Friday, May 8, 2015

Would you, Should you, Could you - Are Writing Conferences Right For You?

There are a wide range of writing conferences every year. Some are super specialized, such as World Fantasy, and some are very broad such as the Writers Digest annual conference. There are merits for each but there are also some broad things most conferences will have in common. Writing conferences can be quite pricey, so the question is, are they worth the time and cost? That's a question each writer needs to figure out for themselves, but here are a handful of reasons I think conferences are worth the time and monetary investment:

1. Networking
Writing can be a solitary, lonely endeavor. But there are thousands and thousands of aspiring and established writers out there. Conferences give you chance to meet some of them in person. You can find new critique partners, friends, chat buddies or social media acquaintances at conferences. These are your peers and though your writing journey will inevitably twist and turn in its own unique way, I guarantee you can find some people who are on the same general leg of the journey as you are. These people can offer support, advice, insights into how they handle the ups and downs of writing. Yes writers are often introverts, but if you give other writers a chance, you'll find a fantastic group of people just waiting for you.

2. Workshops & programming
Most writing conferences offer a variety of programming and workshop options. From small critique groups that meet at the beginning to a conference to huge auditoriums filled with audience members hanging on the every word of a famous published author, there's a lot to enjoy. In the past I've sat in on panels about how to polish your query, writing effective log lines, what makes a good first page, an in-depth look at creating compelling character arcs. All of them had valuable information that I was glad to take in. Even the best author can learn a little something new and we should always be working on improving our craft.

3. Getting a handle on the industry and recent releases
Most conferences will have a bookstore or book booth where you can peruse offerings from guest speakers and other recent releases. Sometimes an editor will talk about industry trends and such. Conferences can help you see which books are popular at present, which may be over-done and perhaps help anticipate the next big thing. Should you be writing just toward trends? Probably not, but knowing those trends is always a good idea.

4. Geeking out over published authors
I hope that you're not only a writer but a big reader as well. If so, there must be some authors your really love. Assuming you're not a pure classicist, in which case, my apologies, you'll need a spirit medium to commune with your favorite authors, writing conferences can give you a chance to see authors you like in person. I love getting books signed and letting other authors know how much I've enjoyed their books. I also love hearing other authors talk about their process and their personal publishing journey. It's fascinating stuff. I freely admit that I tend to fangirl authors rather than anyone conventional like movie actors so the special guests at a conference are always a special treat.

5. Meeting agents & editors in person
If you are still looking for an agent, or would like to submit your manuscript directly to editors that accept slush submissions, conferences are a great resource. You get the chance to meet agents and editors in person, hear them present at various panels and may even have the opportunity to sign up for a pitch session. Some conferences, such as DFWCon, offer a free pitch session with your full registration, others may charge an additional fee for pitch sessions. If you have a completed manuscript that's ready for the query trenches, and there are agents or editors you are interested in at the conference, this is a great opportunity to meet face-to-face and make a good impression.

Cost can be a barrier for a lot of potential conference attendees as some conferences cost several hundred dollars for a basic registration. If you're not ready or able to shell out that kind of money, you have a couple options. Most conferences offer day passes which are much more affordable. You can pick a day that has programming you're interested in and just pay for that single day pass. Regional and organization associated conferences, like the many SCBWI conferences offered every year, can be quite affordable and are a great place to dip your toe into the writing conference waters. If you write YA or MG the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is a fantastic group. You don't need to be a member to attend one of their conferences, though the registration cost is lower if you are a member. Also, check your local library for writing workshops that may be offered. These are normally free or have a modest fee and are a great way to meet other local authors while improving your craft.

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