I’ve been going to writers’ conferences for about four years now. I’m not going to name most of them because some of the things I’m about to say are less than flattering. I will say, however, that at the end of each conference, I left with the distinct impression that I had surpassed most of the other attendees there. I’m not trying to sound arrogant, I promise. It’s just that when the majority of classes had titles like “So You Think You’ve Got a Novel in You,” and “Fiction VS. Non-Fiction: Which is Right For You?” you start to wonder if you’ve got anything left to learn.
Two hundred or three hundred dollars is a lot of money to spend on a conference that really only served to reinforce the behavior I had already been practicing for a couple years. It was frustrating to know that I was doing every single thing those classes suggested and I still wasn’t published. If I’m going to be completely honest, it was starting to affect me negatively. I was writing, editing, and querying with at least one novel per year and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Every teacher I talked to told me they couldn’t believe I wasn’t published yet.
I’m sure they meant well.
The problem was this: By the standards being set forth by some of those conferences, I should have been a best-seller at the age of 30, and I wasn’t. It’s a terribly unfair thing to know that you’ve put in your time, mastered your craft, and surpassed your peers, and still can’t get an agent, let alone a publishing contract. The problem I saw was obvious: the publishing industry wasn’t being fair.
It was hard to want to write when I felt like I was being treated unfairly. It was hard to keep plodding along when I already suspected that I had attained the necessary skill to achieve publication and was simply waiting to stumble by accident upon some unspoken, arcane, or completely arbitrary rule that would finally get me published. It was hard to put in my time in front of the computer screen when I already felt like the thing I needed was luck.
This past weekend, I went to DFWCon for the first time.
It started out like all of the other conferences. People asked me what I wrote. They asked if it was hard to finish a novel. They asked what it was like to have a couple books on Kindle. Same old, same old. Thirty minutes in, and I was already ahead of the curve.
Then the sessions started and I was not prepared for what I was being told. I pitched my novel to a New York agent and was not prepared for the advice I was given. For the first time in years, I wasn’t ahead of the curve anymore. At the very best, I was in the middle of the pack with a bunch of people ahead of me.
Initially, it was hard to take. My novel Salvage Yard was supposed to be the book to get me a contract. It was supposed to be as close to perfect as a debut novel could get. But suddenly, I saw its flaws.
And I saw my flaws.
But most importantly, I saw some of the things that had kept me from being published. They had nothing to do with luck.
Once I got past the heartbreak that came along with realizing that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, a whole world of opportunity seemed to open up. I saw the flaws and habits that had kept me from publication. I saw my writing through the eyes of agents and editors. I saw my shortcomings.
And I was starting to see some of the solutions.
I’m now editing and revising my last novel, and I’m excited to know that it can be improved upon. I’m thrilled to know that the reason for my lack of publication wasn’t because of some changing, unknowable, arcane standard. I’m ecstatic to know that maybe my writing wasn’t ready, but that someday, it will be. But most importantly, I’m writing again, and it isn’t the chore it was a year or two ago. Writing is challenging again.