So, what’s good and bad about writer’s conferences? From the perspective of someone who has attended over 40 of them, I’ll clue you in.
To clarify, I’m not an eccentric millionaire but was invited as a literary agent, manuscript consultant, and workshop facilitator. Also, to alleviate writer’s cramp, writers’ conferences, from now on, will simply be called conferences.
What’s good about conferences? First, there are usually classes on a variety of subjects, free of charge to attendees. These classes are taught by publishing professionals, including literary agents, editors, movie producers, marketing experts, and published authors. The variety and depth depends on the location, size of the conference and who is teaching the classes. One thing to note, the closer to New York City a conference is held, the more major publishing house editors and big name NY agents will be in attendance. Why? Big houses and agencies can’t afford to have all their staff at far-away conferences. Close to NYC conferences eliminate this factor. Makes sense, right?
An advantage of attending a conference, besides taking classes, is consults. A consult is where you sit down for a chat (usually 10 minutes) with an agent or editor and give him or her an overview of your project. (Caution: There’s usually an additional cost involved here, with the money going to the conference organization).
Many authors complain about gatekeepers. Conferences are places where those gates open wide. For instance, if you do well at your pitch session with one of the attending pros, and they like what they hear, you may get an invitation to send them some, if not all, of your work—more on how to do this in another post.
Agents and editors attend conferences looking for that next best-seller. If an editor requests your work at a conference, you bypass the need for an agent, as most major publishers won’t accept queries without one. However, if an editor requests your work at a conference, that means the gate is open so just send what’s requested by whatever means requested. Try for Email attachment as most take manuscripts this way these days.
One bad thing about conferences is cost. Costs vary and depend on size and location. If you have to fly to a conference, flight and hotel costs might be added, again, depending on the conference. If you live close and can drive back and forth, this naturally eliminates those costs.
Most conference attendance/registration fees run $200 to $400 for the entire conference, again, depending on location and size. Add in airfare, meals, and hotel costs (at some conferences meal and hotel are included) and a conference can easily cost over a thousand dollars. Whereas, if a writer can drive to and fro, you save, plus you can pick the days you want to attend. If you fly, to take full advantage of flight cost, you’re probably going to want to attend the whole conference.
Usually, for a Friday, Saturday, Sunday conference, Saturday might be the best day to attend. Most conferences list their activities online, so it’s very easy to select the best day, or days, that will match your needs.
Another advantage not always mentioned is the opportunity to enter writing contests. These contests usually use agents or editors to evaluate the top writers in each category. If your work happens to make it into the final rounds and gets placed in the top three places, there’s a chance an agent or editor might offer representation or a contract. I have judged these contests in the past and have picked up clients from the winners. Entry costs for contests vary, and, again, writer organizations use these funds to support other activities that will benefit their writers.
There’s also usually an awards banquet held in the middle of the conference. Attendance is not mandatory, however, if you want to see and be seen or if you’ve entered your work in a conference’s writing contest, you may want to attend this.
One of the biggest reasons for attending conferences is getting known. This is only an advantage, however, if you’re a marketing dynamo the likes of J. A. Konrath. If you’re shy and withdrawn, most of this advantage will be lost. On the other hand, if you like people, skipping gatherings like meals and the banquet remove the opportunity chat with a publishing professional. Also, at conferences, there’s usually social gatherings, great places to get in a one-on-one time with an agent or editor in a more informal setting.
For the most part, conferences are what the individual makes of them. They can be boring or give the individual writer‘s career a big boost. In this business, it’s extremely difficult to connect directly with publishing industry professionals. Conferences are one way to do this.
By the way, the BEA, or Book Expo America is not a writer’s conference but rather a place for publishers to display their upcoming titles and a place for agents to sell rights