Confessions of a San Francisco Writers Conference First-Timer

It’s a been almost a year since I attended the incredibly, amazing San Francisco Writers Conference and I’m still energized by the experience, the friends I made, and the work I’m doing to reach my publishing goals. While I’m not attending this year’s version, I wanted to (re)share my day-after musings from last year. Feel free to pass this along and if you’re on the fence about attending: Make. That. Leap. You’ll be so unbelievably glad you did!

Originally published February 20, 2017

5 “Day-After” Reflections

Cathleen Calkins / #SWFC2017

I just returned from my first writers conference, the four-day SFWC. As I mingled one last time in the gathering of more than 500 authors, writers, agents, editors, and publishing-types yesterday, I contrasted my pre- and post-conference self. I mean, like a memoir, the experience was transforming, and in atonement for last Wednesday’s version of me, I must confess a few things.

It didn’t kill me to wear a bra. The uniform of my days are jeans, a tank top, and a cardigan (I have them in every color), but I hate showing up under dressed. I compromised, followed along, and I liked it. Change is good and transformation is physical, too. I should probably wear bras and skirts and tights more often than I do.

I didn’t think I would like any of you people. That’s a terrible thing to write, but it’s true. I’m an overly-enthusiastic, shy person and in crowds the introvert in me rises to the surface like the foam on my morning latte; it’s a spongy layer but it always permeates the others.

At conferences, I can’t wait to escape to my room, curl up with a glass of wine and catch up on a channel I don’t subscribe to. It’s not that I don’t like to invest in others, I do. It is my niche; I write about people and places that matter and whose stories I’m passionate to tell.

And I almost made the same mistake believing this conference would be like any other, thinking these attendees are not my people. But writers, authors, editors, agents, publishing-types – you are my conference tribe and it feels so good to have found you, which leads me to my next confession.

I LOVE Networking. Seriously. I. Love. Networking. I love it so much it bears repeating.

I’ve always avoided any event centered on meeting other folks for the sole purpose of networking. Even organized work gatherings with people I know. I’m just not cool enough. I’m painfully awkward. I suck at engaging beyond hello, how are you. The list goes on. Until now; I discovered my secret weapon: I took myself along to this conference.

I was me and with new business cards in hand, I peppered the conference with me and collected the cards of you. It was organic. I talked to everyone – people in the restroom line, at breakfast, in the elevator, and in the wine aisle of a nearby convenience store. I even went to coffee with an Indian woman who writes young adult fantasy. But one encounter gave me Goosebumps.

After Anne and I exchanged pleasantries over braised salmon and mixed greens, she asked what I was pitching. A narrative non-fiction, in-the-footsteps of this guy in Russia, I explained using way too many “ums.” She seemed open so I continued with a few more details until she stopped me; oh, she smiled, I’m his descendant.

Goose. Bumps. (Got her card, too.)

Agents and Editors are not big, bad, scary people. They are quite lovely, actually.

When I signed up for the conference, I didn’t think I’d pitch any of my projects. Why bother? I wouldn’t have a stitch of time to finesse them into a remotely crisp or clear synopsis. I was wrong.

Caught up in the fervor of having a colored-dot on my name tag (the ‘I’m Pitching’ badge of honor), I honed the description for one project into a short and passionate pitch. I could never have done this without the insight and tips of the very same people I feared.

The good news: There was interest, which makes my heart sing and my head spin.

I can sleep when I’m dead. Head spinning is a kick in the pants. So is spending more than a minute with an 86-year-old author whose memoir of her solo travel through Saudi Arabia in the early 1960s is about to publish. So is getting out of bed and my pajamas, putting on my face, and attending one last workshop to practice my pitch with a small group of very tired literary agents.

I finished the not-yet-memorized sixty-second pitch in a flush of red. Their response: Overwhelming and good and oh-so very helpful.

It was thee transformational moment and there is no going back.

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