Have you ever attended a writers’ conference? You should.
Ancient tribal societies organized gatherings, a chance for allied tribes to meet, share news, and celebrate tribal events. Writers’ conferences are analogues to tribal bonfires, a time when modern skalds and readers gather to meet and learn from one another.
I went to the Historical Novel Society’s 2011 conference as a lone-wolf historical novelist, and left a mystery writer with new friends who would soon become my critique group – and also the pillars of this author’s writing world.
Could a conference really do all that?
It could, and it did, and it can for you too.
I arrived in San Diego for HNS 2011 excited to pitch my most recent historical manuscript and nervous about talking with other authors. The first afternoon in the bookstore, I met Erika Mailman, author of The Witch’s Trinity and Woman of Ill Fame (who will be speaking at a panel on Witchcraft in Fiction at HNS 2013). Erika broke through my shyness and made me feel not only welcome but a peer – even though she was published and I was not. Two years later, we’re friends who share coffee and breakfast regularly, as well as critiquing one another’s work – but for HNS’11, I would never have known her.
After Erika boosted my confidence, I attended pitch sessions with several editors. Although the manuscript I pitched was pure historical, I’d had an idea for a mystery series set in samurai Japan. Only an idea, however, so I kept it completely secret. By chance, one of the editors I met with asked – out of the blue – if I ever wrote mysteries.
I stammered out an assent, quickly qualified by the admission that I hadn’t actually written one, but I had this idea “for a ninja detective series.”
Write it, she said, it sounds fantastic.
That’s all the encouragement I needed. The Shinobi mysteries went from inspiration to certainty in an instant.
I spent the Saturday cocktail hour meeting a group of authors I chatted with on Twitter before the conference. Heather Webb, Marci Jefferson, Sophie Perinot, Amanda Orr, Kris Waldherr, and Julianne Douglas were among the fabulous ladies I met and befriended that night. Like Erika, they didn’t seem to mind my nervousness or my slightly awkward ways – and when Heather founded a writing group a few weeks after the conference, she invited me to join (and I gladly accepted).
I went to HNS 2011 hoping to find an agent and sell my book. I didn’t do either – but the conference gave me something even better: it refocused my writing on historical mystery (where I belong!) and introduced me to friends I will have and love for the rest of my life.
Two years later, I’ll return – to HNS 2013 – as a panelist, with an agent and a debut novel 3 weeks from its hardback release.
In 2011 the HNS conference was very good to me … will 2013 be your year? Join me in Florida – let’s find out together!