It’s not what you know; it’s who you know

Hampton Roads Writers ConferenceWhile this old saw isn’t exactly true for writers—it’s still important to write with authority, no matter how well-connected you are—establishing a network of writers and other industry professionals can be crucial to developing your career. The opportunity for networking at writers’ conferences should not be overlooked.

I met my agent, Jeff Ourvan of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, at the Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference a couple of years ago. I was teaching a few seminars, he was on a panel, and after we’d had a chance to talk briefly about what I was working on, he asked me to send him my manuscript. He liked what he read, and we’ve been working together for a little over a year.

I’ve also rubbed shoulders with some of my favorite writers at conferences and have been fortunate that some of them were willing to write blurbs for my two books and letters of recommendation for fellowship applications.

It’s not a one-way street, I hasten to add. Writers should be willing to give as well as take. As an editor of
I’ve been in a position to publish writers I’ve met at conferences. And two years ago when I was putting together an anthology of short fiction, I reached out to several writers I knew through workshops. I’ve also met critique partners at conferences, writers who are looking for feedback on early drafts of their work.

Conferences can be great learning opportunities. Panel discussions, presentations, and keynote speeches will certainly be edifying. But conferences are also a great way to build a mutually beneficial network.

Clifford Garstang’s award-winning collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country, was published by Press 53 in 2009. Since then, his second book, What the Zhang Boys Know, has been published. His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Cream City Review, Tampa Review, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. 



From middle school to writers association

Screen shot 2015-09-16 at 10.48.52 PMThere was this girl in my seventh grade English class who was perfect. Her hair was always shiny and perfect, her schoolwork was always perfect, and her outfits were always the coolest items from The Limited Too perfectly paired with accessories from Claire’s Boutique. She could sing; she could act. She knew all of the words to every New Kids on the Block song. She even “went out” with my sixth grade crush, which really equated to nothing more than the occasional hand holding and passing of notes but was still a very big deal back in middle school in my day. I envied her, yet I really liked her. She was too perfect not to like.

More than twenty years later, I still remember the day I saw this perfect girl reading a Sweet Valley High book during our sustained silent reading time. It was the very same book I had read about two books prior in the series. I wondered what her favorite part was. I was convinced she was just as surprised at the plot twist as I had been. Although I may have been steps down from where she was on the pristine pedestal we’d put her atop of, I now knew we were on the same level in some ways as I watched her turn the page.

In that instant and many before it, I knew I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to one day write stories that could inspire, shock, and move the perfect people of this world in the same way they’d relate to the most imperfect souls and everyone in between.

Last year, I attended my first writers conference, the Hampton Roads Writers Association’s conference. In addition to learning a lot about the writing and publishing business, I received great encouragement to keep writing and met a lot of amazing writers with their own stories of why they write and what inspires them. I was in my element. I can’t wait for this year’s conference to begin.

If you didn’t register this year, you are missing out. For everyone attending, I am looking forward to meeting you and hearing your wonderful stories about what you are writing and how you got into writing. See you very soon!

This blog post was written by editor and author Nealy Gihan. Nealy is a former newspaper reporter and copy editor who now labors in coastal Virginia as a corporate copywriter by day and lives as a fiction writer by night. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Hampton University and a master’s in literary writing from DePaul University. Nealy has published short stories and has written a couple of screenplays, which have been performed in Chicago.