AWP Part 3: The Worst Panel

I was sad to leave the quiet room, but I needed to attend one last panel to earn my day off on Friday. It was a panel of five authors who had just had their first books published. I figured I should go to at least one talk about the publishing process, in case I could learn something useful about trying to publish my novel, something besides what I already knew (write the best book you possibly can, rewrite it a zillion times until it’s perfect, send it to a thousand agents and get nine-hundred and ninety-nine rejections).

The panel turned out to be in a far wing of the conference center, as far as possible from the quiet room where I was hiding out, so by the time I got there it had just started. 

I found a seat halfway through the giant room, scooted past some people sitting at the end of the row and sat down. The panelists were seated at a non-elevated table, so I couldn’t see any of them. Each one introduced themselves and said a bit about their books. I half-stood for a second so I could see what each one looked like, then tried to envision their faces as they spoke.

The moderator explained that he was going to ask some questions that each member of the panel would answer. I think this must be the worst possible way to run a panel (please remind me some day if I ever moderate a panel). (Just kidding; I’m never going to moderate a panel). No one had prepared any comments, the responses were all shallow and predictable and nobody could go into depth about anything. 

So, for example–“Do you read the reviews of your book?”

“Yes, of course,” said one author. “I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it.” 

“I never do,” said another. “Some people have friends send them links to only the good ones.” 

“It’s impossible to avoid the bad ones,” said the third author. “You have to read them all or none of them.” 

“The bad reviews are depressing,” said the fourth, “but you need to learn not to let them get to you.” 

The sad realization came over me that I was ten minutes into a seventy-five minute panel and I wasn’t going to learn anything. I was still thirsty and in need of tea. I got a text message from Michelle: 

“The Wayward Writers are meeting at a bar near the hotel at 6.” 

It was 4:45 now. The panel ended at 5:45, and the hotel was a mile away. 

“I’ll never make it,” I wrote back.

One panelist was explaining that her path to publication was filled with heartache and despair. You see, she had never written a book before, didn’t know any writers, had no connections and no knowledge of the publishing process. But she submitted her book to a contest, it placed, and suddenly all these agents and publishers were calling her, wanting to publish her book. It was terrifying! Can you imagine the trauma? 

I looked down to the end of my row. The four people I had slid past, two minutes late, were still sitting there. I couldn’t drag all my bags past them a second time to leave fifteen minutes into the panel. Could I?

I squirmed in my seat and thought about how I would spend the time until this panel ended. 

“The main thing is just doing the writing,” one panelist said. They all agreed. “Yes, the most important thing is just doing the work. You need to put all your focus into doing great writing.”

I knew it! There was absolutely no reason to be at this conference. I should be writing.

I looked around, desperate for escape. Then something wonderful happened: the people at the end of my row got up and left. 

I was free! I grabbed my bags and followed them out into the hall. 

I called Michelle to tell her that I was on my way back, explaining that I was grumpy, that I was going to be tired and hungry and thirsty after my walk back to the hotel, that fine, I could go straight out to the bar but there was no way anyone could expect me to actually drink without becoming physically ill.  

Michelle was even less interested in my whining than usual, because she had her own problem. She was lost in our city-within-a-city hotel. 

“What’s the room number?” she asked. “I don’t think that room exists anymore. I can’t find it anywhere.” 

Then she turned down a different twisting hallway and found that the room did still exist. I stopped at a juice place on the way back, got a giant kale-based juice to fill up my steel travel mug, drank it as I walked. That made me feel a lot better. 

A few blocks before the hotel, I was keeping pace with a fast-walking woman in high heels. I kept thinking I had passed her (good! so annoying to walk the same pace as someone), then she would pass me, then finally we were both walking next to each other. 

“You must be from New York,” she said.  

“No, I just walk fast,” I said. “You’re from New York?” 

She was, and she worked in a community college, as I do. She asked me if I was going to the upcoming conference for community college writing teachers (Of course not. Who goes to two conferences in two weeks?). 

“I hate conferences,” I said, because I can’t lie when I’m tired. Or actually ever. “I think I’m done with this one.” 

She smiled. “I went to a great panel this morning,” she said. “They’re doing it again tomorrow morning.” 

“What was it?” I asked, polite. I already knew I would not be going to any panels tomorrow morning. 

“Yoga,” she said. “It was really pleasant. I thought it was going to be chair yoga, but it was actually a nice little workout.” 

I was pretty impressed–this lady totally got me. So okay, there would be just one panel for my day off: yoga. 

<Part 2

Part 4>








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