold my first novel.
The fourth year, I made many more friends and won the Writer of the Year award. That same year, John and I pitched an idea for a Mars novel to an editor there whom we’d been seeing for the past several years and who now knew we were in this for the long haul. Ultimately, we sold that book.
The fifth year, my first two books were finally available and I had actual factual books in the bookstore. That was the year I felt like a real author–when I had books I could hold in my hands.
Most of the above would never have happened if I’d stuck to my original habit of going to a small regional one-day conference every year. But NONE of it would have happened without the years and years I spent alone in my office typing on my computer and developing the skills I needed.
Writing fiction is a terrible, lonely, crushing business with no guarantee of success. There is no way to make that fact go away. I won’t lie to y’all and pretend it’s anything else. The odds are stacked very heavily against any novelist. What I have seen is that writing conferences improve your odds very strongly, if you develop friendships with other writers and with editors and agents.
But no conference anywhere can make anything a certainty. Getting published requires talent and hard work and luck. You are born with talent. You supply the hard work. But there’s not much you can do about that pesky luck.