I'm back from Context 27 and it was a great time. Steven Saus and Lucy Snyder did an excellent job of Programming and Workshops. My audiences were engaged, inquisitive, and eager to learn. That's ideal for workshops. I'm so pleased that many of my students thanked me after my workshops and panels were done.
Betsy Mitchell was wonderful to talk to and Jonathan Maberry was a joy to meet. He really is that awesome. I finally got to go to an Apex party and taste Jason's "red stuff" and "purple stuff." The Apex parties legend for a reason. Geoffrey Girard was part of it with his Cain's Blood (too tasty for safety for me).
Context 27 really was a good conference. If you are looking for an intimate, informative writing convention, Context is a good choice.
And now for the great, big shock...
I spent a lot of time talking with the convention attendees. One guy, RR, dropped this little factoid on me. He has 6 completed genre novels but he is afraid to send them out because, according to his writing professors at Purdue... “If your first novel is not the 'great American novel' you will never have a writing career.”
When I was told this, and it was confirmed by another student from Purdue, I was aghast and outraged. Every single publishing professional I told about this was just as shocked and angry as I was. “If your first novel isn't a Great American Novel, you will never have a writing career.”? This is so wrong as to be farce. At best, it is pure ignorance. At worst, it is pure maliciousness. Either way, it sounds like the Purdue English department (or some of its professors) are so out of date and out of touch with the publishing industry as to be a detriment to its student body and need a refresher course themselves.
This is one of the most exciting times in the history of publishing. There are so many avenues to take, so many opportunities to be a success as a writer. Your first novel tank? Try again. Use a pseudonym if you need to. Investigate traditional press, small press, self publishing, crowd funding, and anything else that comes up. (Except for vanity presses. Those guys are scammers.)
Good gracious, things are changing so fast and there are so many ways to get your words out there. Don't say a writer will never succeed if they don't succeed with their first novel. That’s just dumb.
You have to get your novels out there. It's the only way to learn and grow as an author. You have to fail, to only partially or fully succeed, to go through the submission process, dealing with contracts, dealing with revision and rewrites, to work to a publishing house schedule. You have to get out there and learn by doing. It is this process that makes you a better writer and a professional. Until you do, you can't understand what is expected.
And another thing, Purdue...
While talking to RR and the other student, I noticed something. Anytime they spoke about themselves or their writing, their shoulders hunched in anticipation of pain. Both of them marveled at just how much the publishing industry professionals, and the other convention members, were positive, helpful, and supportive. How much they worked to help each other to advise, or direct each other to needed resources.
Apparently, at Purdue, the writing students are mentally and emotionally beaten about the head and shoulders and told how much the publishing industry is all about competition. When the idea of being supportive and collaborative is foreign, there is something wrong.
Almost every successful writer got advice as they emerged. They learned, grew, and were support as a writer by other writers. Mentorship is not an extinct concept. Don't teach that it is. One author does not need to fail in order for another to succeed. Publishing does not work like that. And no, it's not all roses and sunshine. For that point of view, read Chuck Wendig's Tough Talk post. But still. Your students shouldn't walk around wincing like a veteran with PTSD.