Thursday, April 14, 2011

Personal Branding V: The Writers Conference

I recently attended a local writers’ conference. (Where do you put that apostrophe?) I did it to network. The keynote speaker was Hallie Ephron, author of two mystery novels and two nonfiction guides for writers. The instructors included professors, editors, book authors, a screenwriter, and a literary agent. The other attendees ranged from beginners to published authors. Many were there to pitch their books.
It had been five years since I’d attended a writers’ conference; the last one had intimidated me so much that I’d stopped going. I’d made appointments that time to pitch It Started with Dracula, then a work in progress. Pitching was a new term in my world and an unexpectedly stomach-churning activity before I even met … Well, you’ll be able to read more about that in the book.
As I selected my outfit for the conference, I wondered—as always—what writers wear. It sounds ridiculous, but it was important, and my mind always takes the same route before an event: right to the subject of clothing. What should I wear? For the first time I actually was a writer. I was an author, but no one at the conference would know that, or me.
I decided on a casual outfit that was a step up from jeans, put a sweater over my blouse for warmth, and had an acute case of static cling before I ever got out of my own neighborhood.
The roads were deserted at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, greatly reducing my anxiety at trying to find the place, located on a university campus. I tuned the radio to a 50s rock station as I drove and formulated my simple goal for the day: Get through it.
I’d made no pitching appointments, a great relief, but I did have in mind to meet the agent, just because she’d set up her first office in Charleston, West Virginia, a city from my childhood. If she’d accepted memoirs, I might have contacted her earlier, but now I would be only an anonymous member of her class. Whether I introduced myself was solely my choice.
Most of my classes were excellent. I made a few friends, gained new insights about the craft of writing, and gave out several of the business cards I’d taken with me, a new design with my photo on one side and my book cover on the other.
Hallie Ephron--sister of Nora, Delia, and Amy—sat one table away from mine at lunch. She looked regular. Her photo is glamorous, and it should be, but that day she was completely natural talking and laughing with her tablemates. The screenwriter sat beside me. My new friend Debbie had told me the buzz: This woman had “flown in from LA” just for the conference. I didn’t recognize her name, but we had a short conversation—mostly about her.
The best thing I heard Hallie Ephron say in her keynote was that when she’s writing a book, she has no perspective on whether it’s good or bad. I’d thought I was the only one, but my Memoir teacher said the same thing: “None of us do.”
During the break I bought novels from Hallie and one of my teachers. Both autographed them to me. After the last session of the day I did go up front to meet the literary agent, who’d just served on a panel. I shall pin a gold star on myself for that.
Writers’ conferences are on the A-list for networking opportunities, and I totally agree—even if, in my case, they’re an acquired taste. I can’t seem to relax and stop thinking about myself. Perhaps that is the curse of the “writer’s personality”—many of us are introverts--or maybe I just like to think that I’m not the only one.

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