Connections made at writer’s conferences can be career-changing, said Chris Vogler.

The writer who worked on I am Legend, Hancock and 10,000 BC, told San Diego Writers Conference delegates, “You have no idea who will read your story.”

“It’s almost like a pilgrimage,” said Julie Strong from Halifax, who spent three days travelling in gale force winds, to bring her historical fiction, Mandragora, to the attention of agents and editors.

While it was well-received in an anonymous peer critique workshop, publishers found that telling the story from the ring’s point of view was problematic.

In workshops, Strong also had a refresher on elements of the query letter and synopsis, as did the other Canadian at the conference, Monique Domovitch from Victoria. Domovitch is the author of a chick-lit murder mystery with a comic twist, titled, Getting Skinny.

Domovitch found “every agent and publisher is looking for different things. You have to prepare your package for each one individually.”

Ten-minute appointments with selected agents and editors are the forum where they explain precisely what they want from you, the author. Sometimes this happens in hallway chit-chat. These face-to-face meetings allow unagented, emerging authors to leap the “no unsolicited submissions” barrier found in many submission guidelines.

But do we have to go south of the border when we have conferences in Surrey, the Yukon and back East that offer the same opportunities?

“It’s important to come to America because they often don’t understand Canadians and the differences,” says Strong.

True, and by extension, they know less about Yukon writers. They nodded impressed when they heard nearly five per cent of the Yukon’s labour force is dedicated to cultural industries, compared to two to three per cent in most other jurisdictions, and we know how to market to the tourist trade.

Another little known fact that piqued Outside interest was that the best book trade is done on the Alaska and Klondike Highways. And our three biggest visitor groups come from California, New York and Germany. Only if we do the research, attend the conferences, meet the industry and tell them, can they get the information.

Conferences aren’t all business though and most of the fun is in workshops and lectures. “It wasn’t until after the conference that I realized how many notes I’d taken on craft,” says Strong.

For Domovitch, “writing is such a lonely profession and every writer goes through the doubts. Coming here shows you that every writer feels the same way no matter how good they are. It’s so wonderful to have real experts sit down with you and say you do this well, and this, but work on that.”

In his closing remarks, bestselling author Robert Dugoni reminded delegates, “the success of your time at this writing conference might not be felt today, but in a month, a year or maybe longer.”

The author of Wrongful Death added advice he’d heard along the way: “Writing is about patience, perseverance, persistence and prayer.”

A comprehensive list of conferences can be found at www.shawguides.ca.