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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Are Writers' Conferences worth it?

Guest post from Linda Collison

Writing is a lifelong process, a way of life. It’s essentially a solitary endeavor. So how do we practice? How do we refine? How do we connect with other writers? One way is to attend a writers conference. But conferences can be expensive and time-consuming. Really – are they worth it?
I’ve attended a number of conferences over the years.  In 1996 I entered, and won, the Maui Writers Conference.  The following year I signed with my first agent, again at Maui.. I  participated in the Napa Writers Conference at a week-long workshop led by Michael Cunningham, who subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for The Hours.  I've attended numerous shorter conferences, such as the Aspen Writers Conference (see my post The Night Editor-in-Chief Myrna Blyth taught me to pitch). I'm a decorated veteran -- complete with war wounds I don't like to talk about.  Are writers conferences worth it? It depends on what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking to "be discovered", I’d say probably not.  A powerful query letter is usually more effective than a pitch session at a crowded conference with a hung-over, jet-lagged literary agent who won't remember your well-rehearsed pitch nor readanything at the conference.  Mass meetings of wannabe writers are not the best venue for being discovered.  Whatever that means.
But If you’re looking for motivation,  if you’re seeking a mentor, if you’re looking for tangible ways to write better, write more productively, if you’re looking for critical  feedback on your writing (take a breath so you can finish this run-on sentence), if you’re looking to establish new literary connections and to recommit yourself to the writing life, then yes -- writers conferences can be worth the cost.  If you do your homework, commit yourself, and follow through when you return to the real world.
Before you sign up, ask yourself: What do I hope to achieve? How much time do I have to commit? How much can I afford? Am I willing to travel? Conferences can last a day, a weekend, a week. The focus can be on craft, or it can be on publishing and marketing. Be aware and chose which one best suits your needs.  But how do you know?
Persuaded that attending a writers' conference might be worthwhile?

Read more on Linda's blog


Mark Hubbard said...

Unfortunately the query letter is also completely beyond me. I can't boil a novel down into the caricature the query letter seems to require :(

Joan Druett said...

You have my sympathy with that one, Mark. One of the greatest assets of the agent is that he or she writes the query letter for you. The tricky part comes when the publisher wants you to write the jacket blurb -- and they send you the query letter that persuaded them to buy the book. It can be hard to adapt!

Mark Hubbard said...

Ah, I thought you had to write a query letter to get an agent.

When I Google NZ agents, including those listed on NZ Authors Association site, there are hardly any. Do you think try for a NZ agent, or overseas?

Joan Druett said...

Overseas. But it isn't easy.