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By Richard F.X. O’Connor

I have long had the privilege of being a faculty member of the just-concluded Santa Barbara Writers Conference and it got me to thinking: What should writers expect from Writers Conferences?

On the one hand, they are reaffirming—in a group setting—of the craft we exercise in private, hence a lonely craft.

And, we get to read aloud that with which we’ve been struggling. Such setting should offer positive criticism upon which to improve and grow. While we have all heard horror stories about destructive critiques (in public yet), they have no place at these venues. Trust me, there is a special place in hell reserved for those who are small-minded enough to be hurtful.

Admittedly, criticism is hard for writers who invariably have soft skins when it comes to their work. My advice is: Shut up and listen! Concurrently we writers must admit that all we really want is love (read praise). Well, if you are at a conference for help, you must set aside your need for a pat on the head; sometimes a boot on the fanny can get us back on the tracks.

When agents and editors attend conferences, be prepared to "pitch" your work in ONE SENTENCE. I particularly think highly of those that schedule five-minute pitch times. What is not helpful are agent panels preaching to us and then the agents are not available to the students. And at worst they clique together and exclude the writer.

I recall one conference I attended where the agent panelists, without realizing it, left the impression on the students that—and I’m paraphrasing—your book is probably not for us. At which an attendee rose to ask: "So what the hell are you doing here?"

Indeed, that is worst-case scenario and the valuable conferences schedule face-time for us wannabes. And since WCs (not the British type) are an expense for the writer, be certain that the schedule has what you are looking for, most especially the faculty that will be most helpful to you. How do you find out? That’s why God invented the Internet.

—Richard F X. O'Connor is the published author of seven books including the best selling "How To Make Your Man More Sensitive" (E.P. Dutton/ Fawcett) and "Ident-A-Kid" (S&S). His self-published work is "How to Market You and Your Book."



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