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It's redundant to say the economy is in the crapper right now. We all know it and we're all feeling it. People are losing their jobs left and right and if they haven't lost it yet, they're worried they will. If nothing else, I think this recent catastrophe has reminded us of something we already knew – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you follow news about the publishing industry, you're seeing articles about shake ups at the big houses, profits down, new deals reduced, and industry uncertainty about new technologies and how to handle them. Old business models aren't working anymore but no one has come up with a new model that works either.
Lets face it, the news is damn depressing. But, there is one tiny caveat – Romance fiction sales are up. According to an article by Ben McIntyre in The Times, "Publishing may be facing the same problems as other businesses, but some books are booming. Escapist romantic fiction is in the pink. Mills & Boon is selling three books a second, and Cheryl Cole, of Girls Aloud, has signed a £5million deal to write romantic novels."
That, my friends, is good news.
Now I have to admit I stole the idea for the rest of this blog straight from Literary Agent Jessica Faust over on the Book Ends blog. But only because she said exactly what I said to J Perry on the phone days several days before Ms. Faust's post. (Back me up on this, J.) And if you really want to know the ins and outs of this business, I highly recommend reading the Book Ends blog as well as those of agents Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson.
I keep hearing people say they won't be in Washington DC for the RWA National Conference this summer because they can't justify the expense when they haven't sold anything. So the question is, are conference expenses only justifiable if you're published? Do you consider yourself in a career as a writer if you're unpublished?
How you answer these questions says a lot about where you might be going, or not going, in this writing endeavor.
The way I see it, once you decide you want a writing career, you take certain steps to make that happen. You do some research and figure out what you want to write. You get started and continue to practice and learn about the craft of writing. You join organizations specifically established for writing professionals. And you network. Networking can be done online, but it's much more effective in person and that means attending conferences.
Is one of the purposes of attending conferences to pitch to agents and editors? Yes. Is it the only purpose? No. There are many purposes and reasons for attending conferences and one of the most important is networking. So why do we beat ourselves up about this expense? We're less likely to feel bad about buying another ink cartridge for the printer, or paying that internet bill every month, or picking up all those new books that are clearly for research purposes.
So why do we feel guilty about conference fees?
You never know when you're going to make friends with the newly published author who asks about your work, reads a little and recommends you to her agent. You never know when you're going to sit down at the bar next to an editor who just happens to be looking for something new, asks you about your work, and loves the idea of a witch who gets her powers from having sex. And none of these events would have happened if you didn't plunk down that cash and attend that conference.
Now, I'm not trying to guilt anyone into attending a conference or insinuate that if you don't attend, you're not serious about being a writer. What I am saying is, if you look at writing and publishing and selling your own books as a career goal, then approach it that way. Give yourself permission to take advantage of every opportunity without having to defend yourself or justify the expense. You do not become a writer when you sign your first contract, you become a writer when you decide to write.
What say the rest of you? How do you think of conferences? Have you attended any? What did you get out of it? Did you make a connection that has helped or you think will help you get noticed/represented/sold? Anyone else think a conference held in Tortuga would be awesome?!