scrollofthoth asked: Dear Neil, It seems every time I read a story about how one of my favorite authors got published, they always end up meeting their future agent or editor at a convention or writer's workshop. I have nothing against these activities in general, except they cost money, often times, a lot of money. Is it still possible to get published based solely on the merit of your work, and if so, do you have any advice for doing so? Thanks.

I think you’re missing the point.

If you want to meet people, you go to where those people are. (That’s conventions.)

If you want to be a better writer, you go to writer’s workshops.

As for the cost of conventions… I started going to them when I was 22, and broke, and kept going to them as a penniless young freelance journalist, and carried on as a penniless young freelance journalist in company with other penniless young freelance journalists and other such wastrels and ne’er do wells. We shared hotel rooms to save money (sometimes in numbers that would have got us kicked out of the hotel if they’d noticed) travelled as cheaply as possible, and we saved what we had in order to go and to eat (and buy alcohol in the bar) while we there. 

And we weren’t doing that to meet people and get published. We were doing that because we wanted to meet people like us. Because we wanted to attend the panels and learn. Because we were fans of the people who would be at the convention and wanted to listen to them.

I can’t list the number of friendships that started in those days - many of the people I wound up sitting next to, or talking to in the bar, back then, at those conventions, are friends of mine still. Some of them are writers and editors and agents and artists. Some of them are dentists and lawyers and local government employees.

And some of those friendships wound up being useful in getting work, as often happens. 

Can you get published on the merit of your work alone? Well, obviously.  (The fact that you’re talking about “your favourite authors” rather than “authors whose work you hate” is significant here.) If you are an editor or an agent, when faced with two manuscripts, one unreadable twaddle by someone you met in a convention bar and one amazing work by someone you’ve never met, pretty much every editor or agent alive will go for the amazing work.

On the other hand, if you’re an editor trying to find a writer for a book on Douglas Adams, because the person you were going to work with just quit, and you remember that the guy you were talking about Douglas Adams with in the bar that night at that convention had interviewed him, and he seemed really nice and sane and like someone who it wouldn’t be a pain to work with, so you go and find that guy… well, that’s something that wouldn’t have happened without that meeting.

Writers’ workshops? I went to Milford, in the UK, in 1986 and 1987. And a late-night bar conversation after all the work was over for the day turned into a series of shared-world anthologies… but it happened in the way that people getting together and talking and getting enthused makes things happen. Nobody there was there to network. Given that the lessons I learned at that Milford took me from Barely Publishable to Really Pretty Good Writer, I don’t think that it was expensive at all. (It’s 560 Uk pounds now, for a week of full board, and would have been the 1986 equivalent of that then.)  

My advice for getting “published solely on the merit of your work”, is, peculiarly or not, the same as all advice I’ve previously given on “how to get published”. Go wander the archives of and enjoy.