Sunday, January 14, 2007

Writers' Conferences

Reading through a few agent blogs, I notice that one or two mention the helpfulness of attending writer's conferences...how true is this?

I'm looking around and haven't found any in my area and even if they were, they are expensive. Is it worth several hundred dollars (plus hotels) in hope that an agent might recognize my query letter a few weeks later?

Writers' conferences are good for a lot of things - mainly, hearing agents talk. Generally, they will not be a huge help in getting you an agent unless you are exceptionally lucky. Seeing as how agents have live journals and web logs these days, I would say that it's not worth your money.

Of course, that's also because I find sitting in a room with a group of fellow unpublished, desperate writers to be the world's most depressing experience. The second is reading any issue of Writer's Digest.

29 comments:

Laura K said...

I have to say that whether writers conferences are useful or not depends on any number of things.

1) Is your novel (I assume you're writing a novel and not short stories, poetry or non-fiction) genre fiction? Because if it is, the only conferences you should look at are the ones specific to your genre.

2) Will you have a chance to pitch to an agent at this conference? If so, think about whether that's something you can do and feel strongly enough about to know you will make an impression on the agent/editor you are meeting.

3) Is your novel finished and polished to the point at which you can't find a single thing to do to it yourself and you'd send it out right now if you could figure out exactly who you wanted to send it to?

I found the conference I attended encouraging enough to sign up for two more. But I write mysteries, so there are genre-specific conventions for me to go to. (Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America both have meetings and conferences.)

As to whether an agent will remember you...in my case, I pitched to an assigned agent and haven't yet heard back from her on the chapters she requested. I pitched to an unassigned agent and sent her the chapter she asked for. She sent me back a lovely and very helpful letter telling me what she thought I could do to improve the chapter and inviting me to send it back to her once I made the improvements.

So...in my own experience, yes, it's useful. BUT it's only useful in certain instances.

Rebecca said...

Writer's Digest. It's only good to have around if the paper is still sharp enough to slit your wrists.

Kim said...

I recently went to my local RWA Chapter's conference. It was the first time I've ever gone and I thought that it had something for everyone, whether a person was published or not. They get a great assortment of editors and agents, offer up some terrific workshops, and try to do their best to make sure it doesn't favor one side over the other too heavily.

That said, I think an unpublished writer would only really walk away with something if they had a manuscript that was ready to go out, or very nearly ready - since they offered editor/agent appointments.

A person thinking about attending a conference needs to consider what they hope to get out of one and try to find one that suits those needs.

Kanani said...

The main problem is that we only have so much money and so much time. There are few writers who don't have to pay rent, mortgage, health insurance, raising of kids, etc. Conferences are many, and they're also expensive, and I wouldn't go to one unless I have a full manuscript that had been written, rewritten, critqued and written again. I'd also make sure my query was ready and that I was attending one where what I was writing was being sought.

I know people who are utterly addicted to going to conferences. I don't know they keep going, given that their MS is rough. The money they've spent would've been better put forth to taking a ten-week workshop through UCLA extension to learn the nuts and bolts of writing strong prose or just finding a writers group.

Writerious said...

I'm glad to hear you say that about Writer's Digest. While I did get my first work-for-hire school and library market gig from writing to an editor who had written a WD article about the market, I noticed that after a while, all the articles start to look the same ("Five secret handshakes guaranteed to get your manuscript noticed!"), and I'm appalled by the full-page, full-color ads for vanity presses that they run these days. On the ethics of that alone I let my subscription lapse some time ago.

kis said...

Me, I live on the ass-end of nowhere, and as such, conferences are a logistical impossibility. Do you guys know how much money they want for a flight from a rural airport? And that's on one of those freaking mosquito planes! And the ferry system here in BC apparently thinks its the goddamn QE2. Even if I could wrangle some time off work and away from the famn damily, I'm looking at a thousand bucks minimum for a conference in Vancouver, and you can double that for anywhere in the states. When you work for minimum wage, well, there's better things to spend your money on, like light bulbs and T.P.

Good grief, what do they think I am, made of money?

tim said...

I'm curious about the comments I've seen here about Writer's Digest. Granted, I haven't been reading it for that long, but I've found the writing advice to be interesting. Is it just the advice about how to land an agent that gives you such a low opinion of it, or do you think the content in general is bad? Some of the articles have helped me quite a bit.

Linda said...

From a different perspective -- I've actually found conferences very much worth the money and have so far been to three and will be going to two more. But I also do volunteer work at them.

Volunteer work is interesting because you'll be around a lot of different people. You never know who you might be standing next to. If you're good at customer service, genuinely friendly, and smile a lot, that surprisingly goes a long ways to being memorable. At one of the conferences, an agent was running a little late on his pitch sessions and I was concerned that he might not be able to get the lunch he wanted or that the food might run out. A woman who had just finished her pitch session with a different agent volunteered to get his lunch since she was going up there anyway. Next thing I saw, she was eating lunch with him outside.

Personal contact with agents at a conference does show them if you will be a good person to work with or not. That can be an influence--but your story still needs to fundamentally work right and be something they think they can sell.

Zany Mom said...

Gee, and I thought I was the only one who hated Writer's Digest.

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I find sitting in a room with a group of fellow unpublished, desperate writers to be the world's most depressing experience.

Obviously you have never attended an AA meeting. One alone can drive you to drink.

The first couple of issues of Writer's Digest can be helpful if for no other reason than to rev your enthusiasm. But after that the issues become repetitive and almost demoralizing. Which, come to think of it, was one reason why I went back to drinking.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

My father was an alcoholic who died at age 51 from liver failure. He never danced with me at my wedding; he never saw his grandchildren.

If you are an alcoholic and AA doesn't work for you, please try to find something that does -- for your sake and for the sake of people who love you.

melospiza said...

The most important things I have learned at the few writer's conferences I've attended (Willamette Writers, specifically), is that agents and editors are human beings, and the good ones are very, very, smart. They have phenomenal memories, too.

The whole process of polishing a novel, with query, synopsis, and verbal pitch, is scary but useful. I've met both scammers and brilliant people at conferences and learned a lot about the business.

It can also be inspiring to talk to people going through the same miseries as yourself. Sure, conferences cost money, but this is your job, right? Compares to other creative endeavors, writing is pretty cheap. You don't even have to buy paint. But most conferences tend to be for beginners. Don't expect to land a contract, but you might make some contacts.

Marissa Doyle said...

If conferences are beyond your budget, don't worry about it. You can query agents for a lot less money, and if you write more fluently than you can speak off-the-cuff, querying is probably better for you career-wise.

But conferences can be good for other things--just being in a space with dozens of other people who share your obsession with words can be a wonderful, energizing experience. Conference workshops can be hit or miss--I've been to terrible ones and fabulously useful ones. It's the networking--meeting other writers (and agents and editors) while hanging out in line for meals or in the bar--that can sometimes be the most valuable part.

I go to a couple every year, but choose ones within driving distance (easy to do if you live on the east coast) or commuting distance (again, easier to do if you live in the burbs of a major city.) That helps budget-wise.

Celeste said...

My first conference was as a new writer, with half a manuscript in my pocket (well, my harddrive anyway). I came away staggered by how huge this industry is . I know writers who second-guessed their career after they attended a conference and realized how hard their journey would be. On the other hand, I came away with one piece of valuable knowledge - this is a tough business and it takes many people to make a writer successful. Meeting other authors (particularly ones who like to canoodle) can be helpful and affirming.

Now, having a few finished manuscripts, I returned to the same conference and pitched two stories. It got my foot in the door to send partials to two places, but most of all, I got a real feel for the people I pitched to. I had no chemistry with the editor I pitched to. She was kind, but that was all I felt. The agent's assistant I pitched to made eye contact; it felt like there were sparkly hearts all over the place. Guess where I got encouraging comments from? The in-person appointments were priceless.

Lorra said...

Before you attend a writer's conference, there are a few things I'd like to suggest:

Read some of the agents' blogs. I'd especially recommend Miss Snark's (read all the archives and comments) and Rachel Vater's blog and, of course, the rejecter's. Their blogs contain a wealth of information to get you started.

Finish your manuscript and then put it away. Then get it out and rewrite it at least one-hundred times. You'll have a nice working draft at that point.

Read some of the writerly books. I found Noah Lukeman's "The First Five Pages" especially helpful . . .the third time I read it. Was clueless the first two reads.

Take advantage of all the blood, sweat and tears we other writers have shed to blaze a trail for you writers just entering the fray. Learning to write fiction is one process, while learning the ins and outs of finding an agent/publisher/non-scammer is entirely another.

In terms of getting published: think in terms of years, not months if you want the intestinal fortitude to stick to it. Send your queries, partials and fulls, take your licks, go back to the drawing board and then try again.

In the meantime, go to a writer's conference to get a feel for the business of writing. You'll definitely learn something. And while you're struggling to master the mountain of information out there and rewriting your first novel, start writing your second and outlining your third.

Do it! And good luck!

Gerb said...

I must absolutely disagree with the insinuation that writers' conferences are useless.

After a while, all the workshops may start to sound the same, and you may want to strangle the wannabe on the last row who can't stop asking inane, LONG, rambling questions, but the true value of a conference is the opportunity to make contacts with editors, with agents and with fellow writers.

Network, network, network!

It is valuable.

Don't sell conferences short.

Joyce said...

I think conferences are very valuable. While I got my agent through querying, I have two friends who signed with agents they met at the Pennwriters Conference. The conference this year has some really good agents and editors scheduled.

Like one of the other posters pointed out, networking is very important. I've learned more from talking to other writers (not to mention agents and editors) than I could ever learn from a writing book.

Kanani said...

This made me laugh, but it's true:

"re-write it at least one-hundred times

Spot-on Lorra, that's sound advice. Do all the front work first, use the conferences as a time to get to know the business if you must. But, if you live way out there in the sticks, don't worry about conferences. Blogs and websites offer you a lot of good information.

Richard said...

I have a preference for Writer's Journal.

There aren't a whole lot of great magazines for writers.

I would imagine that being with a bunch of like minded people whould show you that you ar enot alone in your endeavours and pursuits. (I have not yet been to one.)

What I find more depressing is going to the bookstore and looking at all the seriously discounted gorgeous books. I just picked up a beautifully illustrated storybook (hardcover, stitched binding) for my daughter for about 15% of the original cover price. Then I wonder, "If I ever publish something, is this were it will end up? Under the large discount signs advertising savings up to 90% off the cover price?"

sigh.

Anonymous said...

Richard, don't worry too much about the discounted books. I used to work at a bookstore, and many of the books on the 'discount' table were produced to be sold below cost. And no publisher's going to sell books at a loss, so there's still a profit being made.

And I hope you don't feeling guilty about using the library.

Richard said...

I never feel guilty about using the library.

It is interesting to learn that some books are produced to be sold at a discount. It is not the publishers I am too worried about - I know they are working hard to make a profit - it is the author I wonder about.

ORION said...

I am one writer who found attending writing conferences and retreats extraordinarily useful. I attended the Maui Writers retreat and conference for the past 2 years and have found it invaluable for networking. I am very serious about my writing. I paid tuition to further my teaching career so I will pay retreat and conference fees to promote my writing career.
I agree that having a finished, polished manuscript (or 2 or 3) is crucial to get the most benefit.

ChapterKat said...

RE: Writer's Digest

Years ago when I first took pen in paw, I was amazed anyone would publish a magazine totally devoted to writing. I devoured every issue. But then I found The Writer. (Mind you this was back in the day when The Writer was printed on that delicious coarse paper and in that non-glossy, gloriously plain format.)

I lost interest in Writer's Digest when I started getting published. I stuck with The Writer a bit longer, but truthfully they lost something when they abandoned the journal format and changed to the slick magazine format (about 2000 or 2001 I think). I haven't bought an issue since 2003.

The moral of the story is that WD is OK at first, but you eventually outgrow it once you start getting published.

FWIW, I still have some of my old copies of The Writer. They used to have some of the best writers in the business offering some of the best advice in print. (And I loved the graphic of little kittycat at the typewriter they used in each issue.) I was fortunate enough to get published in both magazines, but I treasure the acceptance letter I received from Sylvia Burak, the former editor. (I framed it.) Getting pubbed in WD was nice, but when I was accepted by The Writer, I felt like I'd really accomplished something, like I truly WAS a writer in spite of those negative voices that told me otherwise.

clarice s. said...

I'm going to my first writers' conference in March, and I'm terrifically excited about it, mostly because I've never known what it feels like to be physically surrounded by people who are involved in writing and publishing. I've been reading agent blogs and author blogs for about a year and a half now. I swear, most of my Internet surfing time is consumed with reading about the writing and publishing world. I think it'll do both me and my manuscript worlds of good to recognize that the people involved in publishing really do exist outside of the computer.

I'm fortunate (in some respects) to live in Atlanta, where there's a convention of some sort going on every minute of every day. There are actually TWO writers' conferences happening the first weekend in March. I'm choosing the SCBWI conference over the more academic one.

Sheila said...

Kis -
Lol! I'm with you! Rural, rural area...a thousand bucks to go Vancouver or Albany. I might save up for one, someday, if it's a good location and I can make a 2 week vacation or something out of it.

Sheila said...

Kis -
Lol! I'm with you! Rural, rural area...a thousand bucks to go Vancouver or Albany. I might save up for one, someday, if it's a good location and I can make a 2 week vacation or something out of it.

J. F. Constantine said...

I agree with Lorra and others who have found writer's conferences useful. If you cannot afford to go to one, don't fret - querying with a fully-finished ms. will eventually get you there.

Conferences where the purpose is to meet and pitch to agents can be VERY useful.

Most conferences are also useful for sheer networking experiences. You cannot underestimate how much good that may do you someday - I'm very serious here. Networking can land great leads in your lap when you least expect it.

As for me, I too, attended Maui Writer's Conference and pitched to many, many agents there. I went into major hock to get there, but I didn't go until my ms. was absolutely, positively ready to go.

I prepared myself before I went. I worked HARD there for 5 days. I MET MY AGENT THERE! I am published. I just finished my 2nd ms. and my agent is reading it now. Plus, I have the advantage of having chosen her from 3 agents whom I personally met at that conference - all of whom were interested in my work. I had a feel for her, and the fact that she "got" my work. It makes a difference.

Please don't be dismissive of writing conferences. They do have great benefit. If you are prepared before you go, a writing conference can be a great help to your career.

Anonymous said...

I feel that writers conferences are mainly good for pumping up writers. You come away with something from every conference that you can use along the way.

However, don't go to these things with stars in your eyes. As has been said, there's a minute chance you will connect with an agent there. If you're really good at pitching, and lucky enough to be smart about it, you might pitch an idea at an editor and come away with an invite to submit, which is a bit of an end-run.

If you love rubbing shoulders with successful writers who are there to broaden their audience and sell books, go. For learning a bit, go. For the sheer pleasure of it, go. Consider it a retreat. But don't think it's the golden ticket.

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Well, for those who have lint in the pocket like most writers and can't afford their registrations, hotel fees, or traveling expenses, or live too far from a conference site, or are incapacitated for one reason or the other, then you should hop on over to The Muse Online Writers Conference mentioned in September's issue of The Writer.

http://www.freewebs.com/themuseonlinewritersconference/

Last year I had close to 1300 attending from around the world. This year's numbers shows we'll surpass 2000.

The conference came about last year when I realized so many writers were missing the opportunity to mingle and network with some of the professionals in this industry.

What do we have to offer?

Well, let me say first off that the conference, seeing how we have clost to 100 Presenters, may have cost close to a thousand dollars to attend.

The Muse Online Conference is FREE registration, over 100 FREE workshops to register for, FREE handouts, FREE ebooks.

Link to our conference and check out our 2007 WORKSHOPS webpage and you'll be amazed at what we have to offer.

Registration has been extended seeing how The Writer readers are given an extension I decided to offer one to everyone. But don't miss the deadline. Sign up now.

We had tons of fun last year and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the names of the Presenters willing to give their time to help out fellow writers.

Lea Schizas