I just returned from speaking at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference for the fourth year in a row, and speaking there is a highlight for me each year. I was an attendee at that event seven years ago and it changed the course of my career in some pretty remarkable ways.
When I showed up for the first time at San Francisco Writer’s Conference back in 2005, I was ready to change the world! I traveled there with a friend, but when we arrived I told her that I’d see her when the conference was over. I wanted to increase my chances of meeting as many people as possible and knew I wouldn’t do that if I was huddled with a friend the whole time.
I attended as many sessions as I could, made a point of introducing myself to people at every opportunity, took copious notes, and soaked up the entire experience. On the last day, we had the opportunity to participate in “speed dating with agents.” I was pitching a business startup book, which actually helped me stand out amongst attendees who were primarily pitching fiction and memoir.
As a result of those pitches, 14 agents and editors requested that I send them proposals for my book. I returned home and send them out quickly, anxious to hear back and land that book deal.
The rejection letters came in one-by-one, and they had a common theme. The letters pointed out that I didn’t have a platform. Then I received a phone call from Michael Larsen, a successful literary agent and co-founder of the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. He told me that he liked my writing, but that nobody knew who I was. If I wanted to land a book deal with a major publisher, I needed to have an audience. He said that I should be out speaking to thousands of people each year.
That phone call changed my life.
I decided that I would turn to the internet to build an audience. I knew that I wanted to reach entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs and so I launched BusinessInfoGuide.com and began sharing articles and resources on the site. The truth was that I had no idea what I was doing! But I noticed that the more content I added; the more traffic the site received.
Because I was impatient with the traditional publishing option, I decided to self-publish that first book: The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide. I listed it for sale on Business Info Guide a full two months before it was in print and that darn book began selling immediately. That’s when I really understood what Mike Larsen had said. I was building an audience—and that’s what publishers wanted.
When I wrote my next book the following year, I had a high-traffic website and a large e-newsletter list. I wrote a proposal and sent it to exactly two publishers. John Wiley and Sons picked it up and gave me my first book deal for From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur: Make Money with Books, eBooks, and Information Products.
After that, I followed up with one of the literary agents who I had met during the speed dating event at the writer’s conference. We’d had a connection and I knew I was finally ready to get her attention. Because I had a platform, Andrea Hurst signed on to be my agent and landed two more book deals for me. Though I later returned to self-publishing after growing frustrated with the lack of control with traditional publishing, I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey.
Attending the San Francisco Writer’s Conference was a life-changing experience for me that changed the trajectory my author career. It was there that I learned what I needed to know to navigate the world of publishing, and made connections with people that I will maintain for a lifetime. I am honored to return each year as a speaker and as a success story.
If I hadn’t attended that conference, I would have missed out on learning opportunities and the connections that I made there. Who knows how much longer it would have taken me to figure out what I needed to know and make the contacts that would move my author career forward.
I firmly believe that every writer should attend at least one writer’s conference. If you go with an open mind and a willingness to learn, it can make all the difference.
You can find a directory of writer’s conferences via Shaw Guides. I am also the founder of the Nonfiction Writer’s Conference, a virtual event that will return in May 2012. Sign up for the newsletter to get all the details!