Normally I’m a very positive optimistic person and try not to admit disappointment–look for the sunny, bright side, am a Pollyanna, etc. ad nauseam. Yesterday, at the airport, I wrote a celebratory post highlighting the conference I attended over the weekend, void of my complete experience. Yes, I loved some of the conference’s offerings, but this morning, I decided to be honest.
I left disappointment and discouraged as a writer. I want to tell you why–maybe you’ve had a conference experience like mine.
I have self-published four books and three cookbooks in the last five years. No best sellers but I’ve enjoyed my “retirement job.” I’m also a genre-jumper. I’ve written two memoirs, a historical fiction and a nonfiction about the West. My next project is a biography, and the one after that is woman’s fiction. I write poetry; I write prose. Many writers pledge their allegiance to one genre, one topic–I don’t, but I am a writer–clear fact! This conference challenged that fact to my core.
Every year in October a group of writers who celebrate the west, women and girls through their writing converge on a city west of the Mississippi, connect and reconnect for three days. Last year was my first experience in Tucson, Arizona and was easy for Lin and I to drive to from Albuquerque. I felt this group was “My Tribe.” This year’s event was in Walla Walla, which is in the southeastern corner of Washington state–not easy to get to from New Mexico. The conference paperwork suggested flying in to Seattle, so I did, but then it was a four and a half hour drive to Walla Walla. That added to the stress for sure.
I looked forward to this conference more so than my first year, because I submitted a proposal to do a workshop, my Memoir Workshop, and it was accepted! I had presented it several times at Albuquerque libraries and felt it was a strong presentation. I imagined selling all of my books–I lugged a second suitcase full of fifteen books and my handouts there and back! My expectations played a big part in my disappointment!
Thursday night, each of the winners and finalists of the Willa awards read a five minute snippet of their work–what an enjoyable evening. The Willa awards are given in memory of Willa Cather and has seven categories: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction. Original Soft Cover Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Scholarly Nonfiction, Poetry and Children’s/Young Adult Fiction & Nonfiction. Each of the winners and finalists’ work stood out as strong literary achievements.
I had submitted my latest memoir, A Time to Grow Up, in the Creative Nonfiction category, and it was not selected. I especially listened to those entries to compare them to mine–I understood the selection to a point but still wondered?
I sat next to the president of the organization at that reading. She was friendly and welcoming.
Friday afternoon I attended an agent panel and an editor panel to help the attendees become better acquainted with these powerful people in the publishing world. The sessions helped us decide which ones to pitch our work to during the scheduled pitch sessions. I had scheduled a pitch session with one of the editors, but many attendees wait until the conference to hear from the agent or editor personally at these panels before selecting.
After the panels, I hurried upstairs to the pitch rooms and surprisingly saw lots of openings with all the agents and editors on the schedule, so I signed up with everyone except one agent I met last year. To my credit, I did six pitches in about 1 and 1/2 hours to no avail.
I have self-published all my books, so there was little interest in my published work, and no one was interested in a biography about a 91 year old world famous square dance caller. One agent did give me a great slant to take on this book and then suggested a PBS project to consider.
The most startling rejection was a fiction story I wrote two years ago about two women friends, incest and their healing–an agent and an editor both told me that the publishing work isn’t accepting any work on incest! REALLY! The agent refused matter-of-factly; the editor vehemently refused. Her face flushed and she repeated several times she never accepts work on that topic. I walked away stunned and angry!
Yes, I now understand I was at a conference for writing about the west and women and girls, but the reaction shut me out. Afterwards I realized why there were so few writers signing up to pitch their work. Four of the seven did not do fiction and many of attendees are fiction writers.
This conferenced scheduled three banquets: Friday evening’s banquet celebrated the Laura winners, a short story contest named after Laura Ingalls. Again each author read a short section to give the audience a test of the story–delightful experience!
My Memoir workshop on Saturday afternoon went well even though I had some technical difficulties. The attendees participated, thanked me and seemed appreciative. I had thought that the attendees would buy my books because of me being a presenter–I did not sell one book.
Then add insult to injury, they have a Book Signing time Saturday from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. Supposedly shoppers could still buy books, but no one bought mine. I looked around the room and mostly the winners and finalists of the Willa awards sold books. The rest of us authors–the majority in the room–sat and watched the action happening away from us!
Then the evening ended with another banquet to celebrate the Willa winners–the third banquet of the weekend. Saturday noon’s banquet celebrated the finalists in the Willa awards. I was “banqueted” out.
Today I realize the conference is about celebrating the twenty-one winners and finalists of the Willa awards and the five winners of the Laura awards. I get that now, but it was an expensive lesson. In writing this blog, healing happened: I also realize I’m a successful writer because I write–pure and simple!
I always have to look at the positives in every experience: I met some wonderful, friendly people at the conference. I always learn something helpful at any workshop I attend. I made some connections which could possibly help me on the biography I’m writing. I will continue my membership in this organization and continue to submit entries into their contests because it stretches me.
The drives to and from Walla Walla were breathtaking and stressful. I will tell you about my adventure in my next blog.
Have you ever had an experience like this at a conference? If so, what did you do? Share your comment below.
Check out my books at my web site: https://www.laradasbooks.com
Fall specials continue at my Etsy Shop: Larada’s Reading Loft