Authors Need Authors

by Katherine Pryor

At last summer’s four-day PNWA writers’ conference, over 400 writers competed for the attention of about 30 agents and editors. Each room was a whirlpool of ambition that threatened to suck up every ounce of integrity around it. Agents were accosted in the hallways, bathrooms, and elevators. A conference is a writer’s chance to make a great impression, deliver the perfect pitch, and get the ultimate pay-off, those beautiful four little words: “Send me your stuff.” 

A conference this size attracts a lot of hungry people eyeing what seems like a tiny pie. We have all heard the statistics: fewer publishing houses owned by fewer companies. Fewer readers, smaller markets. We invest that entry fee to work our way out of the slush pile, and into the coveted stack of “Requested Material.” 

By Friday of the conference, I was a mess. I was terrified of my agent pitch, desperate for professional connections. My stomach ached, my nerves were raw. Tears threatened to spill when the agent I was pitching to took a cell phone call.  

The pressure to publish turns me into someone I don’t like, and although I am well past the age when most people need it, I called a time-out on myself. In the calm oasis of the Hilton parking garage, I asked myself what I really wanted from the conference. Wasn’t all the agent contact information in the conference brochure? Did those connections have to happen today

On Saturday, I attended workshops I was genuinely interested in, rather than workshops on marketing and pitching. I explored the craft of writing with people who love it as much as I do. When it came time for my editor and agent pitches on Saturday, my stress level was markedly lower than it had been the day before. I made small talk with the agent about events in her life, and strove for a human, rather than a professional, connection. She asked to see my work, and said it was exactly the sort of fiction her agency represents. 

By the end of the conference, I had made new writing friends to share work with, established a few professional connections, and was asked to contribute to a budding magazine. (Yup, it’s Author!) Most importantly, I remembered that I write because I just can’t quit the thrill of crafting new words. A conference like this is a window into the profession of writing, but also a window into ourselves. 

Agent Ken Atchity gave a frank yet inspiring speech on the heartache and joys inherent to the creative professions. He reminded us that this journey is a personal choice. No one is forcing us across the bridge—we go of our own accord. At his book signing, I bought one of Mr. Atchity’s books and complimented his speech. He asked me what I wrote, handed me a business card, and asked me to email him.  

Collaboration reminds us why we’ve chosen the harder path, and helps keep us committed to the journey. Relationships with others who love the written word will keep us strong when the rejection letters pile up, well-meaning relatives ask when the book is coming out, and desperation looms large. I’ll attend this summer’s conference, and the one after that. Writing is too tough a profession to enter alone, and being in a room with 400 other writers reminds me I don’t have to.

Katherine Pryor is author of the novel 50 Ways. She lives and writes in Seattle.

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