Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Always Learning

This coming weekend, I’m going to do one of my favorite activities—I’m attending a conference--the California Crime Writers Conference in Los Angeles. I’m excited because it’s a conference that’s only put on every other year and last time I went, I learned a tremendous amount. Many conferences are fan-oriented, and they’re wonderful. But this one is a working conference. This weekend I’ll see writers of every level of experience, from beginners to very accomplished and long-published ones.

What makes so many well-published writers spend the time and money to go to a working conference? There’s hardly a writer who can’t benefit from the opportunity to learn what’s new in the world of publishing, as well as to get a refresher in aspects of craft. But it’s also a chance to catch up with friends and become acquainted with other writers. It’s a chance to find out what the current trends are in crime fiction—are food cozies still hot? Is the trend to deeper characterization in thrillers still going strong? Are Scandinavian crime novels still all the rage? Find out who the new small publishers are, and what’s going on with the Big Five. Find out the current state of independent publishing.

When I finally got published, after many years of “close, but no champagne (who needs cigars?)” many people congratulated me on my perseverance. But perseverance was only part of the battle. The bigger part of the equation was that I kept learning, trying to get better. Instead of writing the same book again and again, with different characters, setting, and plot, I kept struggling to write a better book. And I kept up with trends so that I wouldn’t be writing a mystery of the kind that was popular ten or fifteen years ago, but that couldn’t find an audience with current readers.

For the writer trying to break into the business, there’s no better way to meet people who might help you by reading a few chapters and giving you advice or offering to introduce you to someone who can help. You may, as I did, meet a writer who is generous enough to give you a blurb for your first book, or who knows an up and coming agent looking for clients. You may meet an eager editor of a small press who is hungry for good product.

Not only are working conferences a great way to learn, but they are a lot of fun. These days I get to be on the same types of panels that wowed me back when I was struggling. I try really hard to make them as valuable as I found them to be. And you know what? I still get wowed. At every conference I attend I usually find some panel that sparks my creative juices and makes me glad I went. Or I meet an author I’ve always admired and get a chance to hang out with him or her. I’m looking forward to the weekend.

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