10 Things I Learned at the 2018 San Francisco Writer’s Conference

Note to self: Powell Street is very, very steep.

I don’t know if I told you, but I went to SFWC 2018. I’d never been to a writer’s conference before, nor any kind of conference at all. In four days, I learned more about being a professional writer than I’d ever learned in all the previous ten years of lonesome Google searches. The learning curve was steep, almost as steep as San Francisco’s hills.

So, without further ado, here are the top ten things I learned at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference:

1. My writing ain’t that bad. I only managed to show pages to one person, and it was a writer on about the same skill level as me, but he said that he liked it and he’d keep reading. A total stranger said that about my writing, which has never happened before. I must be doing something right.

2. My pitch sucks. I have no idea how to write one. So I paid $50 to snag a 15-minute slot with Carlisle Webber, an agent with Fuse Literary Agency, and asked her for information. She said a pitch should be composed of four things. I’ll tell you what they were in a later post.

3. I need to look into assisted self-publishing. There are so many mind-boggling options for traditional publishing, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing. And yes, I know what all three of those are now.

4. What I write is adult speculative fiction. I also know the difference between YA, middle grade, and adult fiction, as well as commercial, upmarket, and literary fiction.

5. Conferences are exhausting. Next time I go to one I’m going to rent a room in the same hotel it’s in, or one close by. No more of this renting-a-hotel-room-in-Pleasanton-because-I’m-too-cheap-to-pay-for-one-in-the-city-and-riding-BART-one-hour-one-way-every-morning-and-evening-to-get-to-the-hotel-where-the-conference-is-being-held nonsense.

6. My business cards are amateurish. Literally everyone who gave me a business card at this conference had more attractive and better designed business cards than I did. Plus I’d misprinted the URL of my blog, which was totally lame.

7. All the hours I’ve poured into reading in my genre and familiarizing myself with the industry paid off. I know the major players, the famous writers (even non-American ones), the awards (even non-American ones), and seminal works in the genre of science fiction, as well as the names of even some obscure sci-fi writers. I was able to converse intelligently with the other sci-fi and fantasy writers there at the conference, at least. I was not, however, able to tell any of the agents I pitched to what recently published sci-fi novels my book is comparable to. I gotta read some current sci-fi novels and figure that out.

8. Powell Street in San Francisco is very, very steep. And I hate it.

9. Being around and talking with other writers (especially SF/F writers) is like chicken soup for the soul.

10. I’m not alone. There are so many other writers out there just like me: struggling to put an idea into words that will attract the eye of an agent, not knowing how this whole publishing and marketing world works.

In short, I had fun. I just about killed myself walking eight blocks up Powell Street to the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel every day. I made some pivotal decisions about my career, decisions I’d been dithering about for months, if not years. (For example, I don’t think self-publishing is my cup of tea; I really want to publish traditionally, partly to prove to myself that I can, and partly because I hate marketing.) I met dozens of other writers, some of whom I’m still corresponding with on Twitter (and have even made plans to meet with and exchange manuscripts). I have contacts, no matter how tenuous, in the publishing industry. Two literary agents asked me for samples of my magnum opus, New Model Earth, which I’ve already sent to them. So…fingers crossed. My writing career just got a big kick in the fanny.

Oh, and if you’re a struggling writer and haven’t been to a writer’s conference yet, sign up for one. Right now. You won’t regret it.