A few weeks ago, I attended the Southern California Writer’s Conference in Newport Beach, and I had a ball. Worth every penny I spent in fees and hotels, I learned so much and met a lot of cool people. I would like to share with you some thoughts for those of you who write or are thinking of writing books.
First, some plugs:
- Marla Miller: She runs a site called “Marketing the Muse” and ran a query letter seminar at the conference. A query letter is your opening salvo in obtaining representation, and her advice, intelligence and all around good cheer was invaluable. Check out her site.
- Marilyn Friedman: Another wonderful lady, her seminar was the last I did before the conference ended, and what a wonderful way to go out. She gave us several useful tips to get over writer’s block, and was an absolute bundle of positive energy. Check out her site here, and she knows as well as all of us that writing is a debt of honor.
- Maralys Wills: Author of “A Circus Without Elephants,” she gave a seminar about the fundamentals of novel writing, meaning grammar and sentence structure, that was invaluable. I have an English degree from an Ivy League school, plus an MFA in writing. I thought I knew everything. I was wrong. More on that right below.
Now, the lessons and stories:
- Socrates (pronounced “so-crates”, of course) said that the only wisdom was knowing that he knew nothing. Very true. In life, you never stop learning, you can always learn something new, and that is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
- Just about everyone was not only super-nice, but super-talented. Not one single person was wasting their time. Everyone who read their work had something to say. Everyone had talent, everyone had something interesting to say. Everyone thinks they can write, most cannot. Everyone has a screenplay and thinks that it’s the next Chinatown, most likely, it’s not. To make the commitment, both in time and finances, you better have your act together. Just about everyone did, and then some.
- Once again, everyone was very sweet, supportive and cool. I went into this thing expecting to find a bunch of back-stabbing assholes. I was there for an hour before I realized, I’m in Orange County, not Hollywood. Everyone was interesting in everyone else. Everyone was supportive. We all backed each other up, and when the writing awards were announced on the last day, everyone ERRUPTED in enthusiastic cheer. No passive-aggressive bullshit, only sincere admiration and praise. I have grown cynical through my years in Hollywood, but one weekend with these fine folks just about pushed me in the other direction.
- Well, almost everyone. I would be lying if I said it was completely positive, I only had two negative experiences, and here they are:
- Sharks: These pricks are EVERYWHERE in Hollywood. They were at AFI, and they are everywhere in life. In short, they believe that they will only find success by stomping on everyone else. Therefore, they passive-aggressively try to mess with you, by telling you your idea won’t work, it’s already been done, what have you. They might even tell you your idea works when it doesn’t, or doesn’t when it does. They will suppress laughter when something is funny, laugh when something isn’t funny, you get the idea. I only met one of these guys at the conference. I explained that one of my projects was aimed at men and he responded MEN DON’T BUY BOOKS. Nothing else, just a lame attempt to shoot me down. He spent the rest of the weekend avoiding me, and I him. I can spot these guys a mile away. My advice is to avoid them, as I did.
- Benevolent Morons: These folks mean well, but their advice, though given with the best of attentions, if followed, will lead you down the wrong path. As many of you know, the brand I have is “the sensitive nice guy” show. I was advised by someone to drop the “sensitive”. Um, THAT’S THE ENTIRE BRAND! A lot of people give advice because they feel a need to, again, they mean well, but they are dead wrong. Bare no ill will towards these folks, just don’t listen to them. And about that…
- You will get LOTS of advice and feedback. It is up to you to decide what is good advice, and what is not. This is often what separates the successful from the not-so successful; being able to extract the gold from the clutter of crap.
- Issues: Many writers use their out to settle their personal hash. I heard one story called, “I know what the devil looks like” which was a memoir about the author’s ex-husband, and what a complete sociopath he was. I say, good for her, writing can be quite therapeutic, and if you can turn a profit with it, awesome! And what a great title, right? Again, a LOT of talent came to that conference.
- Agents are your friends: Believe it or not, agents attend these events in order to find new talent. Just about all of them were cool as can be (shout out to @dananewman, what up?!?!) and again, they do not attend these things for shits and giggles. They are there to find new writers! Granted, they are not there to, uh, work the casting couch (again, banging your way to the top is not the way to go, don’t be like her!). Indeed, there is sleaze in Hollywood, but not one single agent at the event could be called anything but honorable, intelligent, and kind.
- Friends: It was said that you will make many friends at conferences, and indeed, that is true. I’m taking my new buddy Briana to the Hollywood Expo this weekend, we saw “Easy A” last week. When you have something in common, and share it with people who not only do what you do, but are really good people, you’ll make friends for life.
Final analysis: it was money well spent, time spent even better, and you better believe I’ll be attending the next one in San Diego. Thanks to all who attended…even you few sharks, I learned from you as well.