I started going to writing conferences long before I was a published author. I arrived at my first one not knowing anyone or what to expect, although I was sure everyone would be much more experienced than I was. Some writers were, but many others were first-timers, too. I was thrilled to have my manuscript critiqued by a “real” editor who wasn’t completely horrified by my writing. But by far the best part of my experience was all the friendly, encouraging people I met.
Since then I’ve tried to attend at least one writing conference a year. I’ve been privileged to meet wonderful children’s authors like Sid Fleishman, Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, Lin Oliver, and R.A. Nelson. I’ve lunched with agents, editors, art directors, and dozens of writers. And I’ve learned that people who write for children are the friendliest, most supportive, most helpful people I know. We celebrate each other’s successes and commiserate about our setbacks.
Now to answer the question of my best and worst conference experiences. By far, my best experience—although I didn’t realize it at the time—was meeting my fabulous agent, Rosemary Stimola in April 2005. I’d sent in a middle grade manuscript and requested that she be the conference speaker to critique it. She didn’t like it, but she liked some things about my writing and the first page of a work-in-progress called Crowning Glory. Two years later I completed the manuscript and queried her. The result was my first published novel, Fairest of Them All. That conference experience is pretty hard to top!
My worst experience, which was mostly just annoying, was also with an agent who was also supposed to critique Crowning Glory. I’d sent in the required first 10 pages and synopsis long before the conference deadline. During our meeting he commented several times that there was nothing that set my manuscript apart from all the other “beauty queen” stories out there. I bit my tongue until he’d finished and then I asked, “Doesn’t the fact that her hair falls out make it different?” He flipped through the 10 pages I’d sent and said, “I didn’t see that here,” to which I replied, “It’s in the synopsis.” His response, “I never read those.”
There was $35.00 flushed down the john!
That conference experience was my only “bad” one, and it’s been far outweighed by everything I’ve learned and the memorable people I’ve met. When the next conference registration form pops up in my email, there’s a good chance I’ll be signing up.