Writing, or publishing, has become more difficult over the last few years. Publishing houses have merged or disappeared altogether, e-publishing and print-on-demand have risen from the ashes, advances are low or even non-existent and fine, once-proficient, writers have gone years without a print contract. Some have migrated to smaller publishers which can be a very good thing; others have given up altogether, which is definitely not a good thing.
And yet, I visited The Doubletree Hotel in San Diego, California last weekend and watched hundreds of hopeful writers tote laptops, book bags and conference schedules from room to room in their efforts to learn, sell and promote their manuscripts. A leap of faith? Certainly. Do many writers actually sell books at these conferences? Hardly. However, they do meet with editors and agents, mix with other writers, hear answers to their questions and quite frequently move their manuscripts past the deadly slush pile into the priority, requested-manuscript-to-be-read-relatively-quickly list.
San Diego was nostalgic. Twenty years ago I, a fledgling writer unpublished in fiction, attended my first writing conference there. It was hosted at the university and the lodgings, a local motel, left much to be desired. Still the speakers were excellent, the information valuable, the conference organized and, as it turned out for me, invaluably worthwhile. I met the woman who would become my literary agent, although it would be six years and multiple books later before she formally represented me, as well as the two ladies who became my critique group for the next twenty years. This 2011 we celebrate two decades of meetings, moral support and personal wisdom, which brings me to this conclusion: despite the changes in publishing, writing continues to be a craft that lures interesting people, people who are attempting to step outside the box of their daily lives and do something more, people who are inspired by and desire to inspire through the medium of the written word. I was proud of those people who gave up their weekend, proud of their goals, proud to be among them.