Editors and Writers Conferences We Want to Meet You!
by Erin Brown
I remember my first writers conference well. Many, many years ago, as a fresh-faced young editor in New York, I was invited to attend a small romance writers conference in a small town north of the city. I couldn’t have been more excited. Travel to an exotic locale (off Route I-91)! Adventure! Free meals (Limit: one trip to the buffet only)! Two nights raiding the mini-bar at a snazzy hotel (well, a twenty-room motor lodge off the highway)! I packed up my bag, dry cleaned my suit, and hit the parkway heading out of town.
When I arrived, I met with the coordinator and I asked what time my panel would be the next morning. She looked at me a bit confused and said, “Oh, well, you’re actually giving the keynote speech tomorrow.” When I eventually came to on the worn carpet near the motel lobby restrooms, with the help of cold water and a quick smack to the face, she gave me the keys to my room (along with a saccharine smile and the line, “I’m so sorry I forgot to tell you!”) and the topic of my speech: “The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Erotica.”
My first thought was, “Don’t,” as in “write erotica.” Now, you must understand, this was a difficult topic for me—although I’d worked as a historical romance editor, those steamy scenes usually ended with nothing more than some hair-pulling, fleshy thighs, and a torn bodice. At the time, I always thought of the erotica genre as TMI (Too Much Information)—much as I viewed men who insisted on wearing Speedos in public. But I realized that I was here to do a job, and I had to overcome my prudishness that came from being the daughter of a southern minister and prepare an hour-long talk on the art of writing erotica well. I also had to work through my then “uneasiness” about public speaking. And I did it. Once I started writing the speech, I really got into it! I soon realized that there wasn’t much difference between writing romance and writing erotica—well, ok, there was, but only by a few inches—and I soon saw myself as the conference mistress of erotica. However, I still stuck to wearing my sensible heels during the speech, reluctantly rejecting an attendee’s offer to let me borrow her thigh high black leather boots with matching riding crop.
After I finished my speech, the seventy or so attendees stood in line to meet with me and said how much they learned about writing and the publishing business. It was a wonderful feeling and I got the chance to meet some incredible, inspiring women (and even a few, “interesting” men—probably all wearing Speedos underneath their khaki pants). I realized after my first conference that it was the joy of giving information to enthusiastic writers that made the trip completely worthwhile. I was able to share information on the craft of writing and the world of publishing that was second nature to me, but was a real eye-opener to the conference attendees. I made contacts with very talented writers whom I would communicate with for years to come, honed my presentation skills, and learned that the joy of helping writers made the dingy hotel room, $50 stipend, and the cold, questionable lunch buffet more than worthwhile.
As the years progressed, I was able to attend the swankier conferences, and I’ve always loved them. I’ve found that for the most part—with the exception of a few cranky “I’m too cool for school” attendees—editors are at these conferences because they want to help you, the writer. Whether it’s providing information about the publishing business, giving tips on writing, or simply giving you the chance to perfect your pitch, we’re there to help. Sure, we’re not completely altruistic—we love meeting potential new talent and making contacts, agents and fellow editors alike—because we selfishly want to get some quality submissions out of it! Hey, we’re not perfect.
Now, there’s always one writer I meet at each conference who is so nervous during a pitch meeting that their little index cards are shaking in their hands, sweat is pouring down their brow and they can’t remember whether they wrote a sci-fi novel or a self-help book on gardening. But no matter, I calm them down, and try to make the poor soul realize that I’m there to help—and often I tell the story of my first erotica keynote speech. How nervous I was standing up in front of so many people, all looking to me for my erotica expertise (insert guffaw here). We’ve all been there—these types of moments can be very nerve-wracking, but try to remember that the editors are there to help. There are definitely those editors who come off like jerks or jerkettes, but those are usually people who have deep-seated personality issues all their own, so try not to worry too much about them.
Most editors aren’t at conferences for the free trip (well, except for the Maui conference), the free meals, or the free goody bags (although I still use every single rockin’ tote I’ve ever received!)—we attend these conferences because we love what we do and we want to help aspiring, bright-eyed writers hone their skills. We want your writing to improve and we want to meet you so that we can tap that talent down the road. I’m still in contact with writers I met years ago at conferences, and have watched with excitement as they find agents and finally, publishing houses. And yes, a few have even signed with me. Now go forth, you writers, and attend those conferences. And take full advantage of those meetings with the editors—we are there because we want to be, and because we want to meet you.
Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at www.erinedits.com