SFWC 2018 - What I Learned
As I walked down the steep hill from the Intercontinental John Hopkins Hotel to the Embarcadero subway station, the cloudless sky and warm temperatures matching my jovial mood, my mind ran through everything that happened during the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was my first time attending a conference that was built with writers and the publishing industry in mind, a world that I've only begun to familiarize myself with since I began my writing journey a year ago.
I must say, it was exhilarating to be around so many people that were at every stage of the writing process - some were still working on their first manuscript, some already completed their thirtieth revision, and others were already published and looking to shop around their latest creation. And that's just the writers, like myself - there were a handful of editors and agents that attended the conference as well, offering their advice and services for when people were ready. And of course, there were authors and consultants, too, participating in various sessions that I attended, imparting their wisdom and experiences so that others can learn from them.
It is a handful of those lessons that I wanted to share here, so that others can benefit from my takeaways. So without further ado...
- The Internet: Your Lifeline to Success Today. Of all the sessions held during SFWC, I have to say that the talks around how a writer should promote themselves was repeated the most - and for good reason. Whether you intend on self-publishing or going the traditional route, the way you present yourself to the world - for better or worse - starts and ends with the Internet. You are your own marketing department, which means a lot of responsibilities fall on your shoulders if you want to not only get your name out there but to keep people talking about you and, ideally, want to buy whatever you're creating. There is so much to cover on this front, it may warrant an entirely separate post in the future, but I can parse out what I think are the most important bits here:
- Have an active presence on the most visible social media networks today: Twitter (an author's best friend as of this post), Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube are the top spaces to be.
- Have a website with your name in the domain, if available.
- Blog, blog, blog!
- You Aren't Alone. Writing can be a lonely endeavor - you are cooped up in your home-office/basement/living room with nobody else in the house, focused entirely on the world you are creating for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. However, there are many communities that a writer can join to help alleviate the need to interact with people. Such places, from online forums to face-to-face meetups like the California Writers Club, have additional minds to bounce ideas off of and receive help with your work whenever you need it. I wrote at length about the benefits that one can derive from such experiences in a previous post, but attending this conference reinforced the positives of writing in groups.
- Agents and Editors Want You to Succeed. Writing is more than just getting your story scribbled down on paper: You want others to read your work, and to get there you should aim to have your creation as refined as a cut diamond. Enter editors and agents: The editor will help with a host of tasks, from developmental editing to full critiques, all with the intention of making your work as perfect as possible; the agent (if you're going traditional) bridges the gap between you and the world of publication houses, rooting for you and being your advocate during the hunt for that book deal.
- The Law is, For the Most Part, On Your Side. There was just one session that covered the law and what writers should understand before attempting to get their work published, but I still feel it's one of the most important sessions anyone could have attended. In summary, writers are heavily protected by the law, but things can get fuzzy depending on the kind of work you're creating (ex: fiction vs memoir) and how you are representing real people or brands in said work. I wrote an extensive post about this already, so if you'd like to learn more, please check it out!
- Your Experiences Make Your Work Unique. Everyone that attended SFWC had their own personal backgrounds, their own personal stories to share about their lives. This means that no matter what you decide to write, the way in which you tell your story is a reflection of you and everything that is who you are as an individual. From your professional experiences on the job to your personal experiences with family, friends, and the world at large - channel all of that into your work, and you will create something special.
I kinda wish the conference never ended - it's not every day that I get to be around so many folks that truly understand how challenging it is to do this. However, in the end I made several new connections and a few friends that I've been chatting with ever since we all returned to our homes. It's hard to believe that I considered not attending - I thank my wife profusely for changing my mind.
I will attend other writing conferences, but I won't forget this one - the conference that provided even more of a solid framework for my future success.