Monday, March 06, 2006

Should You Attend Conferences?

I received so many questions on this topic that, despite having posted today, I decided to post again.

Q: Loree, I've read so much about the benefits of attending writers' conferences, but even the local ones are expensive. How do I know which to spend my money on?

A: Start by asking your writer pals, those who are veteran conference-goers. Talk to writing instructors who routinely lead workshops at writers conferences. They'll direct you to the most popular listings...and the gatherings that provide the biggest bang for your buck.

At first, you'll be overwhelmed with the list that accumulates. Never fear; you can abbreviate it by sorting out the meetings that don't require air or train transportation, and reduce the list yet again by selecting gatherings whose advertisements promise to deliver what you're looking for:

Agent and editor appointments
Networking
Workshops
Food
Contests
Critiques
Etc.

If you have a partial or complete manuscript, you might be ready for a face-to-face meeting with an agent or editor. Most times, these pre-scheduled appointments are included with your registration fee. If you're asked to pay (and the fees vary) for this service, make sure to check out the credentials of the person you'll sign up to meet. (Does this person represent a recognized publishing house or literary agency? If s/he is a published author, getting paid to evaluate the salability of your work, what qualifications have been provided [# published books, teaching and/or editing experience, etc.].)

Networking is an invaluable thing. Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary profession. For the most part, authors work alone, so it's a wonderful thing, meeting with folks who have the same needs, ambitions, problems, and lifestyles. I can't say enough about the added potential of meeting people who can literally move your career to 'that next stage'. Writers are generous (sometimes to a fault), and will happily share learned the hard way lessons with you.

Workshops range in skill level, providing how-to information for a brand-new writer...or someone who's been in the business a long time. You can usually tell by workshop descriptions whether or not the material is tailored to meet your needs.
Whether you'll buy your own meals or the writing organization provides food as part of your registration fee, take advantage of every opportunity to commune with your peers. Laugh, share experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and leave with a full stomach, a satisfied soul, a happy heart, and a few new friends.

You'll decide well in advance of a conference if you'll submit your work as a contest entry. The prize could be monetary...and it might be the glorious experience of having your submission reviewed by a professional editor or author, and the feedback can be invaluable! (Most contests do require an entry fee, usually between $25 and $50.) If the contest judges are members of the writing organization, there's nothing wrong with asking that your entry be read by someone with experience...rather than 'just another member' who is no more qualification to know a salable piece of writing than you are!

One-on-one critiques, like meetings with editors and agents, can also be a very good thing...provided your critiquer has the experience and the qualifications to give a thorough assessment of your work. If it seems I'm repeating that theme a lot, it's because I am. Too many authors have been led far afield by "teachers" who fabricate or exaggerate their credentials. Consequently, the information they provide is faulty, at best. I know writers who have literally lost years trying to fix the mistakes that were the result of bad advice from faux instructors. DON'T BECOME ONE OF THEM!

How do you check out instructors' credentials? Demand proof they are who and what they claim to be! If they say they've been teaching for years, find out where, and then check it out! (Too many so-called teachers are running their own private programs--some out of their own homes!--and are not unaffilitated with an accredited college, organization, etc. Still others claim to be members of legitimate faculties, but because of lack of enrollment, they've never actually taught a course at that school! You owe it to yourself, your future writing career, and your wallet to investigate the validity of instructors' claims.

Conferences can be entertaining and educational, and well worth any expense associated with them. If you do your homework carefully and completely, you'll come away satisfied that you met some cool people and learned a few things...which means your money was well spent.

I've been invited to speak at several conferences this summer, starting with the PennWriters annual get-together near Harrisburg, PA in May, 2006. For all they're offering, attendees will surely get their dollars' worth. I've seen the speakers' list, and except for a name or two, the faculty passes even my rigorous muster. PennWriters is one of those 'not too small, not too large' conferences, great for a first-timer who might fear getting lost, with an anticipated attendance of about 150.

For a more intimate setting, try my mini-conference: The Leading Edge Writers' Studios. Maximum attendance is 40...perfect if you prefer a quiet, one-day event. (Visit http://writing.shawguides.com/TheLeadingEdgeWritersStudios/ for more information, and if you mention this Blog when you sign up, you'll get a discount!)
See you next time, when I'll go into more detail about what to do (and expect from) those important editor/agent meetings. Meanwhile, take care, and happy writing!

7 comments:

Phil Goodrich said...

Great advice, as always. I learned on the Web that you are speaking at the PennWriters conference in May. See you at both of your workshops.
Phil

Jenna Reznick said...

Lorree, I wanted to post this comment where your "So When Are You Going To Write A Real Book" column is, but your blog wouldn't let me. So, here goes:

I have met this boob you refer to. In fact, I have taken a course taught by him! He spent as much time talking about his own books (which I researched and found out are all self-published!) as he did talking about writing fiction.

I am making it my job to inform as many people as I can that if they are going to spend $100 or more on a writing course, to take your advice and investigate the teacher. Finding out whether or not the teacher really has taught will save us all time and money, not to mention a lot of writing that turned to crap because I took his 'bent' advise. (This guy claimed to have taught at a couple of colleges where his class was listed, but he never got enough people signed up for the class to actually be taught. What does that tell you!)

Thanks for all your right-on advice. Keep it up. You are making a positive influence!

Jenna

Brenda Valenti said...

Dear Loree,

What gives? Nothing new since mid-March? I'm disappointed! I count on your savvy advice. Get writing!

Best,
Brenda

Sharon Wilson said...

As always, Loree, the advice is just what this writer needed. I was thinking of signing up for a conference in my home state (New Mexico), and now I know for sure that I will.

My husband and I will be in the DC area in September, in time for your Leading Edge workshop. I'm going to put a check in the mail today so I can get the 10% discount and make sure I have a front row seat.

Keep the blogs coming. You have no idea how much help you've been to me!

Sharon

Brian Hastings said...

Dear Loree, thank you for your practical advise. When Blogs were first introduced I thought there was no good use for them, but you have proved me wrong.

I will be attending the Pittsburgh conference in June and have already signed up for all of your workshops. I hope you will let me buy you a cup of coffee so I will have time to pick your brain.

Until then, keep posting good advice. You can never know how much I appreciate it all.

Brian

Helene said...

Hi Loree,

Just want you to know that every time I visit your Blog I learn something new. You ought to think about publishing some of this great advice in a book. I know I would buy it!

Looking forward to seeing you at the conference!

Helene Landowski

Anonymous said...

Having just returned from a national conference, I am SO grateful for these tips, Loree! Had an appointment with an editor who asked me to send her my manuscript, and I tell you, I just KNOW it's because I was so well prepared for the meeting.

Bless you, Loree!

Margo