Okay, actually, you want quite a bit more. You want speakers worth hearing and information that'll help you be a better writer, help you get published and understand things about writing and publishing you didn't get before. If you have a finished book, you want an agent or editor willing to hear about it. All this and more happened for me at Saturday's conference.
I've been to a few big conferences, including the Santa Fe Writers' Conference and the one at Sewanee, Tennessee. Big names at both, several days of seminars, readings, conferences, and writerly fellowship. Enjoyed myself no end. I'm willing to say I enjoyed this Bridge to Publication Conference as much as I enjoyed either of the big ones. Anita Mumm (the Nelson Literary Agency), D. B. Grady, and Mark Harris were three of the most interesting and generous speakers I've ever heard. They gave their all in their talks and took every question seriously, pausing to ponder sometimes and make sure every one got a thorough answer.
Mark Harris gave a disclaimer that he wasn't used to speaking at such events, and then went on to give a riveting talk about his take on writing in general and writing about pop culture in particular. When asked to define pop culture, he said it's the thing we all share, the movies and TV shows we've seen, books we've read, music we've loved, as opposed to the fine arts, like opera and ballet. When I told him he was a great speaker and should do it more often, he laughed and said, "Maybe not."
Anita Mumm put a human face on what often comes across as an anonymous and indifferent industry: literary agency. She said how eager most agents are to see new work by new writers; at the same time, nearly one hundred percent of the work they're pitched is rejected. It's not personal and is in the writer's interest as well as the agency's. Agents aren't gatekeepers, Mumm emphasized. No one can sell your work if they don't have the contacts to pitch it to or if they don't like the work. We writers put down books we don't like all the time. We must allow agents to do the same, no matter how much someone else might admire it. An agent who rejects your work isn't pushing you away but moving you along to someone better suited to your needs.
D. B. Grady's disarming humility and charm didn't mask the keen, observing mind behind it. He's a conference-goer's hero. His first conference was a Bridge to Publication several years ago. He followed every bit of advice he heard and is now a published, prize-winning author and correspondent for The Atlantic. If we all followed his example, we'd be running the publishing industry. BWG is so proud of David, we're bursting.
I don't know what BWG will or can do to top the quality of 2011's conference, but I can't wait to find out.
Jan Rider Newman is a published, prize-winning writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, currently writing a fantasy novel. She co-edits and publishes Swamp Lily Review, An Online Journal of Louisiana Literature & Arts (http://swamplily.com); contributes articles and book reviews to LitStack (http://litstack.com); edits the Gator Talk newsletter for the Bayou Writers' Group; and is the group's current webmaster.