Attending Authors’ Conferences
First of all, let’s talk about professional writing organizations. I am a member of Romance Writers of America as well as Mystery Writers of America. Within those two national organizations, I am a member of several smaller chapters. Some are regional (such as the MWA Florida Chapter and the Tampa Area Romance Authors, and some of them are topical, such as the Kiss of Death mystery/suspense chapter and the Beau Monde Regency England chapter for writers of historicals.
Depending on where you live and what you write, other groups that may interest you include:
* Professional Writers Association of Canada
* Horror Writers Association
* Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
* American Screenwriters Association
* The Authors Guild
* More United States organizations: [General] [Romance]
* More Canadian organizations: [General] [Romance]
* Romance Writing Chapters: [General] [RWA-Approved Special-Interest Chapters]
Some of the advantages to joining a professional writing organization are:
* research email loops
* personal email loops
* access to members-only web sites
* workshops, speakers & newsletters
* new friends
and of course:
* conferences (and discounted rates!)
So. If you’re like me (which I’m not saying you are, but let’s face it–that’s my frame of reference) the primary concern when it comes to attending writing conferences is ROI. (Return on Investment)
You plan to spend your time, effort, and money, and you want to get something of value in return. Before we deal with the former, let’s talk about the latter.
The first thing to ask yourself is what you desire (and reasonably expect) to get out of a conference. For some, it’s a chance to pitch a story to an agent or editor. For some, it’s networking with other writers and those in the publishing industry. For some, it’s attending workshops and learning more about the craft of writing. For some, it’s about promoing the newest release in the Goody Room and getting their name/face/cover out there for the world to see. For some, it’s about walking on stage and accepting a writing award, or getting away from the spouse and kids to be amongst people who “get” what it means to be a writer, or meeting critique partners or plot buddies face to face, or going home at the end of the conference with a suitcase full of books.
Even if you answered “all (most) of the above”, try to determine your primary goal. The number one thing that makes it worth the time, effort, and money.
For example, the first conference I went to, I was all about the craft. I did have two agent appointments (who requested partials of my first manuscript but luckily for all of us, passed on the story) but I spent every waking moment in various workshops and didn’t network with anyone except my roommate (if that counts).
I left that first conference with my head spinning, exorcist-style. It’s so unutterably exhausting to have your brain “on” from 8 am to midnight several days in a row. (But I learned a ton of great information.)
Most RWA National conference workshops are recorded, so my plan there was to attend all of them that weren’t taped, and then buy the CDs. And then I discovered publisher parties and book signings… More on that later this week.
Later, my primary goal was pitching. I flew to San Jose, CA last year for the Prepare to Pitch conference and came home with something like 8-10 requests. I felt it worth the plane ticket, for a goal of “find agent”. I’ve also road tripped to two in-state conferences in the past few months, also with a “find agent” goal. Those conference only offered one agent appointment, but seemed well worth the drive time. (I subsequently found an agent via the over-the-transom query letter method, but I still feel all the pitching I did was good practice.)
So. Step one is to research professional organizations and see which, if any, mesh with your goals as a writer. Step two is to check out their conferences: when they are, where they are, who will be there, what they offer, how much they cost, how long they last. Step three is to decide what meeting those goals is worth to you, and choose a conference accordingly.
Don’t attend a conference just to attend a conference–pick one that meets your needs. If you’re targeting a particular agent or publishing house, pay attention to the workshop presenters and the people offering pitch appointments. If you’re hoping to learn more about craft, read the workshop descriptions and presenter bios online before you sign up. If you are on a limited budget (and remember–if you are pursuing a professional career, chances are good that dues/fees will be tax deductible!) or have a limited number of consecutive days you can be absent from home while still keeping your job/spouse/sanity, pay attention to that as well.