Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writers Conferences and Other things on my To-Do List

By Tamra Norton

If I'm not snorkeling in Hawaii or romping through castles in Europe (neither of which I've experienced, but both on my to-do list...along with becoming Stephenie Meyer's BFF, dancing with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and being adopted into the Jolie-Pitt clan--Auntie Tami Jolie-Pitt. I wonder how it would look on a book cover?) I can't think of a better way to spend an entire Saturday than at a writers conference. Just this past Saturday I attended the Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference in College Station, Texas (go Aggies!). In a word--outstanding!

I've been to several conferences over the past five years--even spoken at a few--and I've come to the conclusion that aside from the act of BIC (bum in chair, a.k.a. writing) and, of course, reading-like-a-nut-job, attending conferences is one of the best ways to hone the craft of writing and assist in that seemingly elusive quest for publication.

Here are some of the highlights from my past five years attending various writers conferences.
  • Hanging out with my writer buddies--it just doesn't get any better. These are MY PEOPLE. They totally get that I have conversations in my head with my characters, look for them on street corners and in Target, even cry with them. Really. I'm normal...right?

  • Schmoozing with editors and agents from some of the largest and most respected NY publishing houses and agencies. We've talked shop. They've offered invaluable advice in their presentations. And I've resisted the urge to stalk them during down time at the conferences. These meetings have lead to numerous manuscript submission opportunities which wouldn't have been available had I not attended the conferences.

  • Schmoozing with published authors--many, my literary idols! For a solid hour I sat next to Joan Bauer and we chatted during the author signing portion of one conference. She signed about 75 books. I signed 4. And last year at a pre-conference mingle-thingy, I had a great conversation with Kimberly Willis Holt as we compared our "military kid" books. Fascinating...and freaking fun!

  • I've had several "first chapter critiques" by numerous editors and agents including agent Erin Murphy and author and SCBWI founder Lin Oliver. Wow--now that was the coolest experience ever. She even highlighted a part of my manuscript the next day in her presentation--now that was a validating moment!

  • Because of one of these "first chapter critiques" at an SCBWI Houston conference, I (or my first chapter) won the Joan Lowery Nixon Award--mentorship through the editing process of that manuscript by National Book Award Finalist, Kathi Appelt. Working with Kathi was a phenomenal experience, and that manuscript, MAKE ME A MEMORY went on to be published by a regional publisher and was chosen by the Utah Commission on Literacy as a Book-of-the-Month selection. Its sequel, MAKE ME A HOME was published this year.

Oh, there have so many memorable experiences! These are only a few. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending a writer's conference. Who knows, maybe I'll see you in Hawaii one of these days. I definitely plan on snorkeling...either before or after attending the Maui Writer's Conference--one more thing on my to-do list!


Annette Lyon said...

I'm normal too . . . right? :)

Elodia said...

I feel a little intimidated by writers conferences, like everyone else is a writer and I'm an imposter. Did you feel like that ever? Should I just buck up and get over it?

Janette Rallison said...

I want to go to the Mauii writers conference too! Let's be roommates someday, okay?

You're right about conferences. I always come away from them bursting with ideas and just itching to write.