While 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.