I just got back from Midwest Writers Workshop, where I learned a lot and spent time with some truly amazing people. The biggest takeaway for me this year was networking — lots of writers I know mostly on Twitter or only see a few times a year were there, plus I got to meet some new writers who weren’t previously on my radar. Gushing about the great times we had talking writing and life in general won’t help you any, so I’ll only say this about networking: I’m proud to be a contributing part of this creative, supportive community.
If you’re still writing in a bubble, I strongly encourage you to reach out to other writers. Whether you meet them at a conference or through contests or Twitter, having a supportive network is one of the best things you can do for your writing career. For contests, a great place to start is Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars if you have a completed manuscript. Even if you’re not ready to enter contests, just looking at others’ entries can help you meet people who write what you write. I know several people who met critique partners through comments on a blog contest — they had similar tastes and writing styles and decided to trade pages.
Besides networking, another thing that was mentioned a lot at the conference was the importance of knowing what publishing route you want to take before you start submitting. I already know I want to sign with an agent and publish traditionally, but that’s just one of many paths to publication. Writers can also submit their work directly to small presses, or they can choose to self-publish. I think different routes work better for different writers; ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you and your book. However, both agents and authors at MWW agreed that you should know what that is before you start querying.
Why? Agents like to control where they send their clients’ manuscripts. If a small press offers to publish your manuscript at the same time an agent is reading it, you may be forced to make some tough decisions. Telling the agent about the offer might make her more inclined to read your work quickly, or it might make her more inclined to pass on the project. You don’t want to hurt your chances at getting an agent (if you decide that’s what you want) because you’ve submitted to small presses, too.
So, know which path you want to take from the start.
Those are my two big business-end takeaways from MWW. I’ve already got next year’s conference marked on my calendar!