A Lifetime of Networking

conferenceLast week I attended the Western Writers convention in Cheyenne Wyoming. My first convention was in 1982. It was a brave, brave move on my part. I had just finished writing a historical novel about homesteading in Western Kansas. Ironically, my biggest motivation in going was that I had been warned not to by another writers organization.

“It’s not for the likes of you,” the leader insisted. “It’s strictly professionals.” “It’s an impenetrable old boys’ network,” and most dire of all–“There is a lot of business done there.”

So I went. Inspired by the degree of professionalism attested to by the very man who was trying to dissuade me. While there, I met Jeanne Williams, who became a lifelong friend and was instrumental in getting my novel published. She recommended me to her agent, Claire Smith, at Harold Ober Associates. Upon Claire’s death, I became a client of Phyllis Westberg and have always been with the same agency.

The friends I made at that original convention have inspired me to keep at my writing through thick and thin. One of my first acquaintances, Lucia St. Clair Robson, won the coveted Wister award this year. It’s given for lifetime achievement. She told me “we’ve known each other for so long I forget which one of us is the bad influence.”

The list of persons who have encouraged me and accepted me as a professional is really long. We tell each other our troubles. I know lots of things about families they would hesitate to tell their closest friends. We gossip. We listen to very good and very bad music. We discuss editors and marketing. We lie a lot about how we’re doing “just fine” when we’ve received blows to our careers that were almost knockouts. We’re received with dignity anyway because we all know how quickly fortunes can switch. Up, down. But it’s never permanent.

I spent a great late night listening to the screenwriters talking about the film community. Some of the kindnesses offered brought tears to my eyes. To me, writing for movies and TV conjures up images of persons who are definitely not good old boys. But I was mistaken. Friendships are to be found in every field.

Now I have a problem. Conventions are expensive. I’m writing mysteries in addition to historical novels and also have an academic book published. I love Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon. I’m fascinated by the historians in the Western History Association in addition to Western Writers of America. For that matter, Women Writing the West is one of the most welcoming groups anywhere. I can’t afford to attend everything. I have to choose.

Now the Poisoned Pen Press community has been thrown into the mix.  I have a new collection of writing friends that I really care about. We share war stories and pass along tips for making signings successful. We share research and sympathize when books don’t go well. The outpouring of goodwill when one of us wins a reward is overwhelming as well as the condolences when health interferes with goals.

I believe that beginning writers should make every effort to attend a conference when starting a writing career. There are so many to choose from. Select the one that is the closest to the type of book you want to write. Don’t go to a romance writers conference if you want to write mysteries, or WWA if you hate anything having to do with the West. Give some thought to your expectations. Do you want to sell a book? Or are you wanting help with an unfinished manuscript.

There is a conference out there for everyone and with any luck at all you, too, will take advantage of the networking opportunities and make lifelong friendships.