Atlanta Writers Conference & the Information Hangover

It’s been two weeks since I’ve posted anything.  I need to blog.  I don’t want to.  What I want is to curl up in a ball with a glass of Shiraz and the new Sarah Dessen novel, but I need to blog. Because I am NOT a quitter (she says to herself while rocking back and forth in an erratic manner).

On Saturday, I attended the 4th annual Atlanta Writers Conference, presented by the Atlanta Writer’s Club.

This is a difficult subject for me to write about without sounding too cynical.  Still, I’m going to try.

Let me start by emphasizing the positive.  I’ve been to quite a few regional and national writing/literary conferences and this one was the best organized for the money:

  1. $180 to participate in all activities, including a professional critique and a pitch session, is a bargain! 
  2. The faculty was quite impressive for a small, regional conference – 5 successful literary agents (in this case, successful = has actually sold some fiction &/or non-fiction books to major publishing houses within the last year) and an editorial manager from Sourcebooks (independent publisher founded in 1987 that produces some truly wonderful/profitable titles, including one of the best contemporary YA novels I’ve read within the last year – Songs for a Teenage Nomad.)
  3. Participants were given focused, valuable insight and information  without being beaten over the head with a laundry list of do’s & don’ts.

Let me emphasize that I was NOT a wide-eyed innocent walking into this conference.  I understand the writing conference game.  I understand the rules of conduct.  I understand the odds.  Most of all, I understand that this whole process is more like online dating than a science or a business.  I had no delusions of walking out of that conference with the perfect agent or a lucrative book contract.  These events are really just a networking opportunity, a chance to get professional feedback, a place to recommit to the dream of publication and a way to hear the latest news, trends and gossip coming out of the publishing industry.

So why do I now feel like somebody just slashed both my bike tires and told me to pedal over to Anchorage, Alaska…in winter…with no clothes on?

Here’s a few disheartening facts every writer struggling to successfully navigate the obstacle course to a traditional publishing contract should know:

  • There is a nearly INFINITE supply of terrible to mediocre manuscripts out there. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true.  Every one of those manuscripts represents someone’s hopes and dreams, but the vast majority will never be suitable for publication.
  • There’s also a HUGE supply of good to spectacular manuscripts out there and not all of those talented writers will ever obtain a traditional publishing contract.  Even if they do get published, the book could fail to make any money or (gulp) lose money for the publishing house.  And that does not bode well for your next project.
  • An almost unfathomable number of manuscripts are submitted to publishing houses and literary agencies every year.  Many agents claim to receive 50 – 100 unsolicited submissions every single day.  Large publishing houses receive even more than that.  Hence the infamous “slush pile.”

OK, I’ve always known about this gargantuan slush pile and I’ve always believed I have the talent and tenacity to find a way to the top of someone’s slush pile…hopefully that someone will understand the deep and lasting impact Star Wars could have on a young, creative girl.

I have never seriously considered going to a “vanity press” and paying loads of money to print my book and sell it out of the trunk of my car.  I know that Jane Austin, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman (among others) did it, but I never intended to go that route.

However, my position was softened somewhat with the recent evolution of hybrid publishers (such as Outskirts Press or Windy City Publishers).  These publishing models employ editors and marketing professionals who work with the author to produce and sell the finished product. They offer ISBN numbers and national wholesale distribution.  While the author makes the larger investment, I believe the company also invests in the project and the author has much more power in deciding things like title, cover art and price point.

It’s a step up from the old vanity presses, but still not my true dream.  I’ve promised myself I will not choose this route until I’ve submitted this novel to just about every agent and editor listed in those massive Writer’s Market guides.

With such crazy odds against getting a publishing contract, it’s no surprise that many authors choose an alternate route to their dreams of immortality.  I totally understand and, in many cases, support that choice. When I hear the stories of first-time authors who have circumvented the system and found huge commercial success, I want to pump my fist in the air and yell, “You go! Create your own destiny!!”

And yet, I also hear Yoda’s voice in my head saying, “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive…beware the dark side.”

Undeniably, there is much more respect and higher legitimacy afforded to authors who are published under the traditional publishing model.  In fact, there is quite a bit of fury and loathing directed at self published authors by those who have successfully “run the gauntlet” to land a coveted publishing contract.  Since self published books have started to flood the market through Amazon and author websites, I’ve witnessed a vicious backlash from traditionally published authors as they struggle to rise above the unedited masses. I can empathize, but I can’t condone all of the anger and negativity.

Yoda chimes in again with, “Anger, fear, aggression.  The dark side of the Force are they.”

Now there is a surge in eBook sales (thanks to the confluence of many awesome technological advances packed into a tiny, lightweight reading package such as a Nook or Kindle) and a parallel surge of free or nearly free opportunities for aspiring writers to get their manuscripts into the hands of consumers as eBooks.  Until this weekend I believed this could be a wonderful thing.  I mean, eBook sales are growing.  Consumers are buying and reading more content than they have in many years.  Good news, right?

Well, now I’m not so sure.

During this weekend’s conference, a sudden, very disturbing thought occurred to me…

Uh oh, the slush pile!  Remember that colossal pile of unpublished material with its nearly infinite number of terrible to mediocre manuscripts?  It’s all going to get out there and flood the market.

Oh wow.  I don’t know how I feel about this.  I don’t know what it all means.  The publishing world is changing.  Some would say it’s evolving, some argue it’s collapsing.  The situation is what it is no matter how I feel about it.  What will be, will be.  Why worry or fret?

Why?  Because I find this sudden epiphany makes it so much harder to force myself to write, rewrite, edit, pitch, query and accept rejection without accepting defeat all in hopes of one day being published…especially now that I realize there’s a chance no readers will actually purchase my novel because they simply can’t find it among a vast, unfathomable sea of eBooks created by amateurs who cannot be bothered with punctuation or editing. 

And if I decide to jump in the escape pod and go that self publishing route with my best possible novel….turns out I’m still going to be slogging around in the same slush pile I’ve been trying to climb out of for years, only this time I’ll be fighting for readers.

Zoinks!  I need to stem the flow of negativity here.

Slay the Writer:  Yoda?  What have you got for me?

Yoda:  You must unlearn what you have learned.

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3 thoughts on “Atlanta Writers Conference & the Information Hangover

  1. Slush Fund

    Hey Slayerwriter, you sound discouraged! Don’t fret. Last weekend my dog chased a possum and all the Mexican restaurants in my town seemed closed at once.
    I know that has nothing to do with anything.

    Well if you are like me, you’ve got the artist and creator IN you. You’ve got to write or create no matter what that is or entail; it’s just a part of you. I feel that way when I get my poetry going when I do or am writing on an enthralling science or environmental project.

    So it’s irrelevant how many e-books and slush fund writers there are out there.

    Just create, as in and if, The Artist’s Way.

    Mike

  2. There is this: as long as you unpublished, you still might be the next big thing debut author that the publishers are looking for. The writers that really have it bad are the mid-list authors. The writers on both sides of them–the unpublished and the best-selllers–are still in good shape.

    I do think more and more people will read e-books, but I don’t think that means the publishers are going away. As you have noticed, we need gatekeepers. There are a few good writers going the self-pubbed route. But how can we find them in the huge slush pile of which you speak?

    So I think publishers will be around a good long while, yet. It seems to me that printers will go belly up but publishers will be just fine. I don’t, after all, want to design my own cover, edit my own book, do all my own marketing, and keep all my own records. I want the publisher to take care of the stuff they always have taken care of. I want them to publish my books. So I will keep trying to go the traditional route.

  3. Pingback: Rambling Comments on a Warm December Evening… | Slay the Writer

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