A Writing Conference Survival Guide for the insecure author

I was a 19-year-old kid who didn’t know much of anything when I went to my first writing conference. In fact, I was mainly going because I’d enjoyed writing stories with friends in high school, and I wanted an excuse to hang out with my best friend. 🙂

It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to that point.

Here I was, this little clueless farm girl from Kansas, sitting at the dinner table discussing bread rolls with Frank Peretti and trying to decide which fork to use first. Everyone was at least 10 years older than me and definitely seemed to have their act together. I didn’t even have a business card!

CWG Conference 2008
My best friend, A.C. Williams, and I on our way to my first writing conference!

To make matters worse, at writing conferences the standard “get to know you” question is, “What do you write?” When I blithely responded, speculative fiction addressing human trafficking, there was always this awkward pause, followed by, “It doesn’t sell. No one will represent you. ”

Thanks, guys. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to end up in tears. But my story doesn’t end there.

A very kind man (who also happened to be a multi-published author and writing mentor) found my distraught self in a stairwell between conference rooms, and offered to look at the first 10 pages I’d brought. I still remember those nerve-wracking moments as a complete stranger read through my pages and made a few notes.

Then he set down the pages, looked at me across a table, and asked, “So, who’s publishing it?” 

I’d never even considered that my writing could be more than a hobby, let alone that an industry professional would consider it good enough to be published. I can look back to that moment as one that changed the direction of my life, though I didn’t know it at the time.

This is why I am so passionate about fiction editing and being a writing coach and mentor. Because an industry professional took the time out of his busy day (that he definitely didn’t have to!) to comfort a scared kid and plant the seed of a dream that would lead me to where I am today. 

Why am I telling you this story? To let you know you’re not alone. To tell you it’s okay to be scared and discouraged and overwhelmed. To show you that there are people who will believe in you and want you to succeed.

Don’t give up. Don’t let fear hold you back. You got this, girl. Here are a few things to keep in mind along the way.

  1. An agent or editor can’t tell you if you’re a writer. Don’t give them that power over your dream. They can tell you if your manuscript needs work. They can give you suggestions to improve. But they can’t tell you who you are. You’re a writer.
  2. Celebrate each step forward as a victory. Maybe it’s just signing up to go to a writing conference. Maybe it’s saying hi to an author sitting next to you. Maybe it’s practicing your elevator pitch on five people. Maybe it’s actually pitching your book to an agent or editor. Whatever that next step is, celebrate it. Then take the next step.
  3. There will always be naysayers. It’s too hard. You’ll never be accepted. Your concept isn’t publishable. No one is publishing _____ style of fiction. That doesn’t mean you should quit. It means you should see if there’s merit to what they are saying, and plan how you will overcome those obstacles.
  4. There will always be other writers who are better than you. This can be a tough pill to swallow for some people, but it’s true. There will always be someone who is more talented, or has more experience, or just has that intangible gift with words. That’s okay. Learn from them, but don’t try and be them.
  5. Success is subjective. Have patience with yourself and with the process. Writing a book takes a long time. Editing takes a long time. It takes years of hard work and money to learn to excel at a craft like writing. Don’t get impatient and don’t give up.

Feeling a little lost yourself? I’d be honored to come alongside you and help you trouble-shoot your novel or answer industry/craft questions. You can make a writing coaching appointment with me today or sign up for my 8-week writing mentorship course for personalized feedback on the fundamentals of fiction.

Don’t let fear or your personality keep you from stepping into something bigger. Don’t get discouraged and give up. Writers weren’t meant to take this journey alone.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kat says:

    Great post. It does take a while to be confident with your writing – and sometimes you’ll get bad days where that insecurity will come back – but one day you’ll get to a place where you’re content.

  2. At least you were brave enough to sit at the same table as Frank Peretti. I’m afraid my dining habits are awful so I’ve normally been afraid to sit with agents, publishers, or the big name authors. (This is coming from a Montana ranch girl.) I think I need to work on this if I want book deals.

    1. Karis Waters says:

      Actually he came and say down at our table. Lol But certainly learning and practicing social protocols will help!

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