WHY CONFERENCES…NOW, MORE THAN EVER?
A few months ago I was a guest at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont. After dinner one evening I went to the cottage where guest authors, agents and editors gather to sit by the fire, play some cards, drink some wine and, often, chat about books. I was relaxing on the couch munching on some trail mix and overheard a conversation among three renowned authors just a few feet away at the card table. They were discussing a middle-aged writer who had been attending this and other fine conferences for several years. I recognized the woman’s name as I had met her and seen her at these conferences and she had submitted a couple of manuscript to me, including a revision of her most recent novel. I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t had a chance to read that revision and hadn’t responded to her. My feelings of guilt were somewhat relieved by hearing that she had signed with a terrific, established agent with great literary taste. Clearly, my loss. I then heard something even more interesting. Each of these authors had read this woman’s fiction at different stages – often in workshops at conferences – and they talked about how she wasn’t really much of a writer when they first encountered her work. But through years of honing her craft in various ways – lectures, workshops, craft classes (many of them at conferences like SCWW), endless revising – she had clearly become a writer to watch and one they all respected. Why this should seem such a revelation to me, I’m not quite certain. I realized, despite the often expressed idea that you can’t really teach writing, that this would be an encouraging story to aspiring writers (especially those who might have the same determination and patience as this writer). I wondered, though, if there was an encouraging lesson for me, as an agent, to be gleaned from this tale of missed opportunity (other than the ever elusive goal of being more diligent about responding to submissions), particularly as it related to attending conferences. I decided to spend some of my time on the mountain finding answers within my conference experience.
I didn’t end up with any tablets filled with wise dictates to carry from the mountain out into the blogosphere, but several good things happened that I felt exemplified some of the alchemy that can occur when you are persistent in pursuing your goals. I ended up taking on two new clients in connection with the conference. One of them I’d met a few years earlier, had re-connected with at a cocktail party the previous year, and was then happy to hear about her completed novel and the chance to see her again at Bread Loaf. Another had been referred to me a year or so ago by a favorite author of mine. In neither case had I initially had a clear vision that this would be the likely outcome. It was all part of the course of doing business – attending the conference, reading partial manuscripts, meeting up again in a more relaxed social setting, receiving recommendations from authors I admire – and, most of all, everyone learning patience. So, maybe I could fill a tiny tablet with a couple of bits of wisdom: patience and faith. Faith that you may achieve your goals if you are patient and persistent enough to walk a sometimes long and winding road. And maybe one extra little bit, especially for me, that a missed opportunity can make one more aware of others not to be missed.