by Guest Blogger Mercedes Goldcamp
Hi Everyone. Thanks for having me. And thanks so much to Annette for giving me a chance to drop by and say hello!
Last week, I wrote to a few dozen college professors asking for their help in spreading the word to their graduating seniors about Craft and Career, our upcoming Pennwriters conference.
My first point was that by the time you add up the 45+ hour long workshops, agent pitch sessions, and critique sessions, what you get is a New York writer’s conference at a Pittsburgh price. It was an easy case to make, one that could be proven with simple math and a comparison chart.
My second point was a bit more nebulous, and I’m not sure I pulled it off. What I wanted to say was that in addition to putting on a great conference at a great price, we also do something that is a bit harder to quantify.
In business letter-ese it came out this way: “At a Pennwriters conference, beginning writers comfortably mingle with best-selling authors. The atmosphere is warm, welcoming, and encouraging. In short, it’s the perfect environment for an aspiring writer to learn how to network with industry professionals.”
Which basically translates to: “Fear not, young writer. If you show up, we’ll be nice to you.”
It’s a point that I suspect may seem like an insignificant one to a student used to the artificially supportive cocoon that is college.
And this makes me wish that I could have figured out how to work in a paragraph or two about some of the conferences I’ve gone to that were anything but welcoming.
Once, at a really famous conference best left unnamed, I stood in the atrium and watched in disbelief as a team of hotel employees used saw horses to erect a barrier designed to keep us--the hundreds of paying attendees, away from them—the agents and editors who were having a private schmooze-fest, complete with complimentary cocktails and free hors d’oeuvres, on the other side of the very same room.
The schlumpy body language on our side of the atrium, where there were exactly zero drinks and snacks, said it all. A girl who looked like she was in her early twenties said, “It would be different if they were also going to have a party that included all of us.” The segregation continued for the entire weekend. If you wanted to interact one-on-one with a publishing pro, you signed up for it. And you paid extra. Beyond that, the step aside peon message came through loud and clear. I happened to be riding in an elevator with a writer I greatly admired. And I told him so. He did a little chin jerk which I guess meant thank you. And then he looked away. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
The truth is that what took place at that New York conference reflects the real world of writing and publishing, where, at least for now, there are still gates, and gatekeepers. In the real world, the Us vs. Them mentality happens every day. Not everywhere of course and not all of the time. But how else do you explain the glee some writers are expressing now that it looks like the digital revolution may dislodge a few gate keepers from their towers?
Maybe the Schadenfreude comes from writers who think they have been treated like peons for too long. Or maybe being thin-skinned is just part and parcel of being a writer. I don’t know about any of that.
What I do know is that the Us vs. Them thing doesn’t happen at a Pennwriters conference.
I’m not sure why this is true. And frankly, I can’t even prove it. Except to say that two years ago I went to my first conference and after three days I knew that I was going to be a member for life.
That same inclusive spirit seemed to be present in every workshop and at every meal. And for me at least, it’s a feeling that has carried on to this day. It’s there at our monthly area meetings, and on our free-wheeling, always interesting Yahoo discussion loop. We are writers who enjoy the company of other writers.
I’ve heard other people use the word family to describe our organization, so I’ll use it too as I offer up this friendly reminder:
This year’s family reunion will be in Pittsburgh at the Airport Marriott on May 13-15. Hope to see you there.
And PS--if you happen to notice any freshly-minted college grads wandering around, I know you’ll make them feel right at home.
About Mercedes O’Connor Goldcamp. Before taking time off to raise her children, Mercedes worked as an advertising copywriter and free-lance reporter. She’s currently serving as the Publicity Chairperson for the 2011 conference. She’s also writing a middle-grade mystery novel.