Monday, May 22, 2006

FAQ #1: "Do Editors Have to Attend Conferences? Do They Enjoy Them?"

Long, loooonnng ago, as you may remember, I announced that I was going to add an FAQ page to my website and invited people to send or leave questions. Contrary to appearances, I have not forgotten about this -- I just need to carve out the time to write my answers alongside everything else there is to do on the website, blog, etc., never mind real life. So I'm going to make these questions an occasional series here, and eventually we'll have a webpage. Voila!

Do Editors Have to Attend Conferences? Do They Enjoy Them?

I don’t know of any publishing houses that mandate that their editors attend conferences -- indeed they couldn't, as our appearances always depend on the RAs who want to invite us. And most editors enjoy them, I think . . . or at the very least, we all appreciate the extra income. Speaking for myself, I like going to conferences because I like writing conference talks, which often help me think through my own standards and craft as an editor; I like meeting writers and other editors; I like talking about publishing and books; I like traveling to different parts of the country; and there’s always the thrill of possibility that I might find a great new writer or manuscript. (I’ve bought two manuscripts off critiques at SCBWI conferences.)

In fact, the only negative part of a conference for me are the writers who see me only as a path to publication and aren't really interested in anything else. These are the ones who are combative about or uninterested in the advice I give in a critique because they just wanted me to love their manuscript (if you can’t take criticism, don’t pay for it). And they're the writers who want to talk business at meals—what I’m looking for, what the latest trends are, would I be interested in their manuscript along with my roast chicken and asparagus. I completely understand the latter impulse: I’m right there, a captive audience, and the exact person they want to connect with. But when it comes to verbal pitches, I much prefer seeing query letters, because I’m interested in the writing, not just the story; and more to the point, I spend all day at a conference talking about my tastes, trends, and so on, and at meals I really want to talk about something else, be it books or kids or pets or movies or the Bush administration or the airspeed of an African swallow. (If the conversation wends its way around to publishing, that's fine, because goodness knows everyone at a conference is interested in it; but writing is made interesting through its resemblance to life, not the other way around.) So if you’re sitting next to me at dinner, you will make a much better impression on me if I remember you as “Oh, yes, she was the one who knew all those fascinating facts about chocolate-making!” than “Oh, right, he wanted me to critique his manuscript during dessert.” And moral of the story: Try to make a human connection rather than an editorial one.


  1. But was is the air speed velocity of a laden African swallow?

  2. Great advice, Cheryl. I get a first day of school, gurgling angst pit in my stomach when I think about the upcoming LA conference. Are you going? Should be a good one!
    The smaller SCBWI “editors days” are easier and more relaxed but I remember last year getting off the elevator into a crowd of three thousand women with tote bags and wanting to run back home as fast as possible…. (Even though I set the bell curve for screaming extrovert.) I made myself talk to everyone I met, in the elevators, at lunch, sitting on benches, anybody with a nametag was fair game. By the end of the thing I had met a bunch of nice, very creative people, collected a ton of business cards and managed to have an awesome time. The week afterwards was spent lying on the floor in a melty puddle.

    Rock on!


  3. When I sat next to you at breakfast at the Poconos Retreat, we talked about Scrabble. Then you had to listen to me and a fellow mom/writer gush on about our kids and how we missed them. African Swallows are much more interesting to be sure.

  4. Once I spotted a Northern Parula. It was cute.

    Never spotted an African swallow, though.

  5. I'd be afraid to speak, let alone pitch my novel during a meal. I'd probably concentrate on eating in the hopes of avoiding a choking spasm that would draw attention to myself. LOL

    Before I attend my first conference, I'll be sure to read up on the African Swallow so I can join in the meal-time conversation . . . if I'm brave enough to speak up! :-)

  6. Not the European Swallow!

    As long as no attendees fart in your general direction, or disparage your parents as being hamsters or smelling of elderberries ... things should be okay.

  7. Oh, but Harried Mom, I so much prefer talking about Scrabble to explaining my submissions policy for the five millionth time!

    Of course, if people ask me about that over dinner in the future, I could simply say "Ni!"

  8. 'Tis a sad day in publishing when visiting editors can say 'ni' to old women they meet at writers' conferences...

  9. As a former editor and now agent of children's books, I totally agree with Cheryl in her answers.