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Friday, October 23, 2015

Writer’s Conferences – Are They Worth It?

by Janis Patterson

It seems everywhere you look someone is advertising a writer’s conference and, truth be told, there used to be more than today. Some offer contests, some don’t. Almost every one offers one-on-one meetings with agents and editors. (At least, almost every one I’ve ever heard of.) Some are very good. Some aren’t.

There are three basic kinds of writer’s conference – first, what is basically a reader’s conference where readers can come and interact with writers. There is a bookstore and a book signing, lots of reader-oriented events, and maybe a few craft or market sessions for the writers themselves.

Second, there is a not-always-happy mixture conference, combining working professionals, newly published and aspiring authors. I almost said wanna-bes, but have been informed that in this oppressively and obnoxiously Politically Correct world such an appellation is condescending and prejudicial. Perhaps, but in too many cases it’s also true. Yes, some of these ‘aspiring authors’ will soar and sell many more books than I can ever hope to, but… most won’t, and some will never even sell one. Some come just to hang out with their favorite authors, even if it is from a distance, so they can tell their friends “Oh, when I was at such and such conference with – insert name of favorite author here – we did such and such…” never bothering to mention that there were several hundred people doing the same thing. For some writers, though, this is the best kind of conference to attend.

Third, there is a conference for professionals, where it is working writers only with a concentration on the business side of the writing game, including everything from foreign markets to designing a book cover for self-publishing authors.

Are conferences worth it? I say yes, providing you go to the right conference for what you want.

Reader’s conferences are great for authors who want to interact with their fans and hopefully meet new ones to increase their readership. I’ve never been to one of these, mainly (1) because my readership only goes to a select few of them and (2) so far I haven’t had the money. I do have hopes, though.

The mixture conference is a toss-up. Some swear by them and go as often as they can, hoping to combine craft, market information and interaction with newly or unpublished writers. Not my taste, but there are those who swear by this often contradictory mixture.

Writing is a business and I believe in a business conference being exactly that – all about business. Last month The Husband (who does work as my assistant) and I attended the NINC (Novelists, Inc.) conference in Florida. It was held at the TradeWinds resort in St. Pete Beach, which by itself was a great inducement to attend. It’s a beautiful resort with wonderful restaurants, entertainment opportunities and a lovely stretch of beach. Semi-sad thing is, though, that the conference was so dense and so overwhelmingly good that The Husband and I only got to walk on the beach once!

From the first moment of the welcome reception on Wednesday night to the last moment of Lou Aronica’s fabulous Unplugged speech (and this year he even sang!) at Sunday noon, there was never a spare moment. Workshops began at 8:30 am and the Night Owl sessions usually ended around 10:30 pm. In the middle was a fantastic mixture of knowledge and socializing and networking and fabulous food and at least half a dozen other things. The theme for this year’s conference was NINC World. Not all the workshops specialized in global publishing (both traditional and self) and there were many in all aspects and areas of the business of publishing.

There were no booksignings nor a bookstore, as much for the fact that there was no time for any such as that this is strictly a professional conference. There are no beginning or even intermediate craft workshops (and to be honest, I don’t remember a single craft workshop this year) but there were lots and lots of workshops about the business of writing, whether you are traditionally or self-published or both. To come you have to be a member of NINC (or the assistant to one), and that is a membership not easily won. There are both publishing and income standards that must be met, and only then can the applicant be voted on by the membership.

Most of us have limited conference dollars, and if you’re considering going to a conference, think long and hard about which kind of conference you wish to attend. What is your skill level? Where are you in the profession? What do you hope to accomplish at a conference? And lastly – what can you afford? The entry fee might sound very reasonable (or not) but that’s not the only expense; you have to factor in transportation, lodging, and food at the very least. Some conferences include all meals, some a few and some none. I’ve never heard of a conference fee encompassing lodging. And you have to get there. All of these expenses add up and must be considered.

Which conference is right for you is something only you can decide, and we are lucky in that there are all kinds of writer’s conferences out there from which we can choose.


Anne Marie Becker said...

Since joining NINC last December, I've heard so many great things about their conference on the loop. I really want to go, but traveling that far, at that time of year, for that many days, is a real strain on the family at this time. I'm still considering it for 2016, though!

I've already got RT and most likely RWA on the schedule, since they're in my neck of the woods. And I'm SO excited about a writers retreat coming up in May. So, I've got all my bases covered - a con that's primarily writers, one that's mostly readers, and one just for me. *grin*

But there are so many others out there that I want to attend!

Wynter said...

I've also heard many good things about NINC, although I've never been. I think what type of conference is right for you depends on where you are in your career. When I first started writing I attended a Romantic Times Convention, and it was great for me at that point in my career. I got to meet reps from my publisher, do my first big signing and attend some workshops. At this point, I'd prefer a con with a more industry professionals and fewer readers.

jean harrington said...

Interesting post, Susan. You put your finger on the pulse of the publishing industry; it's a business and a tough one. Thanks for the reminder.

Toni Anderson said...

NINC was very informative. I also find lots of information available at RWA too--Sometimes industry, sometimes craft. Networking and meeting reps is vital when laying the foundations of a writing career, outside the actual writing part of it. I've never been to a reader conference. I'd love to, though I'm a little intimidated. It was great to see you in Florida, Susan. 😎

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