QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Attend a Writers' Conference?

Recently, I was following a thread on a forum regarding writers' conferences. After some discussion about conferences, someone
asked if it was worth going if there wasn't an agent representing his/her genre.

Lots of folks answered, "no." Some even said that it was a waste of money to attend more than one conference because once you've been to one, well, you've "been there, done that."

I disagree.

Now, let me preface my dissent by saying before you plunk down a substantial chunk of cash for a conference, you should decide why you are going. Be realistic. Do you expect to walk out with an offer for your book? Offers at conferences are rare. What you need to do in addition to dreaming big is to set a reasonable goal. Is that goal worth the money?

If the only goal is to pitch an agent or editor, it's essential to research and be sure there is an agent/editor in attendance who represents your genre. Even if you don't get your first choice of pitch appointments, don't be discouraged. You'll have chances to talk to your preferred editor or agent at some point during the conference. As a general rule, agents and editors make themselves available at meals, between workshops and at the bar. Some conferences specifically schedule casual time to chat up the editors and agents, like a cocktail hour at the end of the day. You have to decide that your goal is worth the effort and find the nerve to go introduce yourself. Be sure to have your 30-second pitch ready. Informal meetings do not lend themselves to a full book description.

Now, there are plenty of other reasons to go to conferences. I attend several a year. I don't go because I want to learn what an agent does, how to query an agent, or how to write a synopsis. I'm pretty well versed on those topics, but sometimes I attend workshops on them because it's nice to have different people's takes on agent basics. You can never know everything.

I ask myself two things when I select my conferences: 1. What industry professionals are going to be there? I'm not just talking agents and editors. I'm talking published authors and other industry professionals. 2. What workshops/discussion panels are being offered?

I have a secret third criterion: Does it look like fun?

Okay. The third one is subjective. I must say though, that if you've ever attended an RWA or RWA chapter conference, you know what I'm talking about. RWA conferences are flat-out fun. Compared to the multi-genred conferences I attend, there seems to be a higher proportion of published authors who just go to sell books, hang out and have fun.

I attended an RWA chapter conference in Dallas last weekend and had a blast. The hotel internet went down so everyone hung out at the bar after the sessions were over for the day. Not only did I get to catch up with local writers who had driven up from Houston like I had, I met writers from all over the country. New friends. I loved it. I came home energized and ready to write. If you aren't a social person, this networking aspect might not appeal.

My goal for this most recent conference was simple. I attended for the express purpose of meeting other writers--especially those with extensive publishing experience. The workshops were great, but I learned more from sitting around in the bar with other writers. It's nice to come out of seclusion and socialize with other people who have been holed up behind their computers, too. Writing is a lonely job. Conferences take the sting out.

Okay. Is a big, fun, networking party worth hundreds of dollars? For me it is, but for most unpublished authors, pitching is the primary purpose of a conference. I totally get that. All I'm saying is, before you go to the next one, decide, "What's in it for me?"

I came out of this last conference with exactly what I'd hoped for: New friends, excellent connections and some killer writing tips.

I'm headed to a conference today, in fact. Alas, it's not a fun writers' conference. It's a boring legal conference. I'm going to keep hubby company. Yawn. It's okay. I'm taking my computer in the hopes of cranking out some chapters.

Have a fantastic day.


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.


Stina said...

Writer's conferences should come with a warning: This conference is highly addictive. ;)

I've been two SCBWI NYC annual winter conferences (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illutrators) and loved them. Very inspiring. If you pick one that meets your needs, they really are worth it. But, as Mary pointed out, don't go there expecting to land a contract. You won't. But do go there with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to meet new people.

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post as always. I'm wondering if any of you fab QT authors might be able to suggest where I can find info on conferences that might be coming to the Boise area? Idaho isn't exactly a literary hub, so to speak. We do have a master-class editing workshop coming to Boise, but as far as I can tell, its not the kind of event that I would expect to see agents attending.

I have to agree with Mary that fun is a huge factor in attending these events. I go to a lot of conferences with my fire chief hubby and I know that along with the classes and networking, the social aspect plays a huge part in how well you connect with the conference as a whole.

Suzette Saxton said...

LOL, Stina! And so true. :)

Mandy, one group you could join is Pacific Northwest Writers. They have a Yahoo group where writers share info about events.


Are you a member of Idaho Writer's League? They have workshops and info about conferences as well.


I will let you know if I hear about any others.

M. Dunham said...

Excellent - this is the topic I've been pondering for awhile. I'm planning on attending the two week Writer Workshop hosted by a nearby university. I'm not looking for an agent yet - my novel is too unpolished. I'm hoping for some tips while polishing it.

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Katie Anderson said...

I totally agree with Mary. I go to a few each year and have found that pitching your project to an agent or editor almost NEVER happens, but what DOES happen is meeting tons of new friends that end up either referring you to their own agents OR dramatically helping you in your journey as you share critiques of each others work, etc....

OH MAN, that was ONE sentence! hahaha. I'm sure I broke some kind of writing rule.

Anyhoo... Conferences are a blast and a great way to connect with other writers in a sometimes solitary profession.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

"You can never know everything."

So well said. I hope to attend some writer's conferences in the future. Thank you for this post. It will definitely help me decide why and what I want to attend. :D

Eric said...

Thanks for this. There's a conference coming to Colorado in Sept, and I was planning on going to it. Since this my first attendance at one of these, I appreciate the post. Now I have a better idea of what to expect and why I should go.