So last time I talked about contests and I mentioned that many of the best contests are connected with writer’s conferences. This time I want to talk about conferences and why you should really consider them as part of your profession.
Writer’s conferences vary greatly from place to place and from genre to genre so while I will be giving you some basics make sure you do some (actually a lot) of research on your own before you attend any conferences.
The first type of conference you may which to attend would be a genre specific conference. Now these are much rarer than other types because they are often held only once a year and they are not necessarily state constant, in other words they move the venues every year to different cities in different states. Often these conferences are the “national” conference for the genre. For me the one which applies is the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. The last one of these I attended was held in Dallas, Texas and the next year it was held in San Francisco, California so it’s easy to imagine the expense involved in just getting to the conferences. However, I do recommend trying to attend at least one of these national conferences at least once (preferably after you are published but not necessarily). The reason is the extent of professionalism you will be exposed to. The agents and editors who attend these conferences are the best in the business they are the ones who regularly find the “next” NY Times Best Seller and secure those six figure advances. They do not in any way “screw around” with one hit wonders. They know the publishing and writing business better than anyone could and what you learn from them can be the key to unlocking your career success as a writer. These conferences are also attended by the top selling published authors in the business and at least for the most part this is when those writers are most accessible. They come to these conferences ready to mingle, even with a unpublished nobody writer who may not even have any talent. They come ready to not only enlighten you to the paths you must take but to encourage you to keep at the craft even when you have received that 1000th rejection letter. They also come baring gifts of free novels and promotional which can help you decide on the kind of items you may want to use to promote yourself and your works.
Now, the second type of conference you can look into are the “general” or fiction/nonfiction conferences. These conferences are usually held annually and locally (or relatively locally) in most every major city in every state. Most are pretty cost effective and you get a lot of “bang for your buck”. I typically attend two each year in my area one put on by a city level writers origination (which is not really limited to just the city) the other by a state level organization. These conferences are usually organized by committee made of up the heads of the local individual writers groups. So in my case the local chapter of RWA helps in the selection of agents, editors and guest speakers who will be attending. The RWA chapter works with the Sci-Fi chapters and the Nonfiction chapters so that the conference is equally attended by representatives of each specific genre and they often only ask those agents and editors who are ACTIVELY acquiring NEW writers to attend. This gives you a chance to put your name and work out there and to become experienced in the act of submitting work for consideration.
So, how to go about attending conferences, what to do when you get there and how to save money.
The best advice I can give you is do research. Find a few conferences you might like to attend. Look at who will be attending as an agent/editor who will be attending s a guest speaker. If you see there will be an agent or editor you might like to work with (your “dream agent”) then do some research on that person specifically. Look into what he or she has recently done. Who did they just acquire, who did they sell and to what house and for how much. Most agents have their own web pages so this is not hard thing to do. If you find the agent has acquired and sold someone new go find that book and read it to see who much like your work the book might be. Agents are like writers they like certain kinds of “voice” and you can save time, money and disappointment by targeting who would most likely be interested in you.
You will also want to look into who will be guest speaking. Now agents and editors will all be giving seminars but conferences also have published authors attending and doing the same. If you look at these authors and what they write you can best choose if you want to sit in on those seminars.
Now once you have selected a conference to attend you will have to send in your conference fees and usually an attendance sheet marked with any considerations you may have such as limited diet or handicap needs. Many of these sheets will also ask you if you want to submit to a contest, pitch to an agent or participate in an “open read” (which I will explain some other time). If you have a completed manuscript which is polished and in proper format then I do recommend doing a pitch (which again I will explain later) even if you are rejected at the table you at least get the experience and that first time case of nerves is banished. If you do not have a finished script then do not worry about it conferences are still a valuable tool. The seminars will take your hand and walk you through the process from that first word to first sell.
Once you have gotten to the conference though you really do need to make the most of it. Even if you will not be pitching or doing any type of open read yourself you need to set yourself up to gain as much information as your brain can possible take in and then some. The main thing to remember is you are not the only person there attending for the first time, you are not the only one there who really doesn’t understand writing as a business or even writing as a craft. Find some people and make new friends and contacts. Network. This will be the key to getting more out of the conference. Make a list of the seminars you want to attend and if there is more than one in a specific time frame and you must choose find someone who will be going to the one you will miss and ask them for their notes. Many conferences make recordings of each seminar and sell those recordings it’s an expense but sometimes worth it. MINGLE. I can stress this enough. There will be agents, editors, authors, publishing professionals and so many others just hanging out approach them, ask them question, talk about life, family, school and of course writing. I once made very good friends with the lead editor of Paladin Publishing by being there when he order crab cakes at the bar and only received one. We had a heavy discussion about false advertizing, customer service and “dressing” for dinner. He asked why I was there I said I am a writer (not knowing who he was) he said did I write well I said I thought so and he gave me his card and said submit to him he’s give a full read though. Sadly I never did as when I got home I did some research on Paladin and found it was embroiled in a court case and being sued, but again that is a responsibility a professional writer has and a choice I made. Again though and back to my point do not sit in the corner and say nothing. Put yourself out there remember you are not just selling your script you are selling YOU. The last thing you will want to do at a conference is find out if there is a local writer’s group who will take you as a member. You will want to first decide if you want a critique group or a writing group they are different and at a later date I will explain the difference. If you find a group that will suit and you can join then and there do so. There is nothing like a group of supportive people who can cry with you over a rejection, cheer with you over a success and encourage and teach you the craft. Get involved with one.
The last thing I want to tell you here is a few ideas on how to save some money. Conference fees and contest entrance fees are just something you have to choke up (unless you submit to a contest where the grand prize is the conference fees). But you can do things like contact the person who is answering question about the conference and see if there is a list of people who want to share a hotel room with someone so to divide the cost (which is usually discounted for the conference already) sharing a room is really the best way to save. So is carpooling. There may also be a list of people who want to attend but need transportation find out and carpool. Pack a few food items. Most conferences will provide a breakfast and a dinner but lunch will be on you. A cooler pack and then stored in the room’s refrigerator will save you a few dollars for sure and help with those late night hungries when you are still up processing all you learned that day. It is way cheaper than room service. And lastly as I said before make friends and find people who attended different seminars to get their notes and their feedback. If you are going to attend and pay all the money to get there, stay there and be there you might as well get as much from it as you can.
Like contests conferences are just one of the many ways to get your manuscript before an audience of people who very well could be looking for a writer with your story to tell. Keep them in mind as a tool but do not expect them to be the only tool you will need. Next time I will explain agents and editors and how there are not as scary as you might believe.
Till then, I hope this helps and READ ON!!