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Recently I attendedĀ  my first writing conference. It had originally been scheduled for fall of 2018, but Hurricane Florence had other plans for us. Thankfully it was rescheduled and not cancelled. A small affair, it was held on a rainy Saturday at NC State’s campus. Armed with pens, notebooks, and a hurriedly written pitch for my first novel, I prepared to engage fellow writers and hopefully entice some agents to read my manuscript.

I was both disappointed and a little relieved that there were no agents attending. At least I had an elevator pitch to use on other writers and ran into another author with a penchant for post-apocalyptic fiction. Over lunch, we discussed indie publishing, the difficulties of gaining blog readership, writing discipline, and a host of other topics. I left with his business card and his hearty encouragement to keep writing, keep working to improve, and never give up.

Even though the majority of people I met were non-fiction authors, even photographers, their desire to be published and share their creative efforts was palpable. I was in good company. Their questions to panelists often echoed by own concerns and confusion about the publishing world, marketing, and a host of other topics. I could feel tension from some who, like myself, were a bit overwhelmed by all the details, especially the expensive ones.

The panels ranged from branding and marketing to publishing and outlining. Again and again, I heard disparaging remarks about traditional publishing that dispelled many of my preconceptions. It was also overwhelmingly obvious that the panelists were entrepreneurs first, drumming up business for their editing, layout, or marketing services. Some of them were also writers. I found myself wishing there were more full-time authors on the panels instead, people who could provide keen insight from their own experiences in the trenches, without the incentive to sell me something other than their novels. I think what I really crave is out there somewhere, maybe in another city not so far away, at a conference that spans a whole weekend or even a few days.

According to what I heard, traditional publishing has changed considerably over the years. Most of these changes benefit the publishers by allowing them to cut expenses. They invest most of their time and money in authors guaranteed to make them money, which makes sense from a business standpoint but sacrifices the discovery and support of new talent. Editing quality and marketing are two areas where publishing budgets have shrunk, and both can have a drastic effect on book sales. Since the publisher would also benefit from additional sales, it left me scratching my head. I guess there’s some mysterious formula that helps compute which books are better off unsold than being marketed more aggressively.

Armed with questions around what I heard the panelists discuss, I turned to an online writing group for some opinions. What I received in response to my questions was phrased in pros and cons of both traditional and indie publishing. Will I continue to submit to agents, or will I self-publish my novels? I’ve read that doing both, when possible, is the best practice. In the immediate future, I won’t do either. I’ve got at least one more revision to make to the novel I finished and more outlining to do for my new project. I’ll continue to submit short stories to publications, when I have time. Self-publishing involves more work on my part, more time spent marketing and leveraging social media. Since I don’t have time for that right now, I’ll have to be content to hone my skills and research agents seeking the kind of fiction I write.

The most important advice I received was that I will need to finish more books before any of the rest becomes important. Keep writing? I can do that.