Two weeks ago I received an email from the head of Baruch’s English department saying that they were sponsoring me to attend the New York Round Table Writers’ Conference. I hadn’t applied for it, and I didn’t know anything about it, but I figured that if Baruch wanted to blow some money on me, I might as well make the best of it.
The two-day conference began today. It’s taking place at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen on 44th Street and 5th Avenue in the City. The place is fucking grand. All of the sessions I attended were conducted in the library, where marble columns stretched four stories up, supporting a skylight that illuminates the atrium. Besides the library, the Society also housed a small museum exhibiting stuff donated by its members, like this old book about interracial sex in Korea:
As cool as the venue was, the first day of the conference was sort of a let down. Keep in mind that there were two sessions running simultaneously, so everything I attended was what I judged to be the better of the two.
9:15 – 10:30 Small but Mighty: Indie Publishing
Thankfully, I overslept and showed up late for this. The crowd, which on average was twenty years older than me, was only concerned with one thing: How do I sell my shit? Every bit of muffled advice from the panelists elicited salivating grunts--“What was the name of that agent? Can you repeat that website?” Is there anything sadder than a crowd of geriatrics hoping that the novel they’ve spent so long working on will finally be brought to life with a few words from a lineup of hardened insiders? Maybe the moments when audience members were embarrassingly close to soliciting the panelists right then and there over the microphone. The panelists were equally eager to hawk their own wares: books they had written, published, or were somehow monetarily connected to. It was basically a big circle jerk with everyone trying to get off.
11:00 – 12:15 Fiction Agents: A Novel Approach
What the fuck is “novel” about fiction agents? They’re necessary to get by the Gatekeepers, the essential avenue between your writing and publishers, and they’ve been there for a while. Fiction agents receive so many manuscripts and queries, which they affectionately refer to as the “slush pile,” that they’re forced to adopt cutthroat, Nazi-like tactics to manage. All four fiction agents openly admitted to unquestionably running with their prejudices. Whether it was incest, violence, or cancer, if they came across a manuscript containing something they had a personal—not literary or professional—aversion to, it was out.
2:00 – 3:15 Fiction Editors: Champions of the Story
Fiction editors are constantly reading and working, except when they’re having lunch meetings, which seems to be often. Also, eloquence is not a prerequisite to becoming a fiction editor. They don’t want to read about the same thing again, but want something familiar. According to them, everything is actually much better than the way it sounds when they’re explaining it to you. It was during this discussion that I realized that the business side of literature is mind-numbingly boring at best, and soul-crushing at worst.
3:45 – 5:00 The Technofile: Online Writing and Blogging
I was looking forward to this discussion because it had the most immediate relevancy to me and the panel, which included editors from the Huffington Post and MediaBistro, seemed knowledgeable. Unfortunately, my expectations only left me that much more disappointed. The problem was that 90% of the audience admitted to being “newbies to blogging” (i.e. didn’t know jack shit about it). So instead of receiving insights from experienced professionals, the entire session was reduced to Blogging 101. During the Q & A, I realized that old people fail to comprehend the interwebs. They are way too concerned with copyrights, royalties, and other such bullshit. There were three separate questions about trivial legal issues concerning blogs.
All bitching aside, I actually did learn a few things. (8 out of 10 readers are women; a majority of published books are failures, in terms of copies sold; it is widely believed that an unusually large amount of blogs are dedicated to cats doing cute things.) I have another 9 to 5 day of sessions tomorrow. I guess that even if those are filled with more useless bullshit, there’s still a cocktail reception afterward so I can get Baruch’s $350 worth in booze.