I spent the weekend at the San Diego State University writers conference. Talk about massive! Dozens of editors and literary agents from New York, San Francisco and L.A. and hundreds of people in attendance. Very few authors speaking or on panels: I was one of maybe three. It's definitely the conference to attend if you want to network; if you have a book to sell or you're looking for an agent, this is the place. In that regard, it was very different from other conferences I've attended that were long on authors and short on agents and editors.
They hold one-on-one sessions where, for ten minutes or so, you can meet with various agents and editors. Interestingly, I later talked with a few agents who said many people came in, not with a project they wanted to pitch, but with questions about becoming full time writers, and whether that was a viable course they should take. And of those that did come in to pitch a project, many were so very nervous and had their pitch memorized, and the agents said they tried to convey to them: loosen up! Relax! Enjoy yourself and the process. This isn't your only chance!
I gave the keynote speech on Sunday morning. I do love speaking, which is so bizarre since public speaking used to be right up there with all of my major fears. Public speaking is a major fear of most people, right up there with death. (I don't fear death so much as I fear all death's accoutrements: the morgue, morticians dealing with my dead, naked body...)
But now I love speaking. It can be so much fun. I like inspiring folks, making them laugh; there can be a dearth of inspiration and laughter in the world, y'know?
I was cautioned not to promo my book too much during my talk--it could sound like hype and be a turn-off--so I hardly promoed it at all. As a result, few books sold. In an ideal world, all authors would sell a book or two to everyone present--one for their mother, one for their dog.... It is hoped (by your publisher, by your agent, by you!) that you'll sell books at events, and if you don't, you wonder: What should I have done differently? What should I do next time? What would Pamela Anderson do? Kidding! No matter--I love conferences and all types of book events regardless of sales. But in these crazed days of publishing, marketing remains stuck on the brain.
So I would definitely recommend this conference next year if you want to network, meet agents and such. High quality folks attended, too, I thought. One caveat: If you stay at the Doubletree Hotel, where the conference is held, make sure you get a room on a nonsmoking floor (unless you smoke, of course). The room smelled fine, but the hallway reeked.