Writing Conferences in the 21st Century: Are they worth the cost?

Yes. If you can afford it.

Recently, an author’s agent stated that each agent at her agency receives upwards of 200 queries per day!  Agents and publishers are now flooded with queries in epic proportions. The nice thing is that they acknowledge that it’s almost impossible to fairly assess a writer’s talent with just one query in a pile of thousands in one month.  So if you’ve received a form letter like this recently, don’t take it personally, and most certainly don’t throw in the towel.

Benefits of Attending a Writer’s Conference

Attending the right conference can get you a face to face meeting with an agent or publisher.  In person impressions is a very strong option to at least pitch your work.  It’s hard for an agent or publisher to take a chance on a random query in an inbox of over 1,000 in one week, as opposed to hearing your passionate novel premise in person.  It is even more difficult for someone to be as invested in your vision as writer if they’ve never met you.  So, if only for the reason of being able to meet agents or publishers in person, I’d say attending the right conference can be beneficial.

I was recently invited to attend an academic conference unrelated to my writing.  To my surprise, there were several vendors of small university presses selling academic books.  Though I hadn’t planned it, I took a chance, and  pitched my novel to one of the publishers. Right on the spot, I was invited to submit my manuscript to a publisher that accepts fiction by invitation only.  What did I learn from that experience? There are more roads to getting published than just one, and that ultimately, my fate as a successful writer is fueled by my own initiative, not solely depending on an agent to get me there.  

Conferences also act as a great way to learn more about the current writing market, although you can just as easily get this information on the internet or through writer’s magazines. At a writer’s conference, you can meet other emerging writers like yourself, and hear how they were able to get their debut novels published.  If anything, the social contact with other writers can fuel a great boost of motivation.  With the current market the way it is, it can be a hard road to publish without some kind of writing support from others.

Alternative to Not so Affordable Conferences

As far as the price of writing conferences…This week I researched the cost of upcoming conferences within my state of California.  The average prices are starting at $400 up to $1,300. These prices don’t include lodging or travel expenses.  Personally, I know very few writers that can afford this kind of investment, unless they are invited to be on a panel.  And for writers with families, attending a writing conference is almost impossible.  What is the alternative?

Start a writing group.  Take a few months to get an established attendance, then research to see if there are any literary agents or publishers in your area. Invite one of them to meet with your group.  I know this sounds unprecedented, but an established writing circle can accomplish many things.  Make it worth their while. Serve up a nice brunch. Or if they can’t make it out, offer to host a skype conference.  Be creative. You’d be surprised at how some of the more local presses may be willing to spend an hour or two to offer advice to serious writers.

Finding the ‘Right’ Conference

  • Go online to research each agent, publisher, & writer who will be presenting at the conference or hosting panels.  See if they are the kind of people who would even match up with your genre of writing. If you write romance novels, and the conference panelists represent sci-fi/fantasy or crime novels, you’ll have a better chance of finding a date than an agent (if you’re into the Lord of the Rings type of partner).
  • While checking the publishers or agents web pages, make sure that they are currently accepting submissions.  After meeting an agent or publisher, you may be invited to submit your work in person.  However, I have heard that many agents/publishers present at conferences, and then writers go online to submit their work post-conference only to find that these same agents or publishers aren’t accepting submissions. 
  • A few conferences have sliding scale and/or scholarships.  In order to take advantage of these options, if offered, you want to sign up sometimes months or weeks in advance of the conference dates.   

 If you want a career as a writer, and if you’re in it for the long haul, in this current market, one has to embrace ingenuity, and a sense of boldness to step forth in the world to be discovered.

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Posted on July 2, 2011, in Re-Invention, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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