So I'm at my very first Writer's Conference. Think of it as the only time when you can get a bunch of introverts together to fumble through the process of social interaction. All in order to get their work out into the world. It's a harrowing creation.
It's kind of like writing your novel all over again. In writing a novel, when you look at your peers, everyone is struggling, fighting their own personal demons, trying to get words to paper. You're in it for the long haul, it's daily battles to win the war. Everyone has a book idea to get on paper, that's the norm. At a conference, everyone has a novel written, that's the norm, and everyone is trying to get anyone to care.
At a Writer's Conference, everyone is particularly interested in telling everyone else about what they are doing. It's not any different from real life, in that respect, at least among strangers: everyone waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can talk about themselves. Not that there is anything wrong with it. But at the Writer's Conference, there is a particular desperation to it. Here are folks, who are in many respects just like you, bringing their babies (their novels, memoirs, book of small Tibetan Progressive Throat Poetry) to the butcher, more or less. Everyone is walking around literaly shimmering with the nervous energy that I imagine a first time nudist might have when joining a Colony. Terribly insecure, unsure, and waiting for the Hammer of Judgement to fall.
On the agent/editor side, you are wading through the miles and miles of dreck to get to anything you want to publish. To make things a bit worse, even if you do find something you like,you won't necessarily be able to publish it (your lineup for that sort of writing is full, your house doesn't want to do another book like that as they lost kajillions on the last one they gambled on).
And then there is the pitch, a witty spiel in which you try and sell an agent or an editor on your piece. It's somewhat absurd, as chances are, you are not going to be reading the book live to your readers. One of the editors here even said he's not fond of pitches. This makes sense. A reader doesn't read the pitch, they read the book. My personal opinion is that it's an extrovert's revenge upon the introverts. I would imagine agents (not so much editors) are extroverted people; that is, they are energized when they speak with people. Naturally, a verbal spiel with the whole song and dance is the most logical thing in the world for them. For writers, it's a mini dante's hell (I'm only vaguely aware of what dante's hell might be, but it looks clever, doesn't it?)
It's such a labrynth of unknown pitfals and alleys here at the conference. Sure there are seminars and what not, but one is never quite sure what one is supposed to get out of it. Particularly because many rules in writing are broken again and again. And then there are the millions of things one shouldn't do. Such as, don't show anyone your work. Or don't ask if you can show anyone your work, which seems like the first thing one would want to do when confronted by an armyof editors and agents.