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Between the Pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Why Conferences?

   When I first began writing with the hopes of getting published, I looked around my neighborhood for a writer’s group. I knew that there had to be some sort of order to this business and that straying from that structure would probably brand me as an outsider and no agent or editor would even consider looking at my work. I needed support and advice. But alas, this rural, blue collar county that I live in offers sparse resources of that nature.

   So I joined a national organization hoping to glean something from their newsletters. What I found there was a registration form for a mystery writer’s conference to be held in Chicago, a scant two hundred and fifty miles away. I scraped my pennies together and signed up. It turned out to be the best “literary” move I ever made.

   This “networking” thing is real and it really works. I found the community of authors to be warm and receptive. Most of them are willing to spend a few moments with a rookie to explain the ins and outs of the publishing world. The more established authors you meet, the more recognized you become and on and on.

   I made my first publishing contact at a conference and have compiled a healthy list of agents, editors, and fellow writers who have become sources of priceless information and help.

   Currently, I attend about five conferences a year and have gone from a wide-eyed newcomer to a panelist, presenter, and moderator. The atmosphere at conferences invites and encourages participation and every workshop, lecture, or exercise that you take part in helps you grow as a writer and gives you insight into a terribly complicated business.

   Writer’s conferences are undoubtedly the single most valuable tool that I’ve come across to enhance your writing career. If you’re serious about selling your writing, you’d be missing a golden opportunity if you pass up a chance to attend. I started out with one of the larger regional conferences but there are plenty of smaller local events for those with limited resources or time constraints.

   Some conferences offer critiques of things like query letters, synopses, or full manuscripts and all of them feature one or two hour sessions that deal with everything from how to write a killer query to character development to negotiating foreign rights. A conference can be as short as a few hours or it might last several days.

    Many conference attendees are not writers at all. A lot of fans like to come just to mingle and their presence is another valuable asset. I usually find a healthy mix of people at these events and the intimate lunches and dinners allow me the time and opportunity to expand my circle of friends. Some call it “Shmoozing.”

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