For those of us seeking publication, the question eventually comes up- should we spend the time and money to attend a writers' conference? Many of the very same folks who will tell you not to bow to vanity presses and for pay reading services, will tell you that it's perfectly okay to shell out hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to attend a writing conference.
Only you can decide if attending a conference is worth the investment. I attended my first conference in December, and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. Not only did I receive some wonderful critiques and writing advice, I also made some wonderful writer friends, people who understand the huge sacrifices and emotional investment that goes into writing in a way that folks in the real world never will. To help you make a decision, here are some pros and cons based on my experiences:
1) Agents, Editors and Published Authors Oh My!
Yes, it's a great opportunity to network, and there may even be opportunities to pitch your work, but the caveat is that you want to make a positive impression. Be ready.
2) Frank advice about what's selling (and what's not)
It's good to understand your market, but don't get caught up in trying to write to what's hot. By the time your book is ready, something else will be the next big thing. Try to write THAT.
3) A chance to meet other like-minded writers
Don't underestimate the power of a good support group. Conferences provide a great opportunity to network with your peers, who may become future critique partners, colleagues or friends.
4) Professional Critiques
The conference I attended included several critique sessions, including other participants and at least one publishing professional. It was fun to see people react to the work in real time, and the advice I received helped me take my writing to the next level. This type of thing is not for the faint of heart, but if you can brave the scrutiny and accept constructive feedback, by all means go for it.
1) Agents, Editors and Published Authors, Oh My!, Part Two
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure your pitch is ready, your writing is polished, and your attitude is professional. This sounds like a no brainer, but trust me, when you see that dream agent across a crowded room and your breath catches in your throat, it's easier than you think to panic and go into crazy stalker mode. I might know a little bit about this, but that's another blog post...
There's no doubt that conferences are a huge investment. Even those with reasonable fees usually involve travel and overnight stays. Writing already involves a huge amount of time away from our families, so it can be hard to justify the time investment.
3) No One's Going to Sign You Up
Sorry, your manuscript is not going to be spotted from across the dinner table and 'discovered' like Cindy Crawford in the food court at the mall. While you might make contacts that lead to eventual representation or sales, the actual submission will take place after the conference, and your book will be subjected to the same scrutiny as if you had queried blindly.
4) Not Everyone's Going to Like Your Work
If you are given an opportunity to pitch your work or get a critique, be prepared for subjective reactions that might not be all positive. Not everyone is going to love or even like your work. It's one of the risks you take by putting yourself out there. And one of the benefits, since constructive feedback can only make your writing better.
5) Not Every Conference is Right for You
Make sure the conference is right for your writing goals, fits where you are in your writing journey and is a fit for the genre you're writing in. After spending all that time and money to be there, you want to make sure that you're learning information you haven't heard before, meeting people who work in your genre, and moving forward with your career goals.
I've loved my conference experiences, and I can't wait for the next one I'm attending in April. But I can also see why some writers would rather spend their time, well, writing.
Like everything else in this business, there are no easy answers.