Last spring, I went to a writer’s conference. Being a writer, I thought it was about time I met some of my fellow authors and shared some thoughts and ideas. It was a state writers group that, I found out later, split from the state Romance Writers Association because they felt that more than just romance writers should be invited. That sounded good to me, because although I wrote romance, I also wrote other things. So I paid my money and drove down.
This particular groups’ past connection to the RWA was very apparent from the word go. My goodie bag, for instance, held several paperback romances, a beefcake calendar from Ellora’s Cave, and an emergency condom attached to a keychain. There were several panels, most but not all devoted to romance writing in some form of the other, and the keynote speaker was Larissa Ione, who I’d heard of, naturally, but never read. The event was held in a very nice hotel with big conference rooms. Lunch was hot pasta followed by a coffee and dessert buffet, and there was a very chi-chi cocktail hour, complete with full bar and hot and cold tidbits, after the conference was over. I ended up standing next to Larissa Ione, sipping a post-conference martini and talking about cheese and crackers.
Finally, I was at the Cool Kids Table.
Did I share thoughts and ideas? Well, not so much. There were no panels or discussions about self-publishing. The authors who were honored for publishing their first books had all signed with a Big 6 publisher, and they would not put “Author” on my name tag because although I had two books out, since they were self-pubbed, they apparently didn’t count.
I did meet some lovely women, and made a few good contacts. In fact, the folks doing my website sat with me when I was having a ‘between workshops’ martini. The YA panel was fun, and I got to spend the day out of the house. So I chalked it up as a good day.
But last month, I went to another writer’s conference. At Hunter College in NYC. I took an early bus into the city (one of the many perks of living in New Jersey), then a cab uptown. The minute I stepped through security, I knew this was going to be a whole different ballgame.
Hunter College is not a nice hotel with spacious conference rooms. It’s a small, private college, with walls a familiar institutional green. When I checked in, my name tag said “Dee Ernst, Author”. I still have it, of course. There were no goodie bags, just a folder with a timetable and brief bios of all the panelists. There was also coffee and bagels on a folding table if you were hungry.
My first panel – held in a classroom, where we all sat at standard chair/desks, was on Independent Publishing, and there was actually a real person from Amazon on the panel, alongside a self-pubbed author, a guy from Kirkus Reviews, and a few other people who told us all why self-publishing was the wave of the future, and why getting in on the ground floor was key. They didn’t have any new information, but it was nice to know they were real pros.
The first keynote speaker was Colson Whitehead, who I also heard of but never read. But after his speech, which was charming and funny, I vowed to read every single thing he ever wrote.
My next panel was on Self Publishing. It was scheduled the same time as the Thriller/Mystery panel, and I was torn. I don’t write that sort of thing, but Lee Child and Harlan Coban were on the panel, and I was really tempted to just sit and listen for the fun of it. Luckily, as I passed through a lobby, I got a look at both gentlemen, holding court with some people I didn’t know. Lee Child, by the way, looks even hotter in person than he does on the back covers of his books. I stood there long enough for the testosterone to wash over me, and went on my way.
This panel was also packed. There was a lot of great information. There are no silver bullets, they said. It’s all about writing, editing, good cover, good blurb, social networking…no new information, but it was nice to know they were real pros.
Lunch, on the rooftop cafeteria, was a brown bag special. I had ham. The keynote speakers there were Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter, Carol. These ladies I knew. And read. They were charming, informative, and totally worth the price of admission.
Next came the Fiction panel that was the main reason I was there in the first place. Susan Isaacs was on the panel. I love Susan Isaacs. I entered the room, pulled out my hardcover copy of ‘Compromising Positions’ that I’d been carrying around all day, and asked if she would sign it. The woman standing next to her, Julia Glass, laughed and said “Look at that antique!” Ms. Isaac smiled, looked at my name tag, and asked me if I was related to ‘Max’ as she signed. I said no, thanked her without jumping up and down and squealing with delight, and sat back to hear her and Julia, as well as five other seasoned, amazing writers talk about what they do and why they do it.
Finally, there was the Humor Panel. I write funny, so I figured this was going to be the real topper for me. It wasn’t. The writers were all pretty dry and talked about how humor had to come from pain or anger. I should have been disappointed, but Malachy McCourt sat next to me, so it didn’t matter.
On the way downtown, after a glass or two of wine back in the cafeteria (which is what Hunter College calls a cocktail hour), I stopped at the Magnolia Bakery and spent $25.00 on cupcakes. Great way to end the day.
There’s a Self-Publishing Expo this fall I’ll probably attend, because I love any excuse to take the bus into NYC. I may go back to the local group’s conference because, even though I’m just a self-pubbed gal, I have probably sold more books than half of those people, and it might be fun to mention it at that cocktail hour. And Hunter College is now on my list of absolutes.
Especially if Susan Isaacs comes back.
Or Lee Child.