FAQ #1: "Do Editors Have to Attend Conferences? Do They Enjoy Them?"

Long, loooonnng ago, as you may remember, I announced that I was going to add an FAQ page to my website and invited people to send or leave questions. Contrary to appearances, I have not forgotten about this -- I just need to carve out the time to write my answers alongside everything else there is to do on the website, blog, etc., never mind real life. So I'm going to make these questions an occasional series here, and eventually we'll have a webpage. Voila!

Do Editors Have to Attend Conferences? Do They Enjoy Them?

I don’t know of any publishing houses that mandate that their editors attend conferences -- indeed they couldn't, as our appearances always depend on the RAs who want to invite us. And most editors enjoy them, I think . . . or at the very least, we all appreciate the extra income. Speaking for myself, I like going to conferences because I like writing conference talks, which often help me think through my own standards and craft as an editor; I like meeting writers and other editors; I like talking about publishing and books; I like traveling to different parts of the country; and there’s always the thrill of possibility that I might find a great new writer or manuscript. (I’ve bought two manuscripts off critiques at SCBWI conferences.)

In fact, the only negative part of a conference for me are the writers who see me only as a path to publication and aren't really interested in anything else. These are the ones who are combative about or uninterested in the advice I give in a critique because they just wanted me to love their manuscript (if you can’t take criticism, don’t pay for it). And they're the writers who want to talk business at meals—what I’m looking for, what the latest trends are, would I be interested in their manuscript along with my roast chicken and asparagus. I completely understand the latter impulse: I’m right there, a captive audience, and the exact person they want to connect with. But when it comes to verbal pitches, I much prefer seeing query letters, because I’m interested in the writing, not just the story; and more to the point, I spend all day at a conference talking about my tastes, trends, and so on, and at meals I really want to talk about something else, be it books or kids or pets or movies or the Bush administration or the airspeed of an African swallow. (If the conversation wends its way around to publishing, that's fine, because goodness knows everyone at a conference is interested in it; but writing is made interesting through its resemblance to life, not the other way around.) So if you’re sitting next to me at dinner, you will make a much better impression on me if I remember you as “Oh, yes, she was the one who knew all those fascinating facts about chocolate-making!” than “Oh, right, he wanted me to critique his manuscript during dessert.” And moral of the story: Try to make a human connection rather than an editorial one.