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The Don'ts of Writers Conferences

I’ve been to thirteen conferences in the last five years so regardless of my irreverent tone and the smart-ass comments I’m about to proffer, I do know a little of what I speak of. (Except for ending sentences with a preposition, which I can’t seem to stop doing.) But first a little news and a self-flagellating pat on my back.  Despite the title of my blog, Give It Up You’ll Never Be Published, I received news last week that my flash fiction, Tour Bus, won the Grey Sparrow Flash Fiction Competition and will be published in the fall edition of the Grey Sparrow Journal. Also my piece, Beneath The Wintry Sky won second place in the Writers-Editors Short Story Competition. Finally, my story, The Left Rear Tire, was chosen by Julie Compton as a top ten pick for the anthology, My Wheels. (Update: 09/09/2012 - My mystery story, The Adventures of The Nine Hole Gang, has been purchased by The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine for publication in their 14th volume)
I've been asked what makes a good piece of short fiction and I believe it’s a combination of a good story and good writing. You must have both to be successful. So far, all of my works that have been published are poetry or short fiction but it’s better than nothing. It tells me I can write and if I could get an agent or a publisher to read my damn novels, they’d see that. But few agents want to take a chance on an unknown author and yet the bestselling book last year was, GO THE F**K TO SLEEP!  by Adam Mansbach, which goes to show the brave will prosper while the cautious will only survive. I wonder if anyone keeps statistics on these literary agents to see how many actually signed a client from these pitches at these writers conferences. I would guess zero to none.
Oh well, buy the Journal and the anthology when they come out. Amazingly, they will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, just like every other book in existence. This makes nine publications I’ve been in but I’d better not quit my day job. I’ll have to make sure in the future that I don’t listen to any naysayers like myself and press on with an eye on the prize.

Back to the original subject. Writers conferences.
Cha Ching!!! They are expensive so pretend you’re on vacation and not sitting on your ass listening to the knowledgeable impart said knowledge to your ignorant self. Now let’s list the Don’ts of writers conferences. Since this is a negative sarcastic blog on writing, we will skip all the Do’s. You can get that info from the other million positive blogs on writing but beware you don’t get diabetes from the saccharin.
I’ve done many of these Don’ts so—try not to do the don’ts. That’s all I have to say about that.
1.      Don’t eat a large breakfast or none at all. Your stomach will grumble at the most inopportune time, like when the presenter asks everyone to write a paragraph and the only sounds are the shuffling of paper, the click-click of keyboards, and your loud-ass stomach imitating Niagara Falls.
2.      Don’t try to pick-up girls/men while you’re at the conference. You’re there to learn to write. You already know how to have sex. Funny story—one of the faculty at Dennis LeHane’s Writers In Paradise workshop told us they nicknamed the Breadloaf Writers Conference, Bedloaf, for all the sexual escapades that go on there. Anyway, I’ve always been faithful to my wife although when you turn 50, the 40 year-old-women start to look attractive.
3.      Don’t go to the same workshops you went to in previous conferences. Point-of-view can only be explained so many ways. Mix it up with other subjects like, The Best Ways To Kill Your Antagonist, for example.
4.      Don’t pick the wrong agent to pitch. I pitched a novel about a genius serial killer who targeted prostitutes and the agent said she didn’t take on clients who believe in violence toward women. When I asked for my forty dollars back, she laughed at me.
5.      Don’t hog the microphone on Open Mic night. I watched a guy and an organizer struggle for control of the microphone one night. The reader kept saying, “But I haven’t got to the good part yet.” Read your short piece and sit down so the other fifty readers can take their turn.
6.      Don’t bug the shit out of the famous authors they bring in for the keynote speeches. Some don’t mind talking to you, but most hate it when you start pushing your manuscript and ideas on them. Many of the famous authors I’ve met at these conferences were friendly and patient but several were what you would call, jerks. Although I would call them something a bit more severe. They varied from the best to the worst, from Steve Berry all the way to Stuart Woods, and he’s not last for alphabetical reasons. Have you read the caveat Woods puts in the back of his books? Here’s what he writes: If you wish to have your own novel published, get a book called Writer’s Market, which will tell you how. You may buy or order it from any bookstore. I cannot read your novel or help you to get it published, and if you are publishing a novel and want jacket blurbs from other writers, you should not ask them directly, but allow your publisher to do so. This is proper publishing etiquette. Please do not send me ideas for books. If you have a great idea for a novel, write it yourself. I prefer to write novels based on my own ideas and do not accept ideas from other people, except my agents or publishers.
A lot of these famous writers only like to associate with the other famous writers attending these conferences. I find it interesting that they don’t want to mingle with the masses, the same people who make up the gist of their characters in their books. It’s the old adage that you are interested in reading about the average Joe, but you wouldn’t want to invite them to your house for dinner.
Well, if I get published and become a famous writer, I won’t forget the little people who helped me to forge my success. I’ll have my bodyguards and assistants pass out my signed photos to them, because I care.


  1. Congratulations! Love the title of this blog even more now..looking forward to more.

  2. Thanks, Nilanjana,
    If you have a blog or website you want this blog to link to yours, I'd be happy to do so, although of the 2000 hits it's received, 1600 of them are for one post about the Avengers movie. Google sends them here and the miguided blog readers don't wanna read nothin' about no writin.' Anyway put the link here if you want to or to my e-mail -

  3. Hi John,
    Here's my blog, very pleased that you feel okay to put a link here, thank you. On a completely different note read your post on the cereal, and liked it enormously

  4. Nilanjana,
    Done. Great website by the way.


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Also, my story The Adventure of the Nine Hole League was published in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #13