Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Common Sense Approach to Writers’ Conferences

I am a writers’ conference drop-out--at least, for the time being. Having been to several, I can say honestly I’ve come away with much useful information--but after a while I began to notice I came away with the same information. So, it’s time to back off, watch the conference previews for speakers/workshops offering new tools and insights, and save my money to attend more conferences.

Probably the best conference I ever attended was only one day. It moved smoothly along with a break for a delicious, well-planned lunch, and didn’t belabor the awards for folks who’d entered the annual contest. On the other hand, I’ve sat through endless awards ceremonies where there were numerous recognitions for the same contest, including honorable mentions. And, the same people seemed to garner the lion’s share of the prizes which, I believe, discourages aspiring writers to become discouraged. (I don’t enter contests, so this is not sour grapes.) 

Many conferences provide for authors to buy display tables to promote/sell their books. I’ve done this a couple of times, but I don’t like being stuck behind a table when there are interesting people to meet. If the conference is requires travel and an overnight stay, the extra packing/hauling into the hotel room/setting up/taking down so one can travel again isn’t (in most cases) worth the hassle.

Some authors find conference attendance a great way to network with publishers and agents. They prepare their pitches in advance and take advantage of every opportunity. I found the experience educational, but my most successful pitches have been online as part of the submission process. 
I’ve met some great folks at writing conferences, some of whom  I still stay in touch with. If I went back to the same conferences year after year, no doubt we’d forge a stronger bond--but hopefully not become a clique which excludes others. I’ve observed that, too. One often has to run the gauntlet of other authors and conference authorities who consider themselves pretty high on the ladder of importance. I find myself hoping they don’t have to fall too far--as everyone eventually must.

Finally, conferences can be pricey, so I weigh what I’ll earn in the way of useful information against the check I have to write. To be a “real” author, you don’t have to scurry around from one gathering to another. Writing, submitting, and eventually marketing has to figure in somewhere.

So be yourself. Do your thing. If a conference is doable (and affordable), go for it. If it wasn’t worth it, don’t go back next year.

Here’s a list of writers’ conferences for 2016. Obviously, many of them have already taken place, but bookmark the site to check what’s going on next year.

Maria Zannini recommends using this checklist to prepare for a conference, and I’d agree. If you’re going to pay for it/get there/soak up every opportunity it offers, do go prepared.

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