by Robison Wells
I published my first book in 2004, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I felt like a real writer. This was before the rise of Twitter and Facebook, and the world was less connected then than it is now, and there just wasn’t a lot of places for writers to congregate (or so I thought at the time). I had found my publisher on the internet, I had a small, dysfunctional writing group, but that was all I knew about publishing. I had no contacts, no networks, no people who understood me.
It was then that I was invited to teach a class at a writing conference. Not only did that concept seem strange to me, but I was genuinely suspicious of it. What did writers do all day at a writers conference? If it was anything like my writing group, then they just sat around and complained to each other about the state of the industry and about how they weren’t getting published. Was that the kind of place that I wanted to be? Was that the kind of environment that my publisher would even want me to be in? I had to check with my publicist to see if she thought it would be a bad career move.
Fortunately, she didn’t, and my fears were unfounded. The writers conference was the first place where I really met like-minded people. People who really GOT me. Yes, there was talk about publishers, positive and negative, but it wasn’t coming from clueless, dissatisfied outsiders; it was coming from other authors who were in the same market I was in, who had published the same kind of books I had, who, in some cases, had the very same editor I did. And we swapped stories.
I began to realize that there were people in the world who knew what it was like to go to a book signing where no one showed up, or get a royalty check for a grand total of twelve dollars. Or, on the other hand, people who were seeing great success, and were offering their help to the young and naive authors like myself. I met people who lived in their own heads, who, like me, wondered what other people who didn’t write books actually thought about all day. What is there to think about besides your plot, your characters, and your worlds?
I had found my tribe. I met authors there who would change my life forever. I met authors who would become my best of friends. Authors who would eventually collaborate with me. Authors who would employ me, and authors who I would employ. I was invited to join a writing guild, a thing that I never even knew existed, and I found that this writing tribe existed online. I found a new writing group, a group of people who were actually writing in my genre, in my market, with some of the same publishers. It was a writing group that I stayed with for seven years, and through which I saw great successes.
But it wasn’t where I stopped. Just a few years later I found myself at my first big national conference, World Fantasy, where I had a book to pitch and some experience under my belt. I started meeting people in the industry, people from New York, both agents and editors. I made some gaffes, I got some wins. Business cards were exchanged. Some agents told me to send them my manuscript. A few weeks later I signed with my agent. Six months after that, I had a three-book deal with Harper Collins.
I still go to that original writers conference. Sometimes I teach there, and sometimes I don’t. I’m not shopping for an agent anymore, and I’m not pitching books to editors, but there’s something delicious about sitting with other authors, people who are living the same way you live, thinking the same way you think, and striving after the same goals you’re striving for. It’s something that makes the writing life better, easier, and softer: like-minded people who celebrate your successes, who commiserate with your misses, and who will grow to be some of your very best friends.